Extreme weather convinces Americans: Global warming is real

Corporations have debunked it, media has ignored it, and conservative politicians have fought it, but in spite of these self-serving efforts at denial, Americans get that global warming is real.

People used to view climate change as questionable, far away from them, or something to worry about in the future. It was a hoax, or it was about polar bears drowning in the Arctic, or flooding of coastal areas in Bangladesh. Certainly, it wasn’t an immediate threat to their community, or the United States. But the past year changed all that.

In 2011, there were 14 weather and climate disasters, each causing $1 billion or more in damages, in total costing approximately $53 billion, along with the tragic loss of 626 lives. The disasters included severe drought in Texas and the Great Plains, Hurricane Irene along the eastern seaboard, hundreds of violent storms and tornadoes in the Midwest, and massive floods in the Mississippi River Valley. From January through March 2012, Americans experienced record warm temperatures, with temperatures 6.0 degrees F above the long-term average. In March alone, 15,292 warm temperature records were broken across the United States. Americans began to connect the dots. It was easy to understand, from these violent weather patterns, that global warming is real and getting dangerous.

Recent polling reflects acceptance of climate change

In March of this year, the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication conducted a national survey and found that a large majority had personally experienced an extreme weather event or natural disaster in the past year. Respondents said that the weather in the United States is getting worse and extreme weather in their own area has become more frequent and damaging. Most significantly, a large majority attributed recent extreme weather events to global warming.

Another recent poll was conducted by the National Survey of American Public Opinion on Climate Change (NSAPOCC), which is jointly produced by the Gerald Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan and the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion. The December 2011 survey found 62% of Americans think there is solid evidence that average temperatures on earth have been getting warmer over the past four decades, with only 26% of U.S. residents disagreeing.

What we can do about climate change

If all goes well in November, President Obama will be elected to his second term. That’s when we can pressure for the following policies to be embraced by  his administration and Congress. Now that a majority of Americans understand that global warming is real and a growing threat, it’s time to push to end destructive federal policies that are exacerbating rather than addressing climate change. This is not a comprehensive list, but it’s a start. Some of the following information is compliments of Friends of the Earth:

  • End subsidies for the fossil fuels industry in the United States

This would save taxpayers over $10 billion a year and more than $110 billion over ten years. We need to stop giving out billions of dollars each year to some of the world’s largest and most profitable corporations and the biggest contributors to global warming. Ending these subsidies and using the money to promote clean energy is just common sense

  • Ban Tar sands oil from entering the United States

Tar sands oil extraction and production emits three times more carbon dioxide than from production of conventional oil. To extract oil from tar sands, companies must destroy fragile forest ecosystems and then use a very energy-intensive refining process to turn that oil into gasoline. Tar sands mining and production harm the boreal forest’s fragile ecosystem, waste enormous amounts of water, produces toxic byproducts, and disrupt the lives of indigenous people in the area. Fuel from tar sands represents an increasingly significant portion of the fuel used in cars in the United States. Currently, the U.S. is the only market for tar sands oil.

  • Stop the Keystone XL pipeline from being built

The Keystone XL pipeline would transport tar sands sludge to refineries in the Gulf Coast. It would pass over aquifers and native lands. The potential for an accidental spill and environmental degradation is significant. President Obama put off his decision on the pipeline until 2013, but he needs to hear from us that we don’t want it. It’s time to end our dependence on fossil fuels and move toward clean alternative energies such as solar and wind.

  • Stop Fracking

Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” is the practice of extracting natural gas from shale using tremendous amounts of water mixed with toxic chemicals. This relatively new technology is proving to be harmful to people and the environment. Due to the threat of global climate change, natural gas is often promoted as a “bridge fuel” in the transition away from coal and oil towards renewable energy. But, the Council of Scientific Society Presidents—representing 1.4 million scientists from more than 150 scientific disciplines—reported to the Obama administration in May 2010, that fracking has received inadequate scientific analysis and may have greater environmental costs than anticipated. In May of this year, Vermont, acting wisely on behalf of its residents, banned fracking.

  • Close existing nuclear reactors and stop building new ones

As the Fukushima disaster continues to unfold, its times to call for an end to nuclear energy and federal loan bailout guarantees that subsidize the nuclear industry. The building of nuclear reactors is so risky even Wall Street won’t fund them. Therefore, we the taxpayers are getting stuck with the risk—the cost overruns, defaults on loans, and potential nuclear meltdowns comes out of our pockets.

President Obama’s fiscal year 2011 budget proposed $55 billion in nuclear loan guarantees to build two reactors in Georgia, which would be the first built in the U.S. in 30 years. We need to say no to the president, congress and the nuclear energy industry and demand that we move beyond this dangerous and dirty technology to the clean renewable and efficiency technologies of the 21st century.

  • End federal policies that promote biofuels

Large-scale agrofuels are not sustainable and destabilize our climate. Biofuels produced from corn, sugar, soy and palm oil are especially dirty, increasing soil erosion and air and water pollution. In some cases these fuels produce more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional gasoline.

Many biofuels rely on industrial agricultural systems, which involve the massive use of fertilizer, large quantities of water, and huge amounts of oil. When land is cleared for the cultivation of biofuel crops, the destruction of forests and other natural ecosystems speeds global warming. Biofuels compete with food crops for land, increasing food prices and hunger.

We need to tell our elected officials to end biofuels tax subsidies, trade barriers, government grants and loans, and a guaranteed market due to a federal consumption mandate called the Renewable Fuel Standard. By ending policies that support the production of environmentally harmful biofuels, we will make room for truly sustainable energy alternatives and more environmentally friendly and socially responsible biofuels.