Fossil fueling our own destruction
By Jon Clark
It’s clear the Philippines will be spending much time and money rebuilding from Super Typhoon Haiyan, which recently slammed it head on as a powerful Category 5.
It seems we’re adding adjectives to extreme weather events more often these days. “Super” typhoons, “mega” droughts and “Franken” storms seem to be becoming the new norm.
Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III declared a “state of calamity” for his nation after sustained winds of 190 to 195 mph made landfall, “making it the strongest tropical cyclone on record to make landfall in world history,” according to meteorologist Jeff Masters. The death toll from Haiyan is over 5,000.
Climate scientist Dr. James Hansen estimates that the greenhouse gases (methane, carbon dioxide, etc.) being released by burning fossil fuels have been trapping the equivalent of an extra 400,000 Hiroshima bombs-worth of energy from the sun every day in our atmosphere. This energy is going somewhere.
According to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report, “Ocean warming dominates the increase in energy stored in the climate system, accounting for more than 90 percent of the energy accumulated between 1971 and 2010. It is virtually certain that the upper ocean (0â ‘700 m) warmed from 1971 to 2010.”
Unusually warm waters east of the Philippines made Haiyan especially destructive.
According to Dr. Masters, “Super Typhoon Haiyan tracked over surface waters that were of near-average warmth, 29.5 degrees to 30.5 degrees C (85 to 87 degrees F.). However, the waters at a depth of 100 meters (328 feet) beneath Haiyan during its rapid intensification phase were a huge 4 degrees to 5 degrees degrees C (7 to 9 degrees F) above average, judging by an analysis of October average ocean temperatures from the Japan Meteorological Agency.
As the typhoon stirred this unusually warm water to the surface, the storm was able to feed off the heat, allowing Haiyan to intensify into one of the strongest tropical cyclones ever observed.
Whether or not global warming caused Haiyan can be debated, but the fact is, warming oceans are fuel for intense storms.
Americans are already stepping up to help the people of the Philippines. Judging the scope of the destruction, this nation will need all the help it can get, but the wrong parties are paying for one disaster after another. American taxpayers are constantly forced to foot the bill while the real culprits behind our destabilizing climate get off scot-free, yet again.
I’m talking about the fossil fuels industry.
The cost of damages from climate-change-induced extreme weather events isn’t the only bill the industry is sticking to us. We’re forced to pay for the costs of our military protecting oil companies overseas, healthcare costs from air and water pollution, and direct taxpayer subsidies to the industry causing all the harm.
The latest IPCC report reveals that scientists are as certain that fossil fuels are warming the planet as they are that cigarettes kill. Just like the tobacco industry insisted that their product had nothing to do with increasing rates of cancer, interests vested in the fossil fuel industry continue to argue that burning fossil fuels and our rapidly changing climate are unrelated.
But now we know differently.
Our rapidly deteriorating situation demands we start talking solutions, as we’ve wasted years arguing about the basic science. Due to the longevity of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the lag time it takes for the planet to warm (it takes a long time to heat up the oceans, which cover over 70 percent of the planet), the warming we are seeing now is from CO2 released decades ago. So even if we quit fossil fuels cold turkey today, the planet will continue to warm for decades. We should have started reducing emissions long ago.
The good news is we have a solution conservatives can support. We can put a tax on CO2 emissions at the source (wellhead, mine, or port of entry) and return 100 percent of the revenue back to consumers equally as a dividend, making the tax revenue-neutral. Returning the revenue ensures a carbon tax doesn’t burden poor and middle-class families. A border tariff on any imports coming from countries without similar carbon pricing means countries like China and India will be forced to clean up their act, or pay us a penalty to retain access to our lucrative American markets.
We need a price on carbon now because the costs on society of burning fossil fuels are adding up fast.
Super-storms are indiscriminate when it comes to the political affiliation of those who stand in their path. Republicans and Democrats alike must work together now to enact sensible climate change legislation that will help us make a speedy transition to a clean, carbon-free energy economy.
Jon Clark is Mid-Atlantic regional coordinator for Citizens Climate Lobby.