Wednesday cartoon 2

Since Professor James Hansen testified before Congress in 1988, climate scientists have warned the world of the dire consequences of anthropogenic global warming. In 2019, the situation is increasingly recognized as a global crisis. More than 1,174 jurisdictions, cities and countries have declared a “climate emergency.” Recently the respected British publication The Guardian standardized its language: the noncommittal term “climate change” was replaced with “climate crisis,” “climate breakdown” and “climate chaos.”

But Waco, instead of addressing the climate emergency, is on a course of business as usual. Gas-guzzling SUVs and pickup trucks outnumber electric vehicles, only 66 rooftops contain solar panels (Project Sunroof data), barbecue overwhelms vegan fare and the Waco City Council has done almost nothing to address this existential threat.

So why is Waco not joining essentially every country on earth in mitigating the climate crisis? The following are reasons often given — with my response.

Waco is unaffected by climate change, so why should I be concerned? This is an absolutely untrue myth. Review of NOAA temperature data reveals an unmistakable warming trend: Seven of the 16 hottest days ever recorded here were noted since 2000. And Waco’s hottest day ever reported was 114 degrees F in 2018. And within a future 2 degree C increase in mean global temperature, 62 Wacoans are projected to die during major heat waves. Next, since increased global temperature increases atmospheric moisture, 12% more heaviest rainfall events in Texas have been observed. In Waco, the observed flooding in 2016, 2018 and 2019 is also part of a clear trend. Of the 10 highest 24-hour precipitation totals ever reported, four have occurred since 2010! And in August 2018, McLennan County experienced the highest level of drought, termed “exceptional” (D4), worse than any county in the state.

Rather than escaping climate breakdown, Waco is clearly experiencing the impacts of increase in air temperature, flooding rains and drought.

But exactly why is the climate breakdown considered an “emergency”?

Because at our present global temperature increase of only 1 degree C, we witness global impacts ranging from sea-level rise to more deadly wildfires to superstorms, with a resultant global death count of 400,000 per year (Climate Vulnerability Monitor). And the world’s best scientific information, from the IPCC, states that to avoid global temperature increase above 2 degrees C, with devastating impacts and probable societal collapse, we must cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 45% in 11 years. This is truly a herculean task involving all sectors: transportation, energy, land use, industry, buildings, food and materials.

An 11-year timeline is absolutely an emergency.

Climate chaos is an enormous problem, so what can I do as one person? First, a single action to fight combat climate chaos multiplied by the 197 million adults in the U.S. totals to significant mitigation. Second, reaching net zero emissions by 2050, as required by the IPCC, by definition will involve everyone.

Fighting climate breakdown is too expensive, and I cannot afford it. This is a false and dangerous assumption often made by citizens, politicians and even journalists. For example, an all-electric Nissan Leaf 2.0 with a range of 150 miles, has a competitive price of $23,000 after tax credit. Rooftop solar, which will ultimately produce free electricity, may now be purchased in installments, with the monthly price similar to the electric bill before installation.

China and India are not acting on climate breakdown, so why should we? In reality, both countries have emission reduction goals for 2030 under the Paris Agreement, while the United States is now withdrawing from the historic pact, eliminating our national goals. Further, China leads the world in production of wind and solar energy, and India is sprinting towards its goal of eliminating gas powered cars by 2030. The China/India excuse for inactivity is absurd.

If the most devastating impacts of climate breakdown are in the future, why should I act now? This question is addressed through an analogy with human cancer. Cancer produces its most severe injury and death in the later stages, as will climate breakdown. The most effective way to lessen the harm of cancer is to treat it aggressively, while it is still small and exhibits fewer symptoms. Similarly, climate chaos is best mitigated early, when impacts may be mild. Finally, if cancer is allowed to progress, it may metastasize and treatment may become ineffective. Likewise, climate breakdown may reach tipping points where the impacts grow exponentially and are beyond human control.

I am persuaded climate breakdown is an emergency, but what should I do as an individual? Myriad actions may be taken to combat climate breakdown, but the following are some that may yield the greatest reduction in GHG emissions:

  • Drive less, and purchase a battery-electric or hybrid car, which are now competitively priced; cities and schools should consider electric buses.
  • Absolutely use a utility providing 100% renewable electricity; obtain free proposals for rooftop solar (available with installment payments).
  • Eat a vegan or vegetarian diet, or establish a Meatless Mondays schedule.
  • Demand that your councilpersons and mayor rapidly decarbonize our city.
  • Vote against Trump and any politicians who reject established climate science and robust climate action — and endanger our future.

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Alan D. Northcutt is a Waco physician and director of Waco Friends of Peace/Climate.

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