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Climate Change Is in the Air

solar energy and militaryLast year climate change became reality for the United States. New York City flooded, a historic drought blanketed the Midwest, and we saw one of the worst fire seasons ever recorded. By July, the U.S. had shattered over 40,000 daily heat records.

The question now is whether last year’s events will lead to new momentum for climate solutions. Will we get a shift in public opinion to match the shifting climate?

So far, surprisingly, the answer seems to be yes. Recent months have seen a long list of institutions and individuals—many rather unexpected, some powerful—speaking out in favor of action on climate change. 

The climate movement has some strange new bedfellows. Here’s a roundup:   

The American people

No longer able to deny what they see with their own eyes, a growing number of Americans are acknowledging that climate change is real. According to Gallup, 51% of Americans worried a great deal or a fair amount about global warming in 2011. By March 2012, a Gallup poll showed that number had increased to 55%, and this year, Gallup bumped that up to 58%. This is in line with the trend seen in a Yale poll released in October 2012, which found that 74% of Americans believe “global warming is affecting weather in the United States,” up 5 points from their survey six months earlier.

Other findings align with these, though the numbers differ. According to a recent study conducted by Duke University, 50% of Americans are now “convinced the climate is changing” and another 34% believe it “is probably changing.” That study found that Americans are at their highest level of belief in climate change and humans’ contribution to it since 2007.

Perhaps this trend will bolster new science teaching guidelines expected to be implemented in up to 40 states, which include extensive lessons on human-caused climate change.

The changes to the science curriculum are not without controversy, and the Duke study saw some division on climate change along party lines. However, another recent Yale survey revealed that even a majority of Republican and Republican-leaning voters now believe in climate change. Notable among those is former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Like many other Americans, he not only believes the majority of scientists on this issue but also what he’s seeing himself. And what he’s seeing is a threat to California and its agriculture, which helps feed the rest of the country and provides over 1.5 million jobs in that state.

The security establishment

Another Republican, former Secretary of State George Shultz, is an unlikely climate activist who considers the issue urgent enough to warrant a recent visit to Capitol Hill after a 20-year absence. His purpose? To push Congress to support alternative energy sources.

And Shultz is not alone. Even before 2012, military leaders were expressing concern about climate change. In February 2010, the Pentagon’s primary planning document identified climate change and energy as “two key issues that will play a significant role in shaping the future security environment” and went on to note that “climate change, energy security, and economic stability are inextricably linked.” In April of the same year, 33 retired generals and admirals wrote a letter to senate leaders warning that “Climate change is threatening America’s security” and urging action.

Although the military is currently setting lofty goals for transitioning to renewable energy, they have sometimes been reluctant to attribute those actions to concern about climate change. Still, while they may have other reasons for adopting renewables, many in the military acknowledge that climate change is not only real but also a serious issue.  

The Navy considers climate change a national security challenge and has devoted a task force to dealing with it. Rear Admiral David Titley told a Mother Jones reporter that “climate change is not only coming but it’s here”—and four-star Admiral Samuel J. Locklear, chief of the US Pacific region, claims that climate change, more than any other scenario we face, will “cripple the security environment.”

Recently, more than three dozen national security officials, members of Congress, and military leaders joined George Shultz in signing a bipartisan letter urging Congress to take action on climate change. This came on the heels of a December report from the National Intelligence Council, which coordinates all US intelligence agencies, identifying climate change as one of four “megatrends” that will shape the world over the next two decades.

The financial world

Climate change is more than a security issue. Institutions and investors alike are realizing it will hit them where it really hurts: their pocketbooks. Given that Superstorm Sandy alone is estimated to have set us back over $70 billion, they have cause for concern.

Last year, a major coal company not only admitted climate change is real but also invested significant money into hedging against its effects—a sure sign that financial interests are in jeopardy. That company even acknowledged its own role in causing climate change, as well as the likelihood that the market for coal will soon shrink.

More recently, global investment bank HSBC joined the ranks of climate believers. In fact, HSBC paints a rather gloomy picture of the situation, comparing climate change to a “chronic disease, where the problem accumulates over time,” and predicting a “Peak Planet” scenario in which we use up our global carbon budget for the first half of the century before 2030.

They’re not the only financial institution getting on the climate change bandwagon. The World Bank connects climate change with increased risk of poverty in developing countries; its president, Jim Yong Kim, has warned that we can’t wait to take action. IMF chief Christine Lagarde, former conservative finance minister of France, has echoed this call to action.

Investors are also making their voices heard. A record number of 722 investors worth $87 trillion signed up this year for the Carbon Disclosure Project, a platform for companies to report their carbon emissions and the actions they’ll take to mitigate them. And the London Stock Exchange now requires that all companies listed there submit annual sustainability reports.

A good climate for action

All this concern about climate change indicates that the climate is in fact changing—that is, the climate for action. And it could be an indication that real change is on the way. Initiatives in the military and financial worlds will likely set the tone for other areas and hasten progress on a number of fronts.

A good example is the Navy, which is seeing climate change as an opportunity to “turn vulnerability into capability.” Their search for the best biofuels will likely drive down prices and make it less necessary to protect oil supplies. And as they like to point out, where the Navy leads, others will follow.

The same can be said of financial institutions. As more investors demand that companies mitigate carbon emissions, the financial pressures will force businesses to take action.

While the past year’s extreme weather events may have done a lot to change some minds, belief in climate change has been progressing for years. Now we’re at the point where some of our most sober institutions are on board to deal with it, and they’ll be backed by increasing public support. With all these sectors of society working on the problem, we have a much better chance of solving it.

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Discussions

I K's picture
I K on April 25, 2013

I would be more worried about climate doesnt change

You and anyone who talks about these things should specifically state climate change for the worse beucase if you dont it leaves the door open for climate change for the better or climate change for the no difference. 

Of course its a hell of a lot easier to say climate change and let the reader infer that you mean for the worse.

Bob Lee's picture
Bob Lee on June 4, 2013

As usual the tone of this argument is that anytime a weather event happens, it must be due to climate change. In reality, records show that the US has seen a reduction in the number and severity of hurricanes over the last decade. Hurricane Sandy was, at best, a Category 2 hurricane when it struck New Jersey. The storm also happened to hit during a full moon and at high tide which exacerbated the effect of the storm. Maps of Manhattan from the 1600’s clearly show that the shore of Manhattan was much further up-island than it is today and if the topography had not changed, the impacts would have been minimal. However, such is not the case and the Manhattan shoreline has been pushed out several miles over the past 3 centuries resulting in an artificial shoreline from where it had been for millions of years.

We have had severe droughts in the US twice in the last century, always followed by periods when the droughts were non-existant. Currently western Canada; where I live, has had 2 fantastic crop years as have parts of eastern Canada and numerous other areas around the globe. The fate of the world is not measured by the (lack of) rainfall across the American midwest. Not to drone on, but there are great sources of scientific information that demonstrate the Earth was much warmer; and with much higher CO2 concentrations, during the Medieval Warming Period.

Having said all that, I can’t see how mankind has NOT had an effect on our climate. Certainly pollution from the burning of fossil fuels will have an affect on weather patterns and we should certainly push for ways to reduce our use of fossil fuels but we need to be smart about it. But the effect of large urban centres is also very damaging to local weather patterns.The amount of money thrown at the Climate Change propoganda machine could be put to much better use feeding the world’s hungry that are affected by droughts, floods, etc. Billions is spent by organizations to spread their fear-mongering message when we could actually help those much less fortunate than us. I believe we can have a quicker and more meaningful affect by simply using less…of everything. More fuel efficient cars; more transit (CNG powered if possible); smaller homes, less urban sprawl. Windmills and solar panels are going to save us anytime soon and developing nations need cheap energy to grow – which means the use of fossil fuels as they deliver the most power per molecule. Food for fuel is always a bad choice although great breakthroughs are being made by countries such as Brazil that are using sugar cane for biofuels. 

In the meantime, let’s agree that climate is always changing and, as I K notes above, not always for the worse. Global temperatures are down, ON AVERAGE, since 2002. We need to remember the Earth has been around for billions of years and Mother Nature is a better regulator of climate than we can ever be. The best we can do is to be mindful of our energy use and make sure that we help our fellow man…even if he/she lives 10,000 miles away or on another continent.

 

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