Climate Change: The Cost of Inaction

Joel Scheraga: The climate is changing. In fact, it’s been changing for millions of years. But what’s different now is the climate is changing at an unprecedented rate. We’re seeing it in rising temperatures and the increased intensity of storms, floods and droughts, and the frequency of this severe weather is increasing. Also, sea levels are rising more rapidly. How do these events affect the things we care about in our daily lives? Many of the things that we depend on — like food, water, and energy are sensitive to changes in climate. Climate change makes it more difficult to ensure adequate water supplies for drinking water, growing crops, and hydropower. It destroys our rivers and beaches, and changes the landscape of our country, from Florida and the Gulf Coast to Glacier National Park and Alaska.

It affects our ability to raise cattle and catch fish. And it increases the risks we face of infectious disease and heat-related deaths. Any one of these consequences of climate change would pose a significant challenge to our nation. But these things are all happening across America at the same time. Hurricane Sandy illustrated that we are inadequately prepared to protect ourselves against extreme weather. Flooding damaged thousands of homes and businesses in New Jersey, Connecticut and New York — even Wall Street. While parts of the area are back to normal, not every community was resilient enough to recover quickly from this disaster. Some still haven’t. And these localized storms can have national impacts. Hurricane Katrina didn’t just devastate New Orleans, it affected the availability of oil and natural gas to people all across the country. The dramatic shifts in our weather patterns are now causing severe drought and flooding, posing major challenges to farmers. In Iowa, farmers are struggling to grow our crops as they are hit by repeated floods and droughts.

If this keeps up, we could see a scarcity in our food supplies and higher prices at the grocery store. As our temperatures and weather patterns shift, farmers may no longer be able to keep growing the same types of crops. Climate change is also threatening our water supplies in states like California, Arizona, and Nevada. Lake Mead, a key source of water for those states, is already at historically low levels. They may soon have to ration water for drinking, agriculture and energy production. Extreme dry spells are also triggering more wildfires that are burning out of control and destroying homes. And it’s not just happening here in the United States — it’s happening all around the world. There’s no time to wait.

The consequences of delaying action will only become more severe and more difficult to overcome. We have an opportunity to slow the rate of climate change and make it more manageable by cutting greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. In the same way that all of our individual actions caused the climate to change so rapidly, we can all be part of the solution. Working together, we can make a difference as we continue to reduce greenhouse gases and anticipate, prepare and adapt to a changing climate. [Music].