Earth Matters: We can’t cop out on climate

Earth Matters:  We can’t cop out on climate
Dr. Hildur Palsdottir

By Hildur Palsdottir

Large, wealthy nations are to blame for the devastating effects of global warming. Yes, that’s US: the United States of America ranks among the top five in both fossil fuel production and greenhouse gas emissions.

The most vulnerable countries are the least responsible for the environmental impact of climate change. Small island nations in the global south are suffering loss of land and livelihoods due to rising sea levels. 

Here on Long Island we are no strangers to flooding and erosion, but innocent small island nations are literally drowning. The peaceful island nation of Kiribati in Micronesia is already partly underwater.

Many have been forced to migrate. While these small Pacific Islands are responsible for less than 1% of total global greenhouse gas emissions, they are suffering disproportionate impacts from climate change.

In response to this global crisis, the United Nations hosts an annual conference where world leaders, grassroots, special interests, corporations, lobbyists, NGOs and indigenous people gather in an attempt to negotiate actions to address climate change. This year the 28th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change took place in Dubai. 

Rumors of fossil fuel deals being made at the COP28 cast long shadows on the credibility of this conference. In what may be a desperate attempt to remain in power, fossil fuel special interests were never been in greater numbers at the COP.

The Kick Big Polluters Out coalition estimated that at least 2,456 people affiliated with oil and gas industries attended COP28. Not surprisingly, COP28 went into overtime with inconclusive results. 

Pledges to reduce emissions aren’t enough for vulnerable countries. The Alliance of Small Island States insists on stronger language followed by bold action. In contrast, the leader of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries cartel openly resisted strong language in terms of ending the use of fossil fuels to power the world economies. 

It’s clear that we must stop emitting greenhouse gasses. But greed and ignorance seem to overpower our collective survival skills. Unfortunately, the money we make on fossil fuel deals will not cure this crisis. And soon the money we’ve made will hardly meet the cost of repair. 

At last year’s COP the Fund for Losses and Damages was established to support the most vulnerable nations. Developing countries will need at least $215 billion to $387 billion a year for climate adaptation. Extreme weather events cost the U.S. about $150 billion per year. Here on Long Island estimates suggest we must cough up at least $10 billion a year to repair climate-related damages. 

In Nature Communications (2023) researchers estimated the cost of extreme weather damages from 2000 to 2019 at around $143 billion, or $16.3 million per hour. The global cost of climate change damage is expected to be in the trillions per year by 2050. It’s clear that it’s much more affordable to make the clean energy transition today. 

We desperately need better policy for industry accountability.  It is timely that we redirect the cost of climate disasters back to the polluters.

 “Public policy should protect the public, not Big Oil. Make Big Oil pay” writes NYPIRG Legislative Director Blair Horner in a Dec. 5 guest essay in Newsday. And the Climate Change Superfund Act demands industry accountability. We must encourage Gov. Kathy Hochul and the New York State Assembly to sign this bill. 

Former President Trump recently threatened that if he returns to the White House, his first job will be to “drill, drill, drill.” This is not a fire drill.  We’ve got one chance at re-establishing viable conditions for future humans.

We need to stop drilling for fossil fuels. We can’t afford to make the mistake of returning the power to Trump and his supporters. As long as we keep burning fossil fuels, carbon dioxide will continue to build up in the air causing warming and climate instability. I sure hope the American majority will vote for a future for mankind.

Clean energy has never been more affordable. The Biden-Harris administration’s ambitious climate pledge in 2022, the Inflation Reduction Act, offers incentives, rebates and tax credits for consumers to invest in rooftop solar, purchase pollution-free electric vehicles and support the electrification of households. If your furnace or boiler needs replacement, invest in a heat pump. If you’re remodeling your kitchen, replace your gas stove with an induction stove.

The clean energy transition helps stabilize the climate, but also offers immediate rewards by lowering your energy bill. The easiest way to reduce emissions is to ask for a free energy audit and invest in weatherizing your home to prevent causing emissions by wasting energy.  

Wishing you fossil fuel-free holidays.


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