Last week was Climate Week in New York City, and I wish I could have been there. Around 400,000 people marched by my old apartment, bringing the world a message: The public cares about the issue of climate change and wants action from our global leaders.
Nebraskans made some great strides moving the public’s understanding of climate change forward and addressing the issue as well.
Here’s what caught my eye this past week or so:
- For the first time in five years (since Copenhagen 2009), world leaders came together to discuss climate change at the Climate Summit on September 23rd. One hundred twenty heads of state, hundreds of business leaders, activists, and celebrities were at the United Nations in New York City for the Summit. The U.N. Secretary-General started the meeting with a statement that included:
“… Science says they [emissions] must peak by 2020 and decline sharply thereafter. By the end of this century we must be carbon neutral. … I ask all governments to commit to a meaningful climate agreement in Paris in 2015. … We are not here to talk, we are here to make history.”
The poem Dear Matafele Peinem (linked below) set the stage for the meeting with a standing ovation, and France led the statements by countries by committing $1 billion to the global Green Climate Fund. The intent of the meeting was to move global leaders toward a legally binding global agreement to address climate change at the meeting in Paris in 2015.
- The University of Nebraska at Lincoln released its study, “Understanding and Assessing Climate Change: Implications for Nebraska,” and provided a summary at a well-attended lecture. The most surprising news to me from this lecture was that only 12% of Americans know that climate scientists agree that climate change is happening; what a profound disappointment. The UNL report gives Nebraskans details on the expected temperature increase, changes in extreme weather, rainfall and soil moisture declines in Nebraska specifically.
- The People’s Climate March in NYC drew three or four times the number of expected participants, a number nearly equivalent to the population of the City of Omaha! Imagine that. I was surprised and happy to see Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations join this march himself, marching with singer Sting, actor Leonardo DiCaprio, activist Bill McKibben (the environment’s rock star) and 400,000 others.
- On Saturday, September 27, I attended the Harvest the Hope Concert in the middle of a northern Nebraska cornfield. It showed me that Nebraskans do care about their environment, and that our farmers, ranchers and Native Americans are willing to stand up for our land, clean water, and their property rights. The Willie Nelson & Neil Young concert was a fun afternoon for my family, and I was proud to have three generations there to support Bold Nebraska and the thousands of bold Americans working to stop the construction of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline. These individuals appreciate how climate change will affect our children’s lives, and they are doing something about it.
- Global average temperatures over land and ocean surfaces for August 2014 were the highest on record for the month of August, at 0.75 degrees Celsius (1.35 degrees F°) above the 20th century average.
- A new report out by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate challenges the idea that addressing climate change will be costly, indicating that climate fixes will cost effectively the same as forecasted investments in needed infrastructure.
- At a meeting just last week, I was reminded of the great work being done by the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD). Leaping over many other U.S. utilities, OPPD plans to supply 33% of its retail load generation using renewable power (mainly wind power) by 2018. OPPD is also positioning itself to stop burning coal in Omaha by retiring three units at the North Omaha coal plant in 2016, and retrofitting two other units to use natural gas (a cleaner fuel) by 2023. Way to go OPPD!
Even though all of these actions are wonderful news for our environment, they are not enough.
Without global participation in the effort to limit green house gas emissions, climate change will have dramatic effects on our planet within your children and grandchildren’s lifetime. In the United States, our greatest efforts should be around eliminating coal use, but if still developing countries like China and India are building more coal plants than we retire, progress on this truly global issue will not be possible.
The simplest, cheapest solution is clearly understood by economists: put a price on carbon (greenhouse gas emissions). NPR’s Marketplace did a good job explaining how and why this would work. Yale University professor William Nordhaus explains it in his book The Climate Casino. He says that putting a price on carbon for the top 100 countries by per capita income, plus India and China, would cover 90% of the globe’s emissions. This price could then be enforced through a country’s policy mechanism of choice. Prices drive choices made by corporations and individual consumers alike. More expensive carbon-intensive practices (due to the carbon price) would be replaced by the least expensive, cleaner solutions.
And voilà, climate change is no longer the greatest challenge of our century.