Mark Twain once said, “While everybody talks about the weather, nobody seems to be doing anything about it.” But weather is determined by the climate, and it’s not doing well. The climate is changing as a result of human activity, leading to global warming.
How hot? 1,000 heat records were broken in the American west during the first week of September alone. Some places, like Salt Lake City, Sacramento (116 degrees), and Reno have broken their September records multiple times and by large margins.
It’s not just the U.S. that is feeling the heat; record-breaking heatwaves were experienced around the world this summer. Europe has sweltered in abnormally high temperatures. Hot, dry air from North Africa pushed temperatures in parts of Spain to 104 degrees as early as May, around 50 degrees higher than average for that time of year. Multiple studies have shown that extreme heat will increase in frequency, intensity, and duration as a result of climate change.
Higher temperatures also cause more intense precipitation events because warmer air can hold more moisture. The world has experienced multiple record flooding events in recent years, including catastrophic flooding in Australia, Western Europe, and China. The rain that drenched St. Louis shattered all-time records going back more than a century; flooding was so deep on some streets that only the tops of cars were above the water.
And while precipitation events are more intense, 44 percent of the lower 48 states are in experiencing drought conditions, affecting one-third of the U.S. population, 113 million people.
The combination of high temperatures and drought have led to a massive wildfire season, with nearly 700 blazes burning across 16 states, including 141 wildfires in California, 123 in Montana – even one in Nebraska.
But as Jamil Zaki, professor of psychology at Stanford University and director of the Stanford Social Neuroscience Laboratory wrote, “Why haven’t we stopped climate change? We’re not wired to empathize with our descendants. About 70 percent of Americans believe that the climate is changing, most acknowledge that this change reflects human activity, and more than two-thirds think it will harm future generations. Unless we dramatically alter our way of life, swaths of the planet will become hostile or uninhabitable later this century. Deeply empathic people tend to be environmentally responsible, but our caring instincts are shortsighted and dissolve across space and time, making it harder for us to deal with things that haven’t happened yet. Human activity is now a dominant force in shaping the Earth’s environment, but humanity’s moral senses have not kept pace with this power.”
A lot more people are talking about the environment, and a lot of people are doing something about it. The new Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is a major investment that will make significant changes in the environment that will benefit generations to come. The IRA provides for drought, weather, and climate resilience through investments in coastal areas and weather forecasting.
To spur the development of clean energy, the IRA allows new tax credits for emissions-free electricity sources and storage such as wind, solar, geothermal, and advanced nuclear, and
extends the existing tax credits for wind and solar power. It includes loans and grants to finance electricity transmission, including offshore wind energy generation.
It offers clean energy rebates and grants for residential buildings, and rebates for the installation of heat pumps and for retrofitting homes. There are incentives for companies to manufacture clean energy technologies in the U.S. rather than abroad through tax credits. It will reduce emissions from energy-intensive industries such as concrete production.
To promote clean fuel and vehicles, the IRA offers buyers tax credits for new and used electric vehicles, incentives for purchasing emissions-free vehicles, with income limits, and for installing alternative fueling equipment. It creates new tax credits for low-carbon vehicles and airplane fuels, extends credits for biodiesel and other renewable fuels, and provides loans and grants for the production of hybrid, electric, and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
To reduce air pollution, there is a “Green Bank” for investments in clean energy projects, particularly in poor communities. The IRA promotes agricultural conservation through funding for agricultural best practices that improve soil carbon, reduce nitrogen losses, and decrease emissions. It encourages rural development by investing in clean energy projects in rural areas. It includes funding for forest conservation and restoration to reduce the risk of wildfires.
The Inflation Reduction Act “is the most historic and significant investment toward tackling climate change that we’ve ever seen come out of Congress,” says Alexandra Adams, senior director of Natural Resources Defense Council’s Federal Affairs team.
While there’s much more to be done, at least we’re making a strong start.