Earlier this week, a panel of 300 leading scientists released the National Climate Assessment, a summary of the impacts of climate change in the United States. The authors of the report, guided by a 60-member advisory committee comprised of academicians, government officials, corporate executives (including representatives from ConocoPhillips and Chevron), and environmental groups (such as The Nature Conservancy), confirmed that “climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present.”
The report’s findings were aligned with the benchmark study recently issued by the International Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and came as no real surprise to a public that has suffered through season after season of devastating catastrophes resulting from extreme weather events.
According to the report, “climate change is already affecting the American people in far-reaching ways. Certain types of extreme weather events with links to climate change have become more frequent and/or intense, including prolonged periods of heat, heavy downpours, and, in some regions, floods and droughts. In addition, warming is causing sea level to rise and glaciers and Arctic sea ice to melt, and oceans are becoming more acidic as they absorb carbon dioxide. These and other aspects of climate change are disrupting people’s lives and damaging some sectors of our economy.”
The report offered proof that “evidence for climate change abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans”, presenting data on increasing sea levels, water vapor, ocean heat content, and air temperature, and decreasing glaciers, ice sheets, and snow cover.
While short-term benefits such as extended agricultural growing seasons and longer shipping periods were cited, the long-term prognosis was clear: the escalating danger of climate change will significantly and detrimentally affect our economy and quality of life.
Perhaps the most troubling findings contained within the report point to the rate of sea level rise, expected to swell up to 4 feet (posing a major threat to many of our nation’s leading cities, including New York, Boston, Houston, Miami, and New Orleans), and projected temperature increase, predicted to climb ten degrees Fahrenheit (the problems that we’re experiencing now result from a 2 degree temperature increase).
Sustainability advocates claim victory with the report, avowing that it, and the President’s subsequent interviews with reporters and weather forecasters, delivered a personal, powerful, and urgent message about the climate change, reaching a wide swath of people throughout the US who are grappling with its effects—from Northeasterners experiencing a 71% precipitation increase, to Southerners dealing with unprecedented flooding, to Midwesterners coping with extreme temperatures, to Southwesterners facing devastating droughts, to Westerners witnessing the heartbreaking decimation of their precious forests from raging wildfires and vicious pest attacks.
Critics alleged that the report was alarmist—another effort by liberals to hoodwink the general public into thinking that climate change is a legitimate threat. They reproach the White House for using the report as a ploy to build political support to justify tighter environmental regulations and a climate change action plan that President Obama plans to issue in June.
Regardless of how the White House and other legislators decide to use the report, or how strongly naysayers push back against it, the climate action machinery is in motion. While it’s paramount that we enact stricter emissions regulations for power plants and other environmental legislation, the real, unstoppable progress is being made in the private sector, driven by innovative business leaders who are delivering creative solutions that are pushing the market into a new era of sustainability.
Leading the charge is Elon Musk, who is bringing solar power and electric vehicles to the masses through his companies SolarCity and Tesla. He recently committed $5 billion to a lithium ion battery gigafactory that will considerably expedite the pace of his pursuits.
Tony Fadell, Founder and CEO of Nest, has made himself a fortune (Google has committed to purchase Nest for $3.2 billion) while transforming home intelligence. Nest’s smart thermostat learns the behavior of homeowners and adjusts itself accordingly, enabling consumers to save money and energy.
Lisa Jackson, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is doing her best to transform Apple into an environmental leader. She is managing the company’s effort to run 100% of its facilities on renewable energy, and she is tackling the colossal problem of electronic waste by setting up a product take-back and recycling program for Apple products at all Apple retail stores.
OPower co-Founders Dan Yates and Alex Laskey are influencing homeowner behavior by working with utilities around the world to collect energy use data and providing that data to homeowners, motivating them to compete with their neighbors to reduce their energy use.
Philips CEO Frans van Houten is revolutionizing the lighting industry not only through his $3.9 billion LED business, but also by offering “Lighting as a Service” systems, which allow homeowners to upgrade their lighting solutions as newer and more efficient solutions are developed.
Tom Siebel, CEO of C3 Energy, is in the business of big data, collecting 6 billion transactions an hour from utilities, buildings, weather services, and other sources to perform energy audits and optimize efficiency and resource use.
Michael Farkas, CEO of Car Charging Group, has become the largest operator of electric vehicle charging infrastructure by rolling up competitors.
And of course no discussion about climate action would be complete without mentioning the leading sustainability activists, often deemed as climate heroes, beginning with Founder of 360.org Bill McKibben, whose climate action campaigns have raised awareness throughout the world, spurred massive divestment from fossil fuel companies and reinvestment in clean technology solutions, and effectively blocked the development of the Keystone Pipeline.
Business magnate turned politician and environmentalist Michael Bloomberg recently accepted the position of board chair of the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board and made a $50 million donation to the Sierra Club to retire one-third of the nation’s aging coal portfolio by 2020, replacing it with clean energy.
Gina McCarthy, head of the EPA, is cracking down on Big Coal by implementing strict emissions regulations that will limit the construction of new coal power plants.
Lester Brown’s resounding voice has warned us for decades us about climate change, population growth, and food shortages through his work with the Earth Policy Institute and Worldwatch Institute.
And sustainable agriculture expert Wes Jackson, Founder of The Land Institute, has helped us understand the importance of emulating nature in order to stabilize soils and prevent erosion through his pioneering work in growing perennials and polycultures.
When it comes to climate change, there always seems to be good news and bad news. It’s difficult not to feel despondent when we look at all of the ways that climate change is already affecting our lives. However, it’s impossible not to be encouraged by the sheer genius and tenacity displayed by the bevy of innovative business leaders, passionate sustainability advocates, and committed environmental activists across the globe. One dedicated individual can certainly affect positive change, but a legion of them can transform the world.
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