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Committing to Climate Change

A new study shows climate change will cost over $20 trillion. By acting now, the U.S. can begin curbing damage and save trillions.

The Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University and Friends of the Earth released a report on Friday that surveys over 100 academic articles on climate change and shows that a 2°C (or 3.6°F) temperature increase will cost the global economy over 20 trillion dollars.

The United States generates 25 percent of global warming emissions and is therefore in a unique position to utilize existing technology to save trillions of dollars and begin curbing the effects of global warming. Scientists currently predict nearing a two degree global temperature increase within the next 25 years, which could lead to decreased crop yields, water shortages, and diminished economic growth in developing countries.

The Earth’s temperature has already increased 1.5°F degrees over the last century, leading to rising sea levels, a decrease in snow coverage, the retreat of glaciers and sea ice, and an increase of droughts. Yet the Bush administration actively denies the problem, even stripping the 2005 energy bill of language affirming the science of climate change.

States are stepping up to the plate in the face of government inaction. Twenty-two states have enacted Renewable Portfolio Standards that require electric utilities to generate a certain amount of electricity from renewable sources. And in September, California became the first state to adopt a mandatory 25 percent cut in emissions causing global warming by 2020.

Businesses have also been acting on the knowledge that the Tufts University study confirms: inaction will likely be far more costly than the price of reducing emissions now. Insurance industry experts calculate that their losses for hurricanes alone will increase by 45 percent if global warming persists. Industry giants like DuPont and BP have been able to significantly cut their emissions within ten years, and numerous studies predict that this trend will create many new industries and jobs.

The international community has proven its commitment to reducing global warming with the Kyoto Protocol and numerous other decisions; it is time for the United States to do the same. As the leading producer of greenhouse gas emissions, the United States must not only join the Kyoto Protocol, but take a leading role in developing a global plan for taking action on climate change and utilizing new technologies that will decrease emissions.

The United States must establish a national cap-and-trade program in order to reach the long-term goal of preventing the global average temperature from rising more than 3.6°F degrees above pre-industrial levels. The program should include:

  • The immediate creation of a national cap on emissions and a market for trading credits.
  • Economy-wide implementation that protects early adopters, and provides opportunities for energy efficiency, renewable energy, and agriculture and forestry industries to take part.
  • Potential for integration into international carbon credit trading markets in the future.
  • Reinvigorated Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, which could revive what was achieved between 1975 and 1988—a 70 percent increase in fuel efficiency for new cars and trucks.

Americans overwhelmingly support initiatives like these. Seventy-two percent of Americans think the federal government should impose mandatory controls on carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gases, and nearly 90 percent believe the federal government should require or encourage companies and individuals to take action to reduce global warming. It is time for the government to heed the call of the American people.

Read the Center for American Progress’ stance and solutions on this issue:

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