How Should We Meet the Challenges of a Warming Planet?
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This issue guide was prepared for the National Issues Forums Institute in collaboration with the Kettering Foundation and the North American Association for Environmental Education. The Environment and Society Series is designed to promote meaningful, productive deliberation, convened locally and online, about difficult issues that affect the environment and communities.
All around is evidence that the climate is changing. Summers are starting earlier and lasting longer. Heat waves are becoming more frequent and intense. Dry regions are getting drier and wet regions are seeing heavier rains. Record cold and snowfalls blanket some parts of the country, while record fires ravage forests across the West.
The effects are being felt across many parts of the United States. Farmworkers in California’s Central Valley, snow-weary New England business owners, crab fishermen in Alaska, and cattle ranchers across the Great Plains have all seen uncommon and extreme weather. Occasional odd weather and weather cycles are nothing unusual.
But the more extreme and unpredictable weather being experienced around the world points to dramatic changes in climate— the conditions that take place over years, decades, and longer.
Climate disruptions have some people worried about their health, their children, their homes, their livelihoods, their communities, and even their personal safety. They wonder about the future of the natural areas they enjoy and the wild animals and plants that live there. In addition, there are growing concerns about our national security and how climate change might affect scarce resources around the planet and increase global tensions.
This 25-page issue guide presents three options for deliberation:
Sharply Reduce Carbon Emissions
We can no longer rely on piecemeal, voluntary efforts to reduce carbon emissions. The only way to protect ourselves and the planet is to tackle climate change at its source by taking coordinated, aggressive action to reduce the CO2 we put into the atmosphere—enforced by strict laws and regulations, and supported by significant investment. If we don’t make averting further climate change our top priority, warming of the land and oceans will accelerate, increasing the frequency of droughts, fires, floods, and other extreme weather events, and damaging the environment for generations to come.
Prepare and Protect Our Communities
Preparing for and coping with changing conditions must be our top priority. We should work together now to secure our communities and strengthen our resilience in the face of climate-related impacts. That includes protecting our infrastructure—roads, bridges, and shorelines—and ensuring that the most vulnerable members of society have the support they need to adapt to the effects of a warming planet.
Across the country and around the world, many private enterprises are already responding to climate change by seeing opportunity. Agricultural biotech companies Monsanto and Syngenta, for example, are poised to profit from newly patented drought-resistant crops. The water giant Veolia, which manages pipes and builds desalination plants, has expanded its operations to 74 countries on five continents. Lucid Energy, a startup in Portland, Oregon, generates electric power from the city’s domestic water pipes.
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