Every week seems to bring another disaster rooted in climate change. Historic floods, persistent droughts, raging wildfires, massive icemelts. Setting off food shortages, civil unrest, mass migrations.
It’s not because our wired world gives us greater access to cataclysms. The frequencies are rising. The last colder-than-average month in NASA’s global-temperature database was July 1985. On Jan. 18, 2017, two days before the inauguration of Donald Trump, NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies announced that 2016 was the hottest year on record (global average) — the third consecutive record-setting year. And it wasn’t even close, as this NASA videographic illustrates:
“Globally-averaged temperatures in 2016 were 1.78 degrees Fahrenheit (0.99 degrees Celsius) warmer than the mid-20th century mean,” NASA reported. “This makes 2016 the third year in a row to set a new record for global average surface temperatures.”
The cause is global warming from greenhouse gases. The habitually cautious New York Times reported in 2015 that the planetary warming already caused by human emissions has quadrupled the frequency of some heat extremes since the Industrial Revolution. Scientists writing in the peer-reviewed journal Nature warned that continued unchecked emissions could eventually trigger a 62-fold increase in such heat blasts — and consequent storms, deluges, loss of habitat, and human suffering.
It’s true that some future calamities are now “baked in” to our climate future due to carbon dioxide’s persistence in the atmosphere. But slowing and stopping future emissions can reduce the rates and magnitudes of these catastrophes. And the fastest and fairest way to drive down emissions is through national-level carbon taxes in the U.S. and around the world.
We should have started taxing carbon pollution decades ago, but acting now will help limit future losses. Moreover, a world with less and eventually zero fossil fuels will be healthier and more just. No more oilgarchs. No more Keystone XL or Dakota Access Pipelines. No more coal particulates. No more fracking. Fewer extremes not just of weather but of wealth. More jobs, and not in mopping up climate disasters but building sustainable infrastructure.
What’s the proper response to the latest climate disaster? Compassion. Grief. And political action to support actions, organizations and candidates who advocate taxing carbon, and push those on the fence or the other side to come on board. Earth and our future need all of us to support carbon taxes.