Climate change should be a matter of science, not politics. But only changes in public policy, which is often determined by political ideology, can reduce the human-caused warming that is threatening ecosystems around the globe.
In the end, governments, large and small, will be forced to confront the vast upheavals that climate change can bring if we don't act now to curb greenhouse-gas emissions.
That's why it's important that Salt Lake City is supporting a growing movement among cities to urge President Barack Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency to invoke the Clean Air Act to place limits on carbon emissions. The City Council and Mayor Ralph Becker collaborated on a resolution urging the federal agency to "swiftly employ and enforce" the act. Only Councilman Carlton Christensen voted against it.
The need to act is underscored by a new report on severe weather events related to global warming coming from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The panel, founded by the United Nations in 1988, is focusing for the first time on extreme weather changes, which have increased in number and intensity in recent decades.
Weather disasters including drought, flooding, hurricanes and rising seas cost the U.S. government an average of $3 billion a year in the 1980s. In the past 10 years, that figure has skyrocketed to $20 billion a year, adjusted for inflation.
And those amounts include only widespread disasters covered by federal insurance, a fraction of the total cost of increasingly severe weather-related events linked to climate change.
Globally, the IPCC scientists see such catastrophes increasing in cost, especially in poor areas, but also in densely populated coastal areas in developed nations like the United States. The report predicts more severe tropical cyclones, more frequent heat waves and drought, as well as heavier precipitation and flooding.
The Western region of the U.S. will be one of the hardest-hit areas in the world. Whether Utah policy makers recognize the threat or not, more wildfires, drought and extreme heat are likely to affect residents of the Beehive State. Policy changes to reduce carbon emissions can still improve the outcome somewhat, but the window of opportunity to make a difference is rapidly closing.
Voluntary efforts supported by Gov. Gary Herbert are largely meaningless. Federal action under the Clean Air Act, which the U.S. Supreme Court has authorized, is our best hope.