Climate change is a life-and-death threat. Climate is changing environmental conditions in every region. It affects the health, safety and security of all the world’s inhabitants - humans, animals and plants - all life on earth. What sort of future do we want for our descendants? Do we want a world with rising tides, greater weather variation and severity, compelled migration of peoples suffering climate disasters, or a world where countless species are erased from the face of the earth? Not me. We must do better.
Last spring the stark reality of our warming climate was painfully demonstrated in Nebraska. Heavy rainfall and rapid snowmelt triggered massive flooding and inundated countless homes, farms and communities. Fremont and Valley became islands. Norfolk evacuated a third of its residents. The Platte River swelled to “historic proportions.” Governor Ricketts declared a state of emergency to counter “the most extensive damage our state has ever experienced” at a cost of $1.3 billion.
Summer followed spring, but the weather did not improve. July 2019 was the hottest month ever recorded on our planet and the 415th consecutive month with above-average temperatures. At both poles, sea ice retreated to its lowest point since records were first recorded. The concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere ballooned to over 410 parts per million - an increase of 100 parts per million since 1960. Such a rapid rate of carbon dioxide growth is estimated to be 100 to 200 times faster than the warming that occurred after the last Ice Age.
A report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services shows the abundance of native plant and animal life has fallen by 20% or more in the last hundred years. How many species are in this slow moving apocalypse that is picking up speed? This is scientific truth, and we are running out of time to implement solutions.
It is clear that climate change is more politically polarizing than any other issue in America. In the Nebraska Legislature, I know from painful experience that climate change bills gain absolutely no traction. According to Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, “Your political party is the greatest indicator to your view on climate change – more than race, age or gender.” The expansive divide on this important issue necessitates further efforts to communicate the legitimacy and gravity of climate change to Nebraskans and all Americans. Unfortunately, most people are unlikely to be moved to action unless they experience personally the damage being caused.
While we lack a credible renewable portfolio standard for our entire state, which I hope to change during the next legislative session, we must build on Omaha Public Power District’s announcement of going 100% carbon-free. All Nebraska utilities must commit to eliminating emissions on an accelerated timeline. The key to reducing our emissions comes from solar and wind energy with battery back-up. Nebraska has the third best wind energy generating potential of any state. Embracing the potential of wind and solar in Nebraska will enable us to fight against climate change, and establish a safe and sustainable future for all Nebraskans.
Widespread implementation of wind energy can revitalize our state by boosting the economies of agricultural communities and creating new jobs. Solar and wind energy are cash crops. Nebraska farmers have an immense opportunity to lease portions of their land for the installation of wind turbines and receive money in return. Landowner lease payments in 2018 equaled $289 million nationwide. In Nebraska, landowners received between $5 million and $10 million in land lease payments. State and local taxing entities received property tax payments of $8.5 million. This additional income provides stability for farmers and ranchers by offsetting decreases in farm revenues and reduces property taxes which all rural residents should appreciate. The creation of nearly 4,000 high paying jobs is also a benefit for rural Nebraska.
The history of our nation is replete with crises that have required single-minded responses from our government. The life-threatening circumstances we face now must compel even stronger commitments toward meaningful solutions. It’s essential that we marshal all of our national resources to combat climate change before manageable solutions are beyond reach. This essential movement is defined by people who are willing to stay committed to a cause over a long period of time. Let’s stay committed and Make America Green Again.
John McCollister of Omaha represents District 20 in the Nebraska Legislature.
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