YARMOUTH — Two 2018 reports – the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change survey and the United States’ Fourth National Climate Assessment – not only describe the causes of climate change but also warn us about both current and future impacts. Despite these reports, one of which was put out by his own administration, President Trump recently took action to protect the coal industry and make climate change worse.

Last week, the Trump administration scrapped an Obama-era policy to combat climate change, replacing it with the Affordable Clean Energy Rule. This replacement rule overhauls federal pollution regulations about coal-burning power plants and eliminates government efforts to cut carbon emissions. The rule runs contrary to what scientists are telling us is needed to stop the devastation of climate change.

Both recent climate reports indicate that because of rising sea levels, more devastating droughts and more damaging storms, warming will make the world worse for us in the forms of famine, disease, economic tolls and refugee crises. The IPCC report concludes that the current global greenhouse-gas emissions will not limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Therefore, according to the IPCC, current greenhouse-gas emissions must be reduced by 100 percent by 2050. 

The Fourth National Climate Assessment, released by the Trump administration last Nov. 23, states that heat deaths and disease will rise as a result of climate change. It also reports that climate change could cost the U.S. economy more than 10 percent of its gross domestic product. The U.S. report is the result of a team of over 300 experts and guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee and urges us, as a nation, to take action to address climate change.

Both reports detail what we are experiencing globally and in our own communities. Rising temperatures have increased the frequency, intensity and duration of heat waves. Last summer alone, we saw temperature spikes in Japan, Canada and Pakistan that killed dozens of people.

The Fourth National Climate Assessment report also highlights how climate change is already affecting lower-income and marginalized people, and the impact on these communities will grow. In coastal cities, the sea-level rise especially affects poor people. Scientists have now documented a record number of “nuisance flooding” events during high tides in cities like Miami and Charleston, South Carolina.

Environmental Protection Agency research indicates that the Affordable Clean Energy Rule would lead to as many as 1,400 premature deaths annually by 2030 from an increase in extremely fine particulate matter, which is linked to heart and lung disease; up to 15,000 new cases of upper respiratory problems, including asthma and a rise in bronchitis, and tens of thousands of missed school days.

The Trump administration’s plan is, in part, designed to save coal. It is unlikely to work, since the decline of coal as an energy source is driven far less by government regulation than by the fact that natural gas and renewable energy (which is declining in cost) are cheaper.

Like many important public policy decisions, morality and religious ethics have much to say about efforts to weaken the efforts to reduce the damage caused by climate change. Religious traditions across the globe describe the need to care for the earth and maintain human health. Climate change threatens both the health of the planet and human health.

All religions also teach that caring for the poor is a priority task for people of faith, and we know that the poor and marginalized will be hurt first and hardest by climate change. Our morals also guide us to conclude that the younger generations should not be hurt by the mistakes of older generations. Climate change will most assuredly harm future generations.

The recent climate reports and our own moral and faith teachings raise this question: Can the United States cut its greenhouse-gas emissions by 100 percent and prevent a global climate disaster? The answer rests on a moral response, not just a technological one.


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