Tackling the climate crisis starts with listening to the scientists

November 9, 2019

For decades, scientists have been sounding the alarm about Earth's changing climate. They have pointed to mountains of data showing that our planet is warming at an alarming rate, that human activity is the cause, and that the consequences will be vast and devastating for people and our environment.

Over those same decades, powerful politicians and special interests have dismissed the scientific warnings, attacked the underlying science, and blocked the solutions that could have helped us deal with this emerging crisis in time, and at much lower cost in human lives and livelihood.

Now, more and more, we are experiencing the devastating effects of the changing climate for ourselves. Families across New York and throughout the Northeast have been flooded out of homes. Farmers across America are being forced to change crops or lose everything in the face of harsh and worsening conditions. As you read this, vast stretches of California are on fire, and experts are pointing to climate change.

We need to learn this lesson now. That means listening to scientists and the evidence-based science they are doing, in some cases gathered over years by dedicated researchers who are experts in their field.

Last week, my colleague Representative Kathy Castor and I brought two of these experts to Capitol Hill to present their findings and answer questions about a brand new report on carbon dioxide emissions from melting and receding Arctic permafrost.

Their findings are grave.

Two arctic ecologists, Dr. Sue Natali and Dr. Jennifer Watts, found that rapidly-increasing Arctic air temperatures – rising at more than two times the rate of the rest of the planet – are thawing frozen Arctic soil, releasing its deep reserves of ancient frozen carbon, and turning permafrost from a carbon sink to a major new global source of carbon pollution.  

Here are just a few of the consequences outlined in their report.

  • At the current rate, an additional 27 billion tons of carbon could be emitted by 2100.  This is equivalent to 100 billion tons of CO2. For comparison, these new emissions are equivalent to:
    • More than the entire United States emissions in 20 years;
    • 200 million more cars to our nation’s roads; or,
    • Adding an additional New York State worth of emissions every year.
  • Increased permafrost emissions will more rapidly warm the arctic, which will cause more permafrost to thaw; this creates an increasingly rapid cycle of warming.
  • These emissions were previously thought to be dormant, meaning they have not yet been factored into leading global climate projections.

We are at a decisive moment in human history. We can choose to disregard and deny the facts and continue to falter in our efforts to address climate change or we can embrace decades of scientific research and work to develop solutions.

I have said before that Congress must lead with a comprehensive, national climate action plan: 

  • Establish science-based, economy-wide limits on greenhouse gases emissions.
  • Put a price on carbon pollution to send a price signal throughout the economy towards cleaner alternatives.
  • Use revenues to invest in research, public infrastructure, workforce development, and other complementary policies to ease the transition to a low-emissions economy.
  • Provide for a just and equitable transition for communities and workers. The benefits of the transition to a 100% clean economy must reach every neighborhood, so that no one is left behind.

Our Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change, which I currently chair, has announced a target to achieve net-zero emissions in the United States. In addition, earlier this year I unveiled my “Framework for Climate Action in the U.S. Congress”, a set of nine principles that must be part of any total climate solution we advance. You can read it for yourself at Tonko.house.gov/climate.

Greta Thunberg stated it best in a post in which she declined the Nordic Council's environmental award.

"What we need is for our politicians and the people in power start to listen to the current, best available science."

Our children and grandchildren are going to inherit this world. We must all do whatever is in our power to ensure we protect our planet, so this incredible, potentially impossible burden is not left for them to face alone.

Congress must continue to use science as our guiding light in developing solutions to climate change. Thank you to Drs. Natali and Watts, their more than 70 coauthors and all the scientists who continue to make new discoveries illuminating our path in understanding climate change and discovering what we need to do to combat it.

As always, thank you for reading.

Your friend,