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Cost of Inaction on Climate Change Too High

by Annie Strickler

Evacuation Route Sign

We reported on Friday on the EPA’s proposed finding that greenhouse gas emissions are harmful to human health and welfare. Local governments have two key lessons that underscore this game-changing finding: 

1.    The cost of action represents a sound investment (see our post from Friday) while
2.    The cost of inaction – especially when it comes to our health and safety and that of our children – is simply too high to afford.

On the heels of the EPA announcement, we reached out to Paul Epstein of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School to get his take:

“It’s critical for our health and the health of our oceans that we dramatically reduce emissions and stabilize the climate. Carbon dioxide endangers health directly via providing a disproportionate boost to allergenic and agricultural weeds. It also has an aggregate impact on human health, by creating more extremes of all sorts, from heat waves to floods. It also has consequences for water-borne and vector-borne diseases.”

On that note, EPA cited the findings of its recent study, “Assessment of the Impacts of Global Change on Regional U.S. Air Quality: A Synthesis of Climate Change Impacts on Ground-Level Ozone,"  that climate change could lead to higher concentrations of ground-level ozone – a harmful pollutant with which many American cities are far too familiar.

Beyond the air we breathe, other potential impacts to human health and welfare include increased drought; more intense downpours and flooding events; more frequent and intense heat waves and wildfires; greater sea level rise; more intense storms; and harm to water resources, agriculture, wildlife and ecosystems.

Is that the kind of future you envision for your children? How about for yourself?

That’s right, climate change will not only have significant impacts for future generations, but is arguably already creating changes to natural climate and weather patterns. Regardless of the extent of these impacts, what’s clear is that we need swift and significant action now to curb greenhouse gas emissions - action that with the EPA’s announcement now has a strong champion at the federal level to complement the work that local and state governments have been fighting for.

Unfortunately, there is no magical vacuum to clean up the emissions we have already pumped into the atmosphere. We’ve set in motion some of these harmful impacts already, and the local level will be the battle ground upon which climate impacts will be most acutely felt. The good news, however, is that many local governments have been on the leading edge of advanced climate planning.

Historically, local governments have planned for the future by examining trends from the past. Relying exclusively on those patterns is a bit more difficult – not to mention dangerous – in a world where historical climate patterns are shifting due to the influx of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. However, even without complete certainty regarding future climatic impacts, local governments still have an array of resources at their disposal to help them build communities that are more resilient.

Enter our Climate Resilient Communities ™ Program which will help local governments assess their vulnerabilities and identify ways to prepare for the projected impacts and costs associated with climate change. The goal is create communities that not only strive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to lessen future climate change, but those that are also resilient to the climate impacts that we’ve already set in motion.

The EPA has opened the door to bold action that will protect my health and yours, our neighbors’ and our children’s by taking robust action now to avoid the worst impacts of climate change in the short- and long-term. (Note that the EPA is opening a 60-day public comment period on this finding -- make your voice heard.) 

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