This summer I found myself guiding a group of “skeptics” around Juneau. When I found out the group of 16 were all aboard the cruise ship as part of a conference of the Skeptics Society, I braced myself for a challenging tour.
But, to my surprise when the topic of rapidly receding glaciers and climate change came up, I learned that the Skeptics Society is not in the least bit skeptical about the reality of man contributing to climate change but rather the science of those who try to deny climate change. Then I learned that a prominent physicist and skeptic of global warming who spent two years trying to find out if mainstream climate scientists were wrong recently concluded the climate scientists were right. He was being funded by the Koch Brothers of Wall Street who bankroll the tea party and global warming deniers. The lessons from these skeptics is that in the end, the reality of peer-reviewed science will prevail.
The other reality that is setting in is the pattern of extreme weather events. While weather is a function of specific local conditions, the pattern of extreme weather is attributable to climate change.
“Greenhouse gases are the steroids of weather,” said Jerry Meehl, a climate expert with the National Center for Atmospheric Research. “Small increases in temperature set the stage for record breaking extreme weather events.”
After a bout of blizzards, floods, heat waves, and Hurricane Irene, many Americans have been experiencing record-breaking extreme weather events. According to the National Weather Service, the United States suffered 10 natural disasters in 2011 with economic losses of $1 billion or more. This is one reason why a Reuters/Ipsos poll in September showed the percentage of Americans who believe the Earth has been warming rose to 83 percent from 75 percent last year. Unlike many other issues that divide Republicans and Democratic voters, a majority of Americans from both parties agree on global warming, the poll found. Some 72 percent of Republicans believe global warming is happening and 92 percent of Democrats do. Furthermore, 71 percent of the Americans who believe warming is happening think that it is caused either partly or mostly by humans.
All this suggests that the time is ripe for considering action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Only gridlock and corporate interests still prevail in Washington D.C., making a national action highly unlikely. This means it comes down to regional, state and local governments to respond. Fortunately, here there is progress. Leading the way are the six states (Arizona, California, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Utah) and four Canadian provinces that constitute the Western Climate Initiative, a regional market-based collaboration. Right on the heels are the 1,220-plus communities of ICLEI — Local Governments for Sustainability who have committed to developing and implementing climate action plans. The member communities represent more than 570 million people. Then there is the real rising star of proactive climate policy, British Columbia, who is in year three of implementing a revenue-neutral carbon tax.
One of the primary reasons for progress at the local level, is the win-win approach of many climate action plans which tie lowering greenhouse gas emissions with cost savings that flow from energy conservation and reductions in fossil fuel consumption. This is the emphasis of Juneau’s Climate Action Plan now coming before the Borough Assembly. The strategy to reduce Juneau’s community-wide emissions by 25 percent by 2032 is tied to reducing fuel consumption in the transportation sectors and reducing energy consumption in our residential and commercial buildings, all of which will save the city and residents millions over the years.
The Climate Action Plan (CAP) will be introduced to the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly on Nov. 14. The Executive Summary is easy to read and can be found at bit.ly/mv1meB. As noted by Assembly member Ruth Danner, “It seems to me, the overall plan is designed to help us be healthier economically, environmentally and personally.” Now after a summer of extreme weather coinciding with the rapid retreat of the Mendenhall Glacier, it is time for Juneau to do its part on the path to sustainability.
• Troll is a longtime Alaska resident and resides in Douglas.