2014 was a watershed year in both our understanding of human-caused climate change and in our resolve to take actions to address it.
A major National Climate Assessment showed that “the effects of human-induced climate change are being felt in every corner of the United States.” In June the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a “Clean Power Plan,” which when it is fully implemented will reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by 25 percent below 2005 levels. In October the United States and China, the top two international CO2 emitters, came to a landmark agreement to limit their carbon emissions by 2030. And in September more than 400,000 people marched in New York City to show world leaders that people want effective action to address this issue.
My organization, Kansas Interfaith Power and Light, considers the threat of human-caused climate change to be the moral challenge of our time. If we have every reason to know about a problem (and we do), and if we have plenty of time to act on it (as we have), and yet we choose not to, then that is not simply a bad choice; it is no less than a sin – a crime against God’s creation, including our fellow human beings.
Make no mistake – the impacts of climate change are already being felt in Kansas. Problems with both quality and quantity of water, temperature increases, less frequent and more intense rainfall, and higher rates of evaporation are further stressing an already stressed water supply, particularly in the western part of the state. Impacts on the agricultural sector include the spread of pests that would not have survived earlier, colder winters; increases in weed species; and decreases in soil moisture and water availability.
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This is not the indeterminate future – this is now.
And here’s where we come to the role of elected officials. In the face of overwhelming evidence, we should be moving away from coal and petroleum and toward renewables and efficiency. We should be coming up with a state plan to lower our state’s emissions, not suing the federal government to get out of our responsibilities. And we certainly should not, like state Rep. Dennis Hedke, R-Wichita, continue to deny the human contribution to climate change. That ship has sailed.
I hope that 2015 will be the year our elected officials, both in Topeka and in Washington, D.C., stop denying or ignoring human-caused climate change and begin to develop effective actions to address it – and the challenges climate change poses to Kansas, the United States and the world.
Moti Rieber of Lawrence is coordinator of Interfaith Power and Light, a faith-based environmental group.