November 20, 2018
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We can prevent runaway climate change — if we follow scientific evidence

Robert F. Bukaty | AP
Robert F. Bukaty | AP
New 2018 data indicates that the Gulf of Maine, one of the fastest warming bodies of water in the world, is in the midst of an all-time hot stretch.

Climate change is not a debate for the lobsters that are migrating further away from the coast in search of cooler water. It is not a dispute for the Gulf of Maine, which is warming faster than 99 percent of the world’s oceans. The 21 youth who filed a lawsuit against the U.S., Juliana v. U.S., fighting for their constitutional right to a healthy future are not arguing over whether climate change is a hoax. Scientists agree our Earth’s climate is warming, and human activity is the primary cause. The consensus is there, the climate is changing, and we need to act now.

Earlier this month, the International Panel on Climate Change issued its 2018 special report with devastating news — our window of opportunity to prevent runaway climate change is quickly approaching. The report was loud and clear: We will face the consequences if we continue on the path of climate inaction. Hurricanes that cause death and despair, like Florence and Michael, will occur more frequently. The millions of people living along global coastlines will be forced to retreat inland because of coastal erosion caused by sea level rise. Countries such as India will experience longer and deadlier heat waves. More droughts are expected to reduce agricultural yields in Africa by 40 percent. And economies around the world will see a reduction in their economic activity.

[Opinion: Hurricanes like Michael show why we can’t ignore climate change]

This latest report has only solidified the findings of previous IPCC reports — climate change will pose serious threats to the Earth’s ecosystem and will negatively impact human well-being. Messages as such should have already been a catalyst for our elected officials to do more to combat carbon emissions. Instead, we have seen environmental regulations rolled back at an unprecedented rate, the Environmental Protection Agency threatened with funding cutbacks, and no indication that this trend will stop. This paints a bleak picture of our future.

But there is a glimmer of hope.

This is not the first time in history that scientific findings have become politicized. In the 1970s two chemists, Mario Molina and Sherwood Rowland, found that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), a man-made chemical used in air conditioners, refrigerators and aerosol cans, was creating a hole in the ozone layer. The chemical industry immediately went into attack mode calling the data inconclusive. When that did not work, industry argued that eliminating CFCs would have negative effects on the nation’s economy because at the time there was no climate-friendly alternative to the chemical.

[Editorial: We’re making climate change even costlier]

Molina and Rowland’s findings were ignored until 1985 when a group of British scientists found a large hole in the ozone above Antarctica and, low and behold, CFCs were identified as the culprit. After that, it only took two years for the global community to phase out ozone-depleting chemicals under the ratification of the Montreal Protocol. President Ronald Reagan, who was the first international leader to ratify the Montreal Protocol, called it a “milestone for the future quality of the global environment and for the health and well-being of all peoples of the world.” He hailed the protocol for being “the result of an extraordinary process of scientific study, negotiations among representatives of the business and environmental communities and international diplomacy.”

The Montreal Protocol is proof that large-scale policy change is possible and it can be implemented quickly if we accept scientific-based evidence. We have wasted too much valuable time on politicized debates that undermine the science of climate change. It is time to stop calling climate change a conspiracy theory. It is time to stop denying that climate change is caused by human activity. It is time to stop ignoring fact-based evidence and start implementing adequate policy changes that will preserve the health of our environment for future generations.

Amanda Bertana is an environmental sociologist and postdoctoral fellow for the Scholars Strategy Network, Maine Chapter at the University of Maine in Orono. This column reflects her views and expertise and does not speak on behalf of the university. The Scholars Strategy Network which brings together scholars across the country to address public challenges and their policy implications. Members’ columns appear in the BDN every other week.

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