We were recently out at Stagecoach Lake, enjoying the sounds and sights of spring on an ice-free lake. Waves slap the south side, blown by a stiff north wind. Rafts of ducks bob in the water. Our world right now is not so calm.
In Lancaster County, the roads are muddy and a bridge just to the west of the lake is closed -- very minor reminders of the 500-year flood Nebraska which left the state reeling. While no climate scientist can say this specific flood was caused only by climate change, they can say that global warming makes our weather more unstable and more extreme.
Extreme sounds just about right for this particular combination of heavy snowfall, rapid melting, frozen ground and a bomb cyclone.
Nebraska and the world are seeing the impact of climate change right now. We will continue to see more hot days, bigger rain events, flooding and drought.
Weather is more unpredictable. Harder to plan for. Farmers know the weather is changing. They plant their crops up to two weeks earlier, plant different crops or cultivars, cope with new pests, etc. Many people are hesitant to use the words climate change because it’s become so negatively loaded politically.
We rely on science every day. Food safety, medicine, new crop varieties, better ways to feed animals -- these are just some of the ways we use that knowledge.
Climate change is not a belief; it is a scientific conclusion based on a huge amount of data. The idea of climate change didn’t leap into being with Al Gore. The effect of atmospheric gases trapping heat was first described by Joseph Fourier, mathematician and physicist, in 1824.
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Scientists at our land grant college know the facts about climate change. Two of Nebraska’s own climate scientists helped write the High Plains Region section of the national report on climate change released in November 2018. Let’s use their expertise to protect our state.
Right now, people in communities and on farms in 77 counties continue the backbreaking work of clean up. They need disaster assistance quickly, as do counties and towns to rebuild roads, bridges and infrastructure. However, government must be planning for the future proactively as well. States must develop statewide climate change plans, and more than 30 are doing so.
Going through a disaster without a plan to mitigate the next one only perpetuates an ever more expensive need for disaster relief.
LB283, now before the Legislature, would have the University of Nebraska assess the current impact of climate change on Nebraska and develop a strategy for adapting to it in the future. LB283 remains tied up in the Executive Committee because the committee is unwilling to fund up to $250,000 for it. This, at a time when Gov. Pete Ricketts estimates $1 billion in agricultural losses after the flooding. This doesn’t include other losses to homes and communities.
Nationally, Congress must work together to drastically cut our fossil fuel use. There is currently a bipartisan bill introduced into the United States House of Representatives that would enact a market-based approach that will put a fee on carbon pollution at the mine, well or border. All money raised by the tax would be returned to households in monthly dividends. In bipartisan agreement, 44 leading economists signed an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal stating that “a carbon tax offers the most cost-effective lever to reduce carbon emissions at the scale and speed that is necessary.”
We are at a point in history where clean energy sources are becoming more effective and can take the place of fossil fuels. Letting the market pick winners and losers, without subsidies in the energy sector, will encourage innovation of clean energy technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Congress must start thinking outside the box and build a bridge across the aisle on climate change. Doing nothing will cost much more than taking action.