Apocalypse now

The effects of climate change that experts were predicting would happen sometime in the future are already unfolding now, according to the latest US National Climate Assessment Report.

Assessing climate change in the US, the report points out that severe weather conditions are the ‘new normal’ and they are having ‘profound effect’ on all aspects of American life. A study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently said that temperatures in the US in 2012 were the highest since 1895, when recording weather was systematised in the US.

Since then, the average temperature in the US has witnessed a spike of 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Over 80 per cent of this increase occurred over the past three decades, signalling that temperatures are rising at an accelerated pace. Besides hotter weather and heat waves, the world is experiencing storms, floods, permafrost and droughts of greater frequency and intensity.

It is not just the discomfort and danger of extreme weather events that should worry us. Climate change is impacting human health, our ecosystems, transportation, water resources, infrastructure and institutions. Our seas are acidifying, severely threatening marine life.

The NCA Report affirms that it is human activity which is responsible for global warming. If hitherto many in the west shrugged off climate change as unimportant to them as it was the developing countries that were expected to bear the bulk of its burden, the NCA report will force them to sit up. It provides details of how climate change is unfolding in the US. It speaks of the experience of corn producers in Iowa and maple syrup manufacturers in Vermont.  Americans cannot dismiss climate change any longer. The chicken have come home to roost.

As one of the world’s largest emitter of carbon, the US has a special role to play in averting the climate crisis. It must kick its addiction to fossil fuels in order to robustly cut down greenhouse gas emissions. US president Barack Obama could go down in history either as the president who acted at the nick of time to avert the climate crisis or the one who twiddled his thumbs while the world burned.

He put climate change on the backburner during his first term as it was considered an issue that was too hot for a president eyeing re-election. That excuse does not cut ice any longer. Indeed, there is no excuse to put off acting to curb greenhouse emissions any more.

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