North Carolina can lead the fight against climate change if we make it our priority

On Nov. 23, the White House released the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4), documenting the likely detrimental impacts of global climate change to the United States.

While the science is clear, climate change has been a polarizing political issue, and some of us were surprised when Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) said in a tweet: “The report serves as a glaring reminder of the long-term risks of climate change. Both parties need to work together to deploy an innovative, market-driven strategy to combat the impacts of climate change.”

Tillis’ statement offers a ray of hope that Republicans will return to the table to work on actual solutions to climate change and emissions reduction. However, we’ve received mixed signals from our politicians, and neither of our state’s senators has a record of supporting reasonable policies to reduce the impacts of climate change despite clear evidence that citizens are concerned about the issue.

A 2018 survey led by Yale Climate Communications revealed that 69 percent of N.C. residents believe climate change is real, 55 percent believe it is caused primarily by humans, 68 percent believe it will harm future generations, and 61 percent think Congress should do more to address climate change.

Additionally, a majority of respondents supported such actions as regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant, requiring all utilities to produce 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources, and funding research into new renewable energy technologies.

The survey demonstrates a disconnect between the views of N.C. residents and the individuals representing them.

The NCA4 report states that global temperatures, caused by human activity — specifically greenhouse gas emissions — are rising more rapidly than ever before. Already global warming has increased the frequency and intensity of drought, fire, and storm events and is predicted to generate cascading effects on our health, economy, national defense, agriculture, and ecosystems.

Based on the NCA4 assessment, the Southeast U.S. is expected to suffer the largest economic losses of any region in the country from climate change. Coastal industries (such as fishing, tourism, and agriculture), military bases, and cities are already experiencing increasing flood frequency and risk from rising sea levels. Hurricanes, droughts, floods, fires, and rising temperatures will cause significant disruption of ecosystem balance and species loss, leading to wide-ranging change in our natural ecosystems, which provide valuable services and resources to the region and country.

As such, we simply cannot afford political inaction on solving this problem, yet that is exactly what is happening.

Carbon fee and dividend proposals, such as those championed by Citizens’ Climate Lobby and the Climate Leadership Council, have received bipartisan support in the past. Just this week, a bipartisan bill, The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, was proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives. Support from our representatives and senators and honoring the tenets of the Paris Climate Agreement would make a drastic difference in global emissions reduction.

North Carolina is home to some of the nation’s best scientists as well as some of the world’s greatest innovators. On top of that, offshore wind and solar power have the potential to provide affordable, renewable energy to our state (and can replace/ significantly diminish the use of fossil fuels). North Carolina is primed to become a leader in climate action, and we urge voters to continue to prioritize climate change in their decisions and behaviors.

Justin Baumann is a SPIRE Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Marine Sciences and Biology Department at UNC-Chapel Hill. Laura Mudge and Catie Alves are graduate students.

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