Climate change causes must be confronted in Georgia

By Guest Columnist DAVID KYLER, executive director of the Center for a Sustainable Coast, located on St. Simons

A crucial distinction in determining the best course of action on climate change is the difference between reacting to the impacts of our overheating climate versus reducing the causes of this increasingly destructive global disruption. Unfortunately, Georgia’s state officials have consistently limited their efforts to the former, while willfully suppressing consideration of the latter.

David Kyler

It may seem encouraging that Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources hosted a conference on “Climate Change” last year. However, it’s deeply troubling that the conference program acknowledged nothing about the causes of climate disturbance. Instead, DNR focused on a policy of “adaptation and resilience” in response to rising sea level and other mitigation efforts – evidently based on the demonstrably false assumption that climate-change and its consequences are, in effect, “acts of God.”

Omission of the human causes of climate change remains a contrivance of a top-down, politically driven but unspoken policy imposed on state employees. This protects special interests by restricting the use of science that’s essential to protecting our citizens and natural resources.

Under such constraints, agency personnel speak about the causes of climate change at the risk of losing their jobs. This extends even to the Coastal Advisory Council, which is appointed by the politically obedient DNR commissioner to – ostensibly – improve Georgia’s coastal management program. The council has been reluctant to openly discuss climate-change actions needed to properly address the issue. This negligence is stunning, in light of the dire consequences of climate-induced sea level-rise and storm hazards for coastal regions.

The sea level at Fort Pulaski, located at the mouth of the Savannah River, has risen more than 9 inches since 1935, according to a report by the University of Georgia’s Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. Credit: savannah.com

Already, Georgia is experiencing a rising sea level, according to a report from the University of Georgia’s Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant. At Fort Pulaski, near the mouth of the Savannah River, the sea level has risen more than 9 inches since 1935 – at a rapidly increasing rate. Other studies predict an average rise in sea level of at least three feet by the end of this century, possibly much more.

Reputable online sources, including Time and The Washington Post, confirm numerous impacts of climate change, many of them very ominous. Moreover, the record of scientific evidence substantiating the human activities causing them is overwhelming. Among the threatening signs of over-heating climate are record-breaking temperatures, heat-related deaths, longer and far more destructive periods of wildfire, loss of vital food supplies from crops and fisheries, and unprecedented, accumulating atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases – primarily carbon dioxide and methane.

Furthermore, highly qualified climate experts advise that hurricanes and their devastation must no longer be considered natural events, according to a report in The Washington Post. Dogged refusal to curtail exploitation of fossil-fuels is linked to the intensity and destruction of major storms, amplifying enormous damages being incurred by the public [some $150 billion for hurricanes Irma and Harvey alone] to sustain an industry that’s immensely profiting in the reckless commerce of climate-ravaging carbon emissions.

Striped newt

No natural habitat in Georgia is expected to exist in 2050 for the striped newt, according to a report by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. File/Credit: Joel Sartore, via fineartamerica.com

For more than a decade, the U.S. Department of Defense has advised that climate-change is a serious national security threat. This is not only due to risks to coastal military installations, but also because of food shortages and flooding that will displace millions, generating severe problems of migration and armed conflicts over resources.

More recently, in the aftermath of the destruction caused by this year’s hurricanes, the Houston Chronicle published a report by a researcher at Stanford University that stated, “The Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security have identified climate change as a ‘threat multiplier’ that exacerbates resource shortages and other stressors that worsen political and economic instability, and increase the likelihood of conflict.”

All but the devoutly dogmatic would be – and are – convinced by the preponderance of scientific analysis of these and related trends. A recent survey by Gallup observed that the majority of Americans are concerned about changing climate, yet fact-free political obstacles continue encumbering action.

The state’s antipathy to confronting the causes of climate change is especially conspicuous in contrast with a unanimous vote in May by the Atlanta City Council. The council adopted a goal to eliminate the use of fossil-fuels by 2035. Forbes reported Atlanta is the 27th city to take such a stand. The city intends to rely exclusively on renewable energy. Atlanta’s admirable commitment is a momentous expression of the leadership’s pragmatic concern about the causes of climate-change by eradicating carbon emissions within the city.

ice flow calving

An increase in the calving of ice flows has been attributed to global warming. Credit: globalchange.gov

Until Georgia’s agencies and elected officials acknowledge the human activities causing climate change – foremost the combustion of fossil fuels – the state’s implicit gag order will continue to make Georgia complicit in propagating delusion and denial. This impedes urgently needed corrective action to limit perilously compounding damages of climate-change.

The realities of the ongoing transformation deserve further analysis, especially considering rampantly misleading assertions used to bolster political resistance to phasing-out fossil-fuels and creating a clean-energy economy.

Besides the urgent need to diminish profound climate-change threats, the benefits of eliminating the use of fossil fuels must be objectively acknowledged. Not only are wind and solar power growing much faster than any other sector, the industry already employs more workers than all fossil fuels combined, according to a report by Citizens Climate Lobby. Defending continued use of fossil fuels by denying that they cause destructive climate change is blatantly contradicted by the facts. The replacement of dirty energy with renewable, clean alternatives will produce far greater economic benefit

Sea level change

The sea level rose at a steady rate through the 20th century. Credit: notrickszone.com

Confronting this fundamental menace to public health, environmental stability, and quality-of-life issues requires a pivotal realignment of priorities – a diligent task of renovating our definition of “self-interest” – based on rational assessment of well-documented realities.

Georgia should join Atlanta and responsible states that have adopted plans for reducing greenhouse gases by curbing the use of fossil fuels and adopting incentives for clean energy. Such plans include well-honed policies for transportation, public facilities and infrastructure, plus energy efficiency.

A worthy federal proposal on this pivotal issue is the Off Fossil Fuels [OFF] Act, now sponsored in Congress. This legislation tracks a comparable schedule and rationale adopted by Atlanta, other U.S. cities, and leading states in recent years.

Note to readers: The Center for a Sustainable Coast is a member-supported, non-profit organization formed in 1997 to serve the six ocean shoreline counties and five major watersheds in coastal Georgia. Its mission is to promote the responsible use, protection and conservation of Georgia’s coastal resources – natural, historic and economic

5 replies
  1. Joe Kitchens says:

    Hello David,

    Well done essay. Of course, we end up peaching to the choir. Still, I make an effort to become informed and was really engaged when I came back from the symposium “Coastal Nature, Coastal Culture: Environmental Histories of the Georgia Coast” in February 2016 (sponsored in Savannah by The Ossabaw Island Foundation, Armstrong State University and the Wormsloe Institute).

    As a Georgian,historian and writer, I am also trapped in a sort of nightmare-watching the decline of coastal plains communities–the small towns that have been in decline since the 1920s when inflation destroyed Georgia’s cotton-based economy and sending tens of thousands of people into the city, especially to the manufacturing centers of the Old Northwest, such as Detroit. I was born in Burke County, the last of six generations of family there. Returning home often feels like a visit to the wasteland. Towns still standing with few if any stores open. Railroad tracks abandoned. Corrugated metal-clad cotton gins in ruins. Cotton production may have returned, but prosperity seems not to have.

    These two concerns are, I believe, linked. As a “red state” we are generally hostile politically to regulation of any kind, but especially environmental regulations. Most of us have encountered the conviction on the part of some governments and businesses that environmental laws exist only as challenges to be circumvented in some way.

    This causes me to consider why older, white, often rural and economically threatened whites (judging by voting patterns in national elections) seem to be hostile to their own interests. It does not make sense to me. Is it possible to break the link between political conservatism and opposition to even the most sensible environmental regulation? One would think that this group’s nostalgic view of the world would produce a different response.

    JoeReport

    Reply
  2. healthangels says:

    15,000 years ago there were glaciers in Ohio. My guess is that climate change caused them to recede. When you prove to me that human activity caused that climate change, then I’ll believe that this climate change is caused by human activity.Report

    Reply
    • ClimateCitizen says:

      healthangels: Thank you for writing. You have to be willing to accept proof: are you? I mean, physics does not belong to any political party.

      Do you believe our climate is changing? Hurricanes are more intense, springs come earlier, coastal cities see more damage from “king tides”? If so, why do you suppose that is? Maybe someone should study it.
      Oh, maybe someone HAS studied it – perhaps we ask them?

      The fact that CO2 acts as a blanket around the earth has been known for a century. We’ve added 40-50% more CO2 to the air. Almost everyone who has studied it agrees. Really, are you open to listening, or do you want to believe the plucky oil companies who uncovered a conspiracy by thousands of scientists?

      To anyone else: please join citizensclimatelobby.org to get Congress to take action. So far, 60 Members of the House have joined the Climate Solution Caucus, because we’ve asked them (30 Republicans, 30 Democrats). We support an economic solution that protects the poor while cutting our emissions, a Carbon Dividend.Report

      Reply
  3. Karen Grainey says:

    Healthangels, human activity didn’t cause the glaciers to thaw 15,000 years ago, but that doesn’t prove that today’s warming isn’t caused by humans. The current science on climate change is informed by an understanding of the past and the evidence shows that greenhouse gases often contributed to the Earth’s past climate changes. When CO2 and methane concentrations were low the climate was colder, and when they were high the climate was warmer. Rapid increases in greenhouse gases are associated with highly disruptive warming episodes which caused mass extinctions. Today, humans are emitting huge quantities of CO2 at an alarmingly fast rate. This is a measurable fact.Report

    Reply
  4. Joyce says:

    Healthangels, So what? What difference does it make if human activity has caused all or part of the currently changing climate? Humor me for a moment. Imagine that you emerge from your house one morning to discover garbage all over your yard and driveway from your tipped-over trash can that you had set out for collection. Do you wait for 100% consensus to find out if a speeding truck or a pack of dogs or raccoons caused the mess? Would you then insist that the dogs clean it up? Would you live with garbage across your yard? Or would you, grumbling and complaining as would be only human, just clean it up? Maybe you’d also take steps to secure the can and it’s lid better next time. As long as we are capable of even partially reversing this drastic trend of increasingly violent storms and less predictable weather patterns that play havoc with farmers (think food supply) as well as people’s property, livelihoods, and lives — then we should do what we can to slow or reverse the trend. And, by the way, these current events of weather and storms were what was predicted as a consequence of climate change over 40 years ago by researchers at the University of Georgia. So I say, let’s all get together and help clean up the mess instead of saying “I didn’t do it!” This is more serious than the paper your old classroom teacher asked you to pick up even though you didn’t drop it.Report

    Reply

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