Our city council will shortly decide whether to pass a resolution expressing our support for the Environmental Protection Agency using the Clean Air Act to reduce carbon in our atmosphere to no more than 350 parts per million. This resolution represents an important opportunity for _____ to become a leader in the fight for clean air and against the urgent challenge of climate change at a critical moment.
In 2008, Dr. James Hansen, one of the world’s preeminent climate scientists, stated: “If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted…CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350ppm.”
Today, CO2 concentrations have already reached 392 ppm. Evidence of climate change is all around us; the decade from 2000 to 2010 was the warmest on record. According to the Global Humanitarian Forum, climate change is already responsible every year for some 300,000 deaths, 325 million people seriously affected, and economic losses worldwide of U.S. $125 billion.
Extreme weather events — hurricanes, blizzards, flooding, drought and heat waves — are striking with increased frequency. 2005 had the most hurricanes on record since 1851. In winter 2011, blizzards plagued the Northeast. In summer 2011, intense rainfall and snowmelt forced the Mississippi River to overflow its banks across the Midwest and South. And an unprecedented 2011 Texas drought led the U.S. Department of Agriculture to declare the entire state a natural disaster zone.
By 2100, as many as one in 10 species may be on the verge of extinction due to climate change.
The message is clear: Climate change is not an abstract problem for the future. It’s happening now, we’re causing it, and the longer we wait to act, the more we lose and the more difficult the problem will be to solve.
For four decades, the Clean Air Act has protected the air we breathe through a proven, comprehensive, successful system of pollution control that saves lives and creates economic benefits exceeding its costs by many times. With the Clean Air Act, air quality in this country has improved significantly since 1970, despite major growth in both our economy and industrial production.
Between 1970 and 1990, the six main pollutants covered by the Clean Air Act — particulate matter and ground-level ozone, both of which contribute to smog and asthma, carbon monoxide, lead, sulfur and nitrogen oxides (the acid gases that cause acid rain) — were reduced by between 47 percent and 93 percent. Airborne lead was virtually eliminated.
The Clean Air Act also saves money and protects our economy. In its first two decades alone, the Act provided benefits including decreased healthcare costs and reduced lost work time worth $22.2 trillion — benefits 42 times greater than the estimated costs of regulation.
And now the Clean Air Act is finally being put to work to reduce dangerous greenhouse pollutants following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that greenhouse gases are “air pollutants” as defined by the Clean Air Act and that the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority to regulate them.
But the Clean Air Act is under attack by big polluters and their allies in Congress. Since Clean Air Act programs began limiting carbon pollution, there have been a flurry of legislative moves trying to delay or destroy the ability of the EPA to deal with greenhouse gas pollution, and some are also attacking Clean Air Act authority to reduce other dangerous pollutants such as mercury.
Our city needs to fight these attacks on clean air. Our city should be at the forefront of this increasingly urgent crisis by passing this resolution urging EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson and President Barack Obama to move swiftly to fully employ and enforce the Clean Air Act to reduce carbon in our atmosphere to no more than 350 parts per million.