President Obama Should Issue Emergency Declaration Now to Address Climate Crises

President Obama Should Issue Emergency Declaration Now to Address Climate Crises

Four governors, along with President Obama, recently issued emergency declarations after millions were left without power in the midst of the sweltering heat wave. The governor of Colorado did the same for counties affected by the catastrophic wildfire. And, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued its largest disaster declaration ever covering more than 1,000 counties facing drought. But the real emergency continues largely unacknowledged and unabated.

To prevent an increasing number of catastrophes, the President should declare a national emergency and summon leaders to Washington for an emergency meeting to craft solutions to the climate crisis.

For decades climate scientists have told us that the continued emission of greenhouse gasses combined with the loss of forests that sequester carbon would produce more frequent and intense heat waves, windstorms, rainstorms, floods, droughts and other extreme events. We are now paying the piper.

This summer’s heat waves have broken thousands of temperature records and cost at least 30 lives. And we ain’t seen nothing yet. Climate scientists say that global temperatures are now almost certain to increase by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels, and without an immediate aggressive response will likely ascend much higher. As the heat climbs, this year’s tornadoes, heat waves, windstorms, and wildfires will seem like a walk in the park.

In reality, we are in the midst of fast-growing interlinked environmental, social, economic crisis with profound moral implications. According to the Energy Information Administration, the U.S. is the 2nd-largest energy consumer in the world. Almost 70 percent of our energy comes from petroleum, coal and natural gas. These fossil fuels generate carbon dioxide that contributes to climate heating.

A hotter climate, in turn, produces more weather extremes, which damages residential and commercial property and critical infrastructure and causes physical injury, illness, disease, and death.

At the same time, a growing world population, combined with rising living standards in developing nations, is increasing food consumption. Yet, the amount of arable land is being reduced due a combination of drought and climate heating that is turning some regions of the U.S. and world that were once fertile farmland into dust bowls. Rising food prices and increased hunger will result.

To top that off, as the climate heats up, rising sea levels will flood almost a third of the world’s farmland while forcing millions of people, from portions of California and Florida to Bangladesh, to flee to higher ground, leaving behind the economic value of their homes and destroying communities. 

These developments make clear that the climate crisis is not just another issue to be debated through the normal political process. It is an unprecedented emergency which constitutes the gravest moral challenge of our time and requires an equally unparalleled non-partisan emergency response.

The President has the authority to declare an emergency if an event threatens human life or the nation’s wellbeing, and if the situation calls for immediate action. The climate emergency clearly meets and exceeds these criteria.
Among other powers, a state of emergency authorizes the President to alert citizens to change their normal behaviors, and to order federal government agencies to coordinate their efforts and implement emergency preparedness plans. These are the powers he must utilize now. 

Standing with the nations top climate scientists along with local, state and national leaders from the right, center, and left, the President should issue an emergency declaration that tells all Americans in no uncertain terms that our nation—and indeed the world—faces an unequaled crisis that requires immediate changes in behavior to reduce emissions and prepare for the impacts of climate heating that are now inevitable.

He must order his federal agencies to significantly upgrade and coordinate efforts to reduce emissions and prepare for climate impacts.

Just as importantly, the President should summon elected officials, business executives, and civic leaders from every state to Washington for an emergency summit to hammer out an action plan to address the crisis. No one should be allowed to leave the meeting until a strategy is completed to rapidly scale up all known behavioral changes, technologies, and policies to dramatically reduce emissions and increase preparedness for climate disruption.

The good news is that we have the know-how and tools to significantly reduce warming and build resilience to climate heating. But the speed and level of deployment is pitiful compared to the scale of the problem.

It is an election year and an emergency declaration is certain to be dismissed by some as politically impractical. But if this year’s extreme events tell us anything, it is that we are in the midst of an extraordinary crisis that threatens the physical health, social, and economic wellbeing of everyone in our nation, our children, and all future generations worldwide.

If our nation does not respond now given what we are experiencing, the climate emergency will last for centuries.

Bob Doppelt is executive director of The Resource Innovation Group and coordinator of the National Climate Ethics Campaign.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user tarsandsaction