Warning Signs: Dire Federal Climate Report Says We Need EVs Now

What use are cars when sea level rises?. (Photo: maxstrz [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr)

If it’s left up to consumer choice, we’ll get around to electrifying our auto fleet in, I don’t know, 30 years or so. Everybody knows that early adopters will try anything, but the rest of us are inherently conservative. We need time. We want to kick the tires. Electric vehicles (EVs) are a disruptive technology, cool your jets.

As my debate with Matthew DeBord of Slate showed, there are very good reasons to expect that change will happen at a glacial pace. But, damnit, we don’t have the luxury of time, and global warming is a big reason why. The White House released its “Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States” report yesterday, and although it doesn’t reveal anything startlingly new, the cumulative weight of evidence amassed is profoundly disturbing. As one environmental reporter put it, “This time the warnings were coming from the White House, after all, not just a bunch of Cassandras in the academic community.”

In introducing the report, Jane Lubchenco, the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), said, “This report is a game changer. The foot-dragging we’ve seen on climate change is a reflection of the perception that global warming is way down the road, in the future, and only affecting remote parts of the planet. This report says unequivocally that climate change is occurring now. This is science that will inform policymaking, but it also says this is important, it affects you and the things you care about.”

Here’s the full press event if you want the gory details:

From the federal report: “Warming over this century is projected to be considerably greater than over the last century. The global average temperature since 1900 has risen by about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit. By 2100, it is projected to rise another two to 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit.” And global warming over the last 50 years “is due primarily to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases.”

So our tailpipes and our extravagant use of electricity from coal-burning powerplants did this, and how we respond to climate change will determine whether temperatures rise two or almost 12 degrees F. It’s up to us.

Tim Telleen-Lawton of Environment America told me that we can get to the “low path,” avoiding the most serious consequences of global warming with “a strong reduction from the emitting sectors, including transportation and energy. We need to develop clean sources such as wind, solar and geothermal, and start using cleaner and more efficient fuels so we use less oil and gas.” He wants to see the Waxman-Markey climate bill passed, and motivate the EPA “to regulate the oldest and dirtiest sources of global warming pollution, including mobile sources.”

In the U.S., that’s mostly cars. The EPA is in the process of identifiying carbon dioxide as a pollutant, and imposing strict climate-related tailpipe standards. It’s a very good step, but we need to do more. December’s United Nations COP 15 climate talks in Denmark are incredibly important in getting a suddenly united world moving forward on the biggest challenge of our time.