Last week, House Republicans scheduled the final votes before Election Day and then sent everyone home. Sadly, under their leadership, Congress never considered badly needed legislation at any point this session that would extend long term unemployment benefits, simplify the tax code, reform our immigration system, or raise the minimum wage and help struggling families.
Instead, last week, under Speaker Boehner’s leadership, we voted for the 218th time this session to weaken existing laws that protect our health and the environment. This is pointless and counterproductive.
Irrefutable scientific evidence indicates that carbon dioxide emissions and other greenhouse gasses are causing climate change. Higher than average summer temperatures are causing glaciers and ice sheets to melt and sea levels to rise.
Greenland’s Mittivakkat Glacier has been through two consecutive melt seasons featuring record losses of frozen ice. The glacier lost seven feet of ice in 2010 and another eight feet melted away in 2011.
Compounding the problem is the effect of thermal expansion in our oceans. Since water expands as it warms, higher global temperatures are causing the oceans to rise and many islands around the world to slowly disappear. The Maldives, located in the Indian Ocean, is the most famous example, but about 16 islands have disappeared off the coast of Maryland and Virginia in the last century.
The cost of continuing to ignore the erosion of our coastline would be tremendous. Nearly 127 million people live in coastal areas of the United States. They support 57 million jobs and contribute nearly $7 trillion to our economy. That’s almost half of our national economic output.
Higher sea levels alone will increase the average annual cost of coastal storms along the eastern seaboard and Gulf of Mexico by $2 to $3.5 billion in the next 15 years. Sea level rise is occurring three to four times faster on the East Coast of the United States. In fact, Virginia especially will feel the effects of sea level rise as much of our coastal marshland is also sinking.
Nowhere is this problem a bigger concern than in Virginia’s tidal region, where the large U.S. Navy presence is vital to our national security. Hampton Roads has already experienced 14 inches of sea level rise since 1930. The region, home to the largest naval base in the U.S., will need major renovations to adapt to rising tides.
Already the base is plagued by power outages and will need millions of dollars more in repairs to maintain operations. Similar stories are occurring across the country as the Department of Defense looks to ready itself for harsher impacts of climate change in the years to come. Yet, last year, Congress passed an amendment banning the Defense Department from using funds to study climate change risks.
We cannot reverse climate change but we can slow the impact and our contributions to it. It’s ridiculous and dangerous to refuse to even study the issue. President Obama has led on this issue since he took office. It’s time for Congress to work with the President and the public to take action now.