Action Alert

World Environment Day

Take a Stand Against the Consequences of Climate Change

World Environment Day
As the climate changes, plants will grow in different places and at different times. That raises the question: Will pollinators follow?

“Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” said a panel of scientists in a recent White House sponsored report titled the "National Climate Assessment." The scientists highlighted 12 major findings in the report, including the discovery that average temperatures have increased by almost 2 degrees Fahrenheit on average for the country over the last 20 years compared to the previous 60 years. The researchers reported that these changing conditions have caused damage to human health: “Climate change is increasing the risks of respiratory stress from poor air quality, heat stress, and the spread of food-borne, insect-borne, and waterborne diseases.” The scientists also conclude from their findings that climate change disproportionately affects the vulnerable of society, including children, the poor and the elderly: “There is mounting evidence that harm to the nation will increase substantially in the future unless global emissions of heat-trapping gases are greatly reduced.” Additionally, the report predicts an increase in both severe and severe flooding across the United States: “And over the past half-century, the proportion of precipitation that is falling in very heavy rain events has jumped by 71 percent in the Northeast, by 37 percent in the Midwest and by 27 percent in the South.”

The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church state: “All creation is the Lord’s, and we are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it. Water, air, soil, minerals, energy resources, plants, animal life, and space are to be valued and conserved because they are God’s creation and not solely because they are useful to human beings.” On Earth Day in April, President Obama decried some of the most harmful impacts climate change has caused: “Increasingly severe weather patterns strain infrastructure and damage our communities, especially low-income communities, which are disproportionately vulnerable and have few resources to prepare. The consequences of climate change will only grow more dire in the years to come.” It is important to learn about and take action against the harmful effects of pollution in order to secure justice and a safe future for all of Earth’s inhabitants.

Government Action

To combat the rising levels of carbon pollution and the risk it poses in terms of climate change, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is announcing new standards that will limit carbon pollution from power plants. Thirty-three percent of greenhouse gas emission in the United States comes from the production of electricity, more than any other source. The EPA states that unchecked carbon pollution leads to adverse health risks, including from heat waves and, smog, extreme weather events, and an increase in the range of ticks and mosquitoes, which can spread dangerous diseases such as Lyme disease and the West Nile Virus. Vulnerable people, such as young children, older adults and people living in poverty may be at the most risk to suffer from these health risks.

On June 2, 2014, the EPA announced standards for existing power plants that are designed to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent between 2005 and 2030. States would have the opportunity to instruct power plants to meet these new standards through a variety of methods, such as investing in new, more energy-efficient equipment, shifting to natural gas as the source of electricity instead of using coal, or investing in renewable energy outside of plants. The regulations employ a “mass-based system” that would give states an overall target to meet instead of limiting the emissions for each power plant. The Washington Post writes, “’This plan is all about flexibility,’ EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said in prepared remarks Monday morning. ‘That’s what makes it ambitious, but achievable. That’s how we can keep our energy affordable and reliable.’” These new standards aim to cut 500 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, compared to the 6 billion metric tons limited by the president’s regulations over cars and trucks between 2012 and 2025.

In September 2013, the EPA announced carbon pollution standards for new power plants under the direction of the president’s climate action plan. The EPA found that the electrical power sector, comprised of nearly 7,000 power plants, makes up 33 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in the country, more than any other sector. The standards for new plants correspond to the advances in “clean energy technologies” so that the U.S. will be forced to rely on other energy sources, such as clean coal technology, nuclear power and wind energy. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), coal-sourced power plants provided the most energy in the country in 2013 and make up just under half of all power production, with the second largest source being natural gas.

In addition to the new carbon standards for power plants, Senator Jeanne Shaheen (NH) introduced S. 1392, the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2013, to set new energy standards for buildings. This legislation would create a national standard for building energy codes, leading to incentives for engineers to use more energy-efficient methods in the design of buildings and motor systems. Additionally, the legislation would coordinate with ENERGY STAR to require energy-saving techniques for computers. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy evaluated the legislation and found that it could lead to 164,000 new jobs, $14 billion in saved energy costs for consumers, and could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 80 million tons by 2030. The bill has been introduced in the Senate but not been referred to a committee. Meanwhile, an identical bill in the House introduced by Rep. David McKinley of West Virginia, HR 1616, has been referred to the Subcommittee on Energy.

Last month, the Obama Administration announced that it was delaying its decision about whether to approve or reject construction of the Keystone XL pipeline due to a recent ruling by a Nebraskan court that affected part of the pipeline’s projected route. Administration officials are investigating potential environmentally harmful impacts of the pipeline, which would carry oil from tar sands deposits in western Canada to an already existing pipeline in Nebraska, where it would then head south to oil refineries in Texas and Oklahoma. A study conducted by the State Department on the environmental impacts of the project concluded that construction of the pipeline would not significantly affect greenhouse gas emissions, but opponents of the pipeline warn of leaks into U.S. soil and that it will increase energy dependence on fossil fuels. While the president did not signal as to when his decision would be made, the date projected by the Nebraska court system is not until January 2015. In the meantime, Republicans and Democrats in the Senate are considering taking a vote on a bill that would pressure President Obama to decide more quickly. The president has previously said that he will only sign off on the project if he concludes that it “does not significantly exacerbate the climate problem.”

Human Damage to the Environment

Increasing amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere created by human technology are blamed by many scientists as the reason for climate change. The National Research Council (NRC), NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other major scientific agencies all agree that humans are contributing to climate change mainly through excess greenhouse gases. The NRC stated in a 2010 report that, “Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems.” While the extent to which humans are adding to climate change is still being debated by scientists, there is no doubt that people need to take action to minimize the impact of carbon pollution.

Carbon dioxide and other gases created by human activities contribute to climate change through a process called the greenhouse effect. The temperature of the Earth is dependent on the balance of energy it receives from the sun and its core: “When incoming energy from the sun is absorbed by the Earth system, Earth warms. When the sun’s energy is reflected back into space, Earth avoids warming. When energy is released back into space, Earth cools.” Greenhouse gases refer to certain gases that absorb heat into the Earth’s atmosphere instead of releasing it back into space. Carbon dioxide is a major greenhouse gas, and the more of it that is in the atmosphere, the warmer the air will be. Scientists at NOAA warn that if the air gets too hot, the balance of life will be disrupted by the death of different species of plants and animals, which in turn would upset the food chain and cause “serious problems worldwide.”

But greenhouse gases are not the only way that humans affect the environment. Water and air pollution from automobiles and negligent factories also cause damage and limit sustainability. In 2011, the Bureau of Transportation Statistics estimated that nearly 250 million vehicles were operated on U.S. roads and highways. Conversely, there are only 23,000 transit rail vehicles that are available to be used for public transportation. While emissions from cars and trucks pollute the air, public transportation services are not widely available, and, if so, mainly in urban centers. Additionally, the EPA has noted: “When the water in our rivers, lakes, and oceans becomes polluted [from industrial and manufacturing waste], the effects can be far reaching. It can endanger wildlife, make our drinking water unsafe and threaten the waters where we swim and fish.”

Posted or updated: 6/2/2014 11:00:00 PM

Suggested pages:
Be Just. Be Green.
Action Alerts

Take Action

  • Contact your congressional representatives (congressional switchboard: (202) 224-3121) and urge them to support the EPA’s new power plant regulations, and to move S. 1392 and HR 1616, the Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2013, out of committee and to a vote.
  • Read the president’s “National Climate Assessment” report at www.nca2014.globalchange.gov.
  • Watch the president discuss the need for carbon dioxide emissions regulations on existing power plants and read about the EPA proposal at www.whitehouse.gov/climate-change
  • Track grassroots responses to plans for the Keystone XL pipeline at Bold Nebraska, www.boldnebraska.org, representing a coalition of farmers and ranchers.
    And then contact the White House at (202) 456-1111 to let the Administration know your position on the Keystone XL pipeline.
  • Write your Senator or member of Congress and tell them to support S. 2306 or HR 644, the Delaware River Basin Conservation Act introduced by Sen. Thomas Carper and Rep. John Carney, both of Delaware. The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works recently held a hearing to discuss this piece of legislation, which would direct the Secretary of the Interior to provide protection and restoration for parts of the Delaware River Basin that have been damaged by pollution. Read about it on app.com.
  • Take the World Environment Day challenge on June 5 by going to www.unep.org/wed/wedchallenge and committing to reducing your carbon footprint and energy usage.
  • Learn more about the United Methodist Women climate justice and environmental sustainability campaign by visiting the web page at unitedmethodistwomen.org/environment. Take the13 Steps to Sustainability and find out more about the Women’s Carbon Fund, which will support projects that help women, families and communities whose lives have been affected by climate change.
  • Watch the HBO documentary Gasland to learn about the effects of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas at www.gaslandthemovie.com.
  • Read Environmental Justice for a Sustainable Future,” ¶1023, pages 67-75; and “God’s Creation and the Church,” ¶1027, pages 87-88, in The Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church (2012).
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