Clean air, safe drinking water, and sufficient food supply are all increasingly at risk from extreme weather events as we advance into the 21st century. In the absence of government mandates, it’s incumbent upon U.S. industry to take precautionary actions like those outlined in the Paris Climate Agreements. Doing so will prevent the pervasive, irreversible consequences of climate change by allowing for adaptive management to changes over several decades. By implementing cost-effective measures, environmental and health degradation can be mitigated.
After a long struggle to contain a global rise in temperature, the largest international climate conference in history, the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21), made commitments aimed to keep global warming below 2°C by developing The Paris Agreement. The multilateral agreement between 197 parties who came together to create a sustainable and dynamic action agenda seeks to prevent the escalation of climate change, but what about the impacts of deviations in weather patterns already in effect?
A common misconception regarding climate change is that it simply means the earth will get warmer, but the true definition reveals that the change is in the distribution of weather patterns around the world. Quite simply, wet areas will get wetter and dry areas will get drier. Climatologists are already seeing this pattern and predict more extreme weather events, sea levels rising, and warming oceans in the coming decades.
Policymakers typically structure environmental policies to stop worsening climate change, but the burden on water resources has already started being intensified. For every fraction of a degree the atmosphere is warmed, the hydrologic cycle is altering the intensity of precipitation—impacting both water quality and the safety of water sources.
We may soon see impacts on drinking water and ecosystems that will lead to ripple effects on our food supply as water quality and supply are jeopardized by climate change. Water quality is already diminishing due to increased sediment from heavy downpours. In some areas where competition for water is increasing, quantity is decreasing as short- and long-term droughts are gradually intensifying.
Skeptics often cite lack of scientific certainty as a reason for postponing action on climate change, but accumulating evidence is adding weight to the “better safe than sorry” argument. Early warnings of climate change ring the alarm bell for doing the bare minimum—just in case—as the economic consequences of doing nothing continue to mount. The U.S. weaning itself off fossil fuels is a clear first step in abating those consequences. The 97% chance that climate change is caused by human involvement is evidence decisions about energy profiles need to look differently from this point forward.
Our country has been one step behind Europe in creating energy efficient products and reducing greenhouse gas emissions through policy techniques such as carbon pricing and “cap and trade” agreements. If corporations were to get in front of potentially strict cap and trade agreements before they’re on the table, for example, they would be able to act gradually and economically, rather than abruptly with potential penalties for violations.
The removal of the U.S. from the Paris Climate deal came after President Trump talked skeptically of climate change—calling it a “con job” and a “myth.” But what are the costs of waiting for a permanent display of its authenticity? The U.S. is not tied to any international climate legislation since the withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement in 2017, a decision that came with strong criticism both internationally and domestically and resulted in estrangement from our closest allies. States have taken up the Paris targets on their individual agendas, but not taking the opportunity to mitigate climate change at a national level could cost America.
Critics of climate change attest that legislation will negatively affect our strongest economic sources based in fossil fuels, but not leaning into the precautionary principle could lead to costs that could be mitigated in the inevitable fight for water resources.