Climate Change, Energy, Air and Public Health Program
Better Media Coverage is Essential
“Simply assuming that this is an interesting controversy that we should check in on occasionally is not correct. The survival of human civilization is at risk. The news media should be making this existential crisis the No. 1 topic they cover.” Al Gore, speaking on climate change, quoted in the New York Times, Nov. 23, 2013.
The Earth is Becoming Uninhabitable
Great Rivers Works to Stop the Sixth Extinction--of the Human Species
Climate change refers to the increase in the earth's temperature caused by a buildup of various gases in the earth's atmosphere. These gases-notably carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide-keep the sun's heat from being sufficiently radiated back into space. The buildup of these so-called "greenhouse gases" has allowed too much of the sun's heat to remain in the earth's atmosphere. Although some of the sun's energy is needed to make the earth habitable by maintaining an average temperature in the atmosphere which is needed to support life, the buildup of these so-called "greenhouse gases" has allowed too much of the sun's heat to remain in the earth's atmosphere.
Scientists agree that human activity is the cause of the temperature increase. Since the Industrial Revolution, the average temperature has been rising, with a one-degree Fahrenheit increase noted during the last century, with accelerated warming occurring in the last twenty years. Scientists also believe that this warming is due to the greatly enhanced burning of fossil fuels (e.g., coal, gasoline and other petroleum-derived products) which generates large amounts of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide. Industrial production, use of internal combustion engines in motor vehicles, increased agriculture and mining are the most common human activities to which climate change has been attributed. Among the countries of the world, the United States is one of the highest producers of greenhouse gas emissions.
The effects of climate change have already begun to be felt and, at current emission levels, will very soon become catastrophic. Glaciers and polar ice caps have melted, causing the sea level to rise in coastal areas. If allowed to continue, this will result in actual inundation of these areas with a resulting loss of property and land mass. Simultaneously, inland regions will experience severe droughts which will destroy numerous plant and animal species and seriously impact crop yields and water supplies. As the warming atmosphere provides a more hospitable environment for pathogenic organisms, the incidence of some diseases such as malaria will be enhanced. Oceanic weather patterns will experience dramatic, destructive change; scientists believe that the increasing number of tropical storms and hurricanes may be caused, at least in part, by global warming. Weather patterns over land may be affected alternatively by drought, heat waves and/or higher intensity precipitation. Some of the greenhouse gases may also be contributing to stratospheric ozone depletion.
The most sensible and effective means for halting and reversing global warming is through international efforts to reduce global warming, particularly in those countries responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions. The United States needs to pass a carbon tax immediately to stem our production of global-warming causing emissions.
Great Rivers Environmental Law Center is closely monitoring scientific and political developments in connection with climate change. Our Energy and Air Programs are also our Climate Change program, as energy production is directly related to climate change.
Missouri can do much more to stem its production of global-warming causing emissions. Our regulated utilities can invest in solar and wind as are utilities in other states. Missouri still depends on 80% of its energy from burning coal. This is disastrous in light of the new studies showing how quickly the planet is heating up and how many people will no longer have sources of water as glaciers melt and lakes dry up. It is time for our utilities to own up to their part in creating the upcoming catastrophe in the planet.
Great Rivers works to promote public health and to decrease carbon pollution by encouraging cleaner energy. Our program consists of several projects. We advocate for the Public Service Commission to reward utilties for switching to solar, wind and energy efficiency. We monitor actions taken by government and utilities to see whether they would be detrimental to air quality and public health. We take action to challenge permits for polluting industries and facilities and if necessary challenge these facilities in court. Our Energy Program is also our Climate Change program, as Missouri's energy production contributes a huge number of global-warming causing pollutants.
Air Quality and Public Health
An important part of our air quality program involves monitoring actions taken by federal, state and local governments that will impact the quality of the air breathed by the citizens of Missouri and surrounding states. Great Rivers is frequently involved in matters that adversely affect air quality. Measures taken by Great Rivers include drafting comments to proposed rules, issuing position papers about the pollutants, and, as a last resort, handling litigation for clients seeking to improve air quality.