When an extreme heat wave blasted the country last summer, I grew concerned about my father’s health. Medical experts say hot weather takes the heaviest toll on senior citizens, and I knew my father would have a hard time managing the spike in temperature. He wasn’t alone. Young children and people with heart and lung illnesses are also vulnerable during heat waves. Diabetics, the obese, and people using common medications also face a greater risk when the heat rises. In other words, tens of millions of Americans are vulnerable to extreme heat.
That’s troubling news in the age of climate change.
According to a new report released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, extreme heat waves like we saw in 2012 now happen four times as often because of global warming pollution.
The study looked at several extreme weather events from last year and concluded that at least half of them were intensified or made more likely by climate change. The floodwaters from Superstorm Sandy, for instance, were made worse by rising sea levels, and the odds of a Sandy-like disaster happening again in New York City have already increased by 50 percent. Those odds will increase even more dramatically by the end of the century..
“Coastal communities are facing a looming crisis due to climate-related sea level rise,” William Sweet, one of the NOAA scientists who examined Sandy for the report, told the New York Times. Again, we are talking about tens of millions of Americans.
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Keep in mind that this study looked at events that already happened. People have already scrambled to keep unusually high floodwaters out of their homes. They have already rushed children to the ER because record-breaking heat is making smog pollution worse. Climate change is threatening our communities right now, and we owe it to our children to confront this danger before it gets worse.
We start by reducing the carbon pollution that is causing climate change. The largest amount of these emissions comes from power plants—they generate 40 percent of all carbon pollution in the United States. America has established limits on how much arsenic, mercury, and lead can go into our air. It’s time to do the same for carbon pollution.
In June, President Obama called on the Environmental Protection Agency to create carbon limits for power plants. NRDC analyzed one approach for doing so and found that these standards could cut carbon pollution 26 percent by 2020 and save people money on their monthly electricity bills. They could also create a net increase of 210,000 jobs in 2020.
These carbon reductions represent a sizable down payment on our children’s future. Our parents and grandparents faced their share of extreme weather, but climate change is loading the dice against our children and making these events more frequent and severe. By acting now, we can start stabilizing the climate and protecting future generations from the most extreme heat waves and storm surges. Click here to tell your lawmakers to support President Obama’s plan for cutting carbon pollution from power plants.