Overheard at the water cooler this week:

Tom: Sally, did you know we can solve climate change for as little as $35 per person?
Sally: I’m afraid that’s a waste of my money, Tom.
Tom: But what if a polluter gave you the $35 and you could buy things like LED lights that saved you hundreds of dollars over the next decade?
Sally: But Tom, I’d be afraid of looking like a fool when we discover that climate change isn’t real.
Tom: So in summary, you’re not interested in saving money and making the world more sustainable …because you’re afraid?

OK, so this conversation didn’t really happen, but it summarizes the thinking of what can only be called from this point forward “climate cowards.” Let me explain.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) just issued its fifth periodic assessment of climate change research, which only reviews studies and conclusions that all climate scientists from over 130 countries unanimously agree on. The basic conclusions should make the collar tighten around our collective neck:
• accelerated warming reported in the past 60 years is 95% likely to be caused by our burning of fossil fuels and other greenhouse gas emissions;
• as a result, there is a 90% chance that ice caps will melt and sea levels will rise faster in the next few decades and that heat waves will continue to occur with a higher frequency and duration;
• fresh water supplies are diminishing, leading to crop failures, especially in poorer nations, and violent conflict over water and land in the future is very likely.

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“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” said Dr. R.K. Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC. In fact, most people are already feeling these impacts. Throughout the western U.S., mountain snowpack is declining, along with the water supplies that are usually associated with it. In Alaska, ironically a major producer of fossil fuels, sea level rise is already causing erosion that has forced entire communities to relocate. In New York the Public Service Commission ordered a major utility to spend $1 billion to upgrade its grid system to prevent future damage from flooding, like the impacts of Hurricane Sandy.

And the “violent conflict” part? Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni wrote “We will pay for this one way or another,” noting that we can invest in reducing greenhouse gas emissions today, “or we will pay the price later in military terms. And that will involve human lives.” By the way, he wrote that in 2009.

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Knowing what’s at stake, how can anyone fail to support meaningful, immediate action, especially when there are things we can all do with very real returns on investment. For example, starting this month California consumers will see an average $35 credit on electricity bills thanks to the state’s carbon cap-and-trade program. People are urged to use the money to buy things like LED light bulbs, which save more money over time than they cost to buy, so the credit could essentially multiply over time while making a significant contribution to greenhouse gas reductions when you add up so many millions of consumers.

Nor is California the first to take this approach. Ten northeastern states have had a Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) for several years. An independent review by the Analysis Group shows the economic benefits of RGGI¹s first three years include $1.1 billion in electricity bill savings for consumers; 16,000 additional job-years; and $765 million retained in local economies due to reduced out-of-state fossil fuel demand. Imagine how much more money will stay in local economies, that is now going overseas, when we apply the same programs to transportation fuels.

So it’s time to call the politicians who still deny climate change and still refuse to embrace the solutions – – even with abundant evidence of the economic benefits of doing so – – exactly what they are: climate cowards. They are afraid of change and afraid to give up campaign contributions from self-serving fossil fuel interests that are stalling progress on the most significant issue of our time. We deserve better and should use this latest IPCC report, not just as the evidence of human-caused climate change, but also as the only evidence any voter needs to sweep climate cowards out of office in the November elections.