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As Arctic freeze hits the US, study warns governments to combat climate change

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An Arctic blast that has worked its way down from Canada is still inching its way across the US, with western states like Washington and Oregon feeling the bite of temperatures from zero to the teens. Rain, snow and ice storms have swamped states across the central, Midwest and Southern Plains, with Texas getting the most recent impact as the storm moves east to New York.

The brutal intensity and breadth of the early storms have taken everyone by surprise.

According to Carl Parker with the National Weather Service, the frigid system will impact more than 32 million people this week. "This cold air is going to overtake just about the entire country," said Parker as quoted by NBC News.

Furthermore, an independent group of scientists led by one of NASA’s former climate experts, Jim Hansen, released a report this week that says the world’s governments need to take combating climate change more seriously because they believe the target to avoid a disastrous tipping point of warming should be 1 degree Celsius, instead of the current aim of 2 degrees.

World governments must do more on climate change

Environmental journalist Jeremy Hance explained it this way, “The scientists argue that allowing the climate to warm 2 degrees Celsius would lead to massive and devastating impacts, including rising sea levels that could hit 6 meters above current levels within a few hundred years, essentially swamping the world's coastal populations. The scientists warn that allowing global temperatures to rise 2 degrees would lead to ‘slow’ warming feedbacks that eventually push our climate up three to 4 degrees Celsius in total, unleashing catastrophic climate change that would change the face of the Earth entirely.”

Hansen and 17 other scientists wrote in their study that governments must do more to restore Earth’s atmospheric balance and avoid the increase of heat-uptake by the oceans to elude irreparable damage by the continued use of fossil fuel emissions. Not to do so, they say, would be “an act of extraordinary witting intergenerational injustice."

"It is urgent that large, long-term emission reductions begin soon. Even if a 6 percent/year reduction rate and 500 gigatons of carbon are not achieved, it makes a huge difference when reductions begin. There is no practical justification for why emissions necessarily must even approach 1000 gigatons of carbon," say the scientists, referring to the figures targeted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Combating climate change is an economical and moral issue

So why aren’t world governments doing more to combat climate change? Critics say it comes down to politics, business as usual, lack of urgency, corporate self-interests and greed.

Hansen and his researchers believe it is possible to keep the world’s atmospheric temperatures from rising to 1 degree Celsius by investments in renewable energy and expansion of safer nuclear power, but most importantly the reduction of carbon emissions by imposing a price on its use.

Co-author of the study, Jeffrey Sachs with Columbia University’s Earth Institute, said at a press conference that the “cost would be about 1 percent of GDP a year to decarbonize society, far cheaper than the alternative.”

Economically, the researchers say a massive energy transformation would create thousands of jobs. In a very practical sense, “comparing a path to de-carbonization” to a “path of wrecking the planet” should be a no-brainer.

Increasing the extraction of tar sands, hydrofracking, shale gas and methane hydrates will only add to the problem.

"Fossil fuels are cheap only because they do not pay their costs to society and receive large direct and indirect subsidies," the researchers claim. "Air and water pollution from fossil fuel extraction and use have high costs in human health, food production, and natural ecosystems, killing more than 1,000,000 people per year and affecting the health of billions of people, with costs borne by the public."

Moreover, Hansen and his group appealed to the general public and the judicial branches of the world to make more responsible choices, which might allow less leverage by industrial lobbyists.

"We maintain that failure of governments to effectively address climate change infringes on fundamental rights of young people," they wrote in their paper, adding the rising moral dimension of climate change could drive the societal transformation required.

US politicians, including President Barack Obama, claim they want to leave a better world for their children and future generations, but the current congressional gridlock hasn’t allowed anything substantive to be done on climate change beyond the use of executive order.

How many ice storms, floods, hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, 12-foot snow drifts, human casualties and catastrophic weather anomalies will it take for the US to step up and lead on the most serious problem the world faces, global warming?

To read the full paper published by Hansen and his group click here.

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