Each year we spew 20 times more carbon into the air than our planet can remove. Atmospheric scientists have warned that, in order to get Earth back to healthy carbon dioxide (CO2) levels, humankind needs to cut those emissions by a whopping 98% — a seemingly impossible feat.
That isn’t stopping Barack Obama’s presidential administration from taking a stab at the problem, though.
The new EPA-backed regulations are part of the Clean Air Act, and they outline the first federal limits on carbon emissions that coal-, oil-, and gas-fired plants can expel. (All US states have to submit plans to meet the new regulations by Sept. 6, 2018.) According to the Associated Press, the goal of a 32% cut in CO2 emissions in 15 years is an even stiffer regulation than his original plan, which called for a 30% cut. The Obama administration is referring to this as “the biggest, most important step we’ve ever taken to combat climate change.”
Here are a few ways reining in carbon emissions could improve our lives.
Higher temperatures mean higher cooling bills. Since 1970, we've increased worldwide demand for cooling while decreasing our need for heating. As temperatures continue to rise, they create a cycle that continues to feed itself: higher temperatures mean higher energy needs for cooling, which of course means higher energy prices.
A July 2015 report published by Synapse Energy Economics, an environmental research and consulting firm, estimates that US consumers could save about $US40 billion in energy costs in 2030 alone if Obama's clean energy plan is adopted now. The report also estimates that household energy bills would drop about $US14 per month, compared to average energy bills in 2012.
Air pollution comes from a variety of natural and unnatural sources, but anything that burns fossil fuels -- cars, planes, power plants, etc. -- muck up our air with CO2 as well as other pollutants.
Dirtier air contributes to decreased lung function, according National Geographic News, which also reports that cases of asthma may rise by about 10% in metropolitan cities like New York City. Warmer temperatures also drive up pollen production and lengthen pollen seasons, spiking rates of asthma and allergies. Studies show that for the past 20 years, as CO2 levels rise, the pollen season gets worse and worse.
Surging global temperatures contribute to hotter days, more severe droughts, and heavier rainfall and flooding. Climatologists also warn that a warming planet likely exacerbates extreme weather events, such as Hurricane Sandy.
Coastal cities are especially in danger, since they face rising sea levels and increased frequency and severity of storms. Storm surges damage property, destroy habitats, disrupt transportation, and increase risks of disease to humans. Current sea level rise projection indicate parts of lower Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, and Staten Island could soon be submerged by several feet of water during storms. Studies estimate that just 3 feet of sea level rise could force 4.6 million people in coastal Florida to relocate.
Increased runoff and flooding also contributes to deadly landslides in mountainous regions of the US. It also pollutes water along the coast. Extreme droughts, such as the current drought in California, will squeeze affected state's water resources and contribute to the economic burden of delivering fresh water to consumers and farmers.
California grows most US produce, including nearly half of the country's home-grown fruits, nuts, and vegetables. Yet the state's record-breaking drought, which has been raging for more than four years, has dealt a $US2.7-billion blow to the state economy in agricultural losses. Studies estimate that about 32% of California's land will become fallow in 2015, leading to the loss of nearly 19,000 jobs.
While not all produce is affected, some fruits and vegetables are seeing big price hikes. According to the LA Times, prices for consumer staples like garlic have shot up 100%, radishes 57%, carrots 48%, grapefruit 45%, and green onions 42%.
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