The consensus among scientists is that the earth’s climate is getting steadily warmer, a trend driven by burning fossil fuels and by other human-caused emissions of carbon into the planet’s atmosphere.
The changes are predicted to have grim consequences everywhere, but the impacts will be especially devastating in the desert Southwest. As politicians argue over the veracity of climate change predictions and the costs of reducing emissions, some Nevadans are working to educate the public about climate change and goad leaders into taking action to mitigate its effects.
“Climate change will have a huge impact on Nevada ,” says Launce Rake, an account executive with Summers Strategies of Las Vegas, a strategic communications and marketing firm. “… The climate is getting hotter and dryer. That means less water, more heat, and more wildfires.”
Las Vegans will wilt and some will die during brutal summer heat waves, he says, as rural Nevada becomes parched and ranches and farms go bust. There will be thinner snowpack in the mountains and evaporation will claim more runoff water, causing Lake Tahoe and Lake Meade to recede and threaten water supplies. Some effects of the warming trend can be seen today and polls show that about 70 percent of Americans believe climate change is happening. The debate over what to do about it – and if the threat is even real — continues.
“Data indicates that the overwhelming majority of Americans are aware of climate change as a reality,” Rake says. “But there are powerful forces working to deny that reality and what it will mean to our children.”
Across Nevada , citizen groups are working to put a spotlight on climate change. The Citizens Climate Lobby has more than 500 chapters in the U.S. and abroad, including in each of the Silver State ’s congressional districts. The group is committed to “building the political will for the climate solutions we all need.” Members lobby federal lawmakers and local governments. They give talks to community groups, organize student activists and converse with friends and neighbors about how national climate action can mitigate disaster while strengthening the economy.
“We do grassroots events and outreach to everyone from service groups to the school boards,” says Michael Collins, Nevada coordinator for the Climate Lobby.
The group endorses the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, a bill in Congress that supporters say would reduce America ’s emissions by at least 40 percent in the first dozen years. The plan would assess a fee on fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas that would progressively increase over time. The fee would incentivize industries and consumers to move toward cleaner, cheaper options. Businesses would pass that cost on to consumers, but the revenue from the fees would be allocated in equal shares every month to Americans to spend as they see fit. Families with a smaller “carbon footprint” could break even or make money on the deal. Those who use more energy – who buy lots of gas, have big houses or take lots of plane trips — would lay out more on energy costs than they would get from the allocations.
Collins says the plan is a starting point that would have significant results in mitigating climate change effects. Other proposals, like the Green New Deal, would also have to be implemented to blunt the effects of the changes. “The carbon dividend can turbo charge the other plans,” he says.
The fee is tantamount to a tax on carbon, and new taxes are never popular. But polls show Americans are increasingly worried about climate change and want to do something about it while it’s still possible. According to the most recent Yale Climate Opinion Survey, about that 60 percent (1.1 million) of Nevada ’s adults worry about global warming. Nationally, certainty about climate change increased 12 percentage points in the past 3 years, with 49 percent of the public now “extremely” or “very sure” that global warming is happening.
The most important reasons Americans give for taking action to reduce global warming, according to the Yale study, is to “provide a better life for our children and grandchildren” (24 percent), “prevent the destruction of most life on the planet” (16 percent), or “protect God’s creation (12 percent). Climate change deniers can become believers, but believers don’t often become deniers, the Yale study and other surveys indicate.
“The number of people who believe in climate change and believe that humans are driving it has taken a huge leap from two or three years ago,” says Joanne Leovy, director of the Las Vegas chapter of the Climate Lobby. “There’s less focus on debate and more focus on the predicted impacts.”
Leovy and other activists meet with Nevada ’s members of Congress, state and local officials and community leaders to urge action on climate change. She says while some people who believe in global warming may despair that nothing can be done, that will become a self-fulfilling prophesy if the nation remains bogged down in debate over the reality of the science.
First, Leovy says, “we have to solve the political problem that is at the heart of the crisis.”