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Flatten the (Climate) Curve

graph with x-axis as the global temp. and y-axis as time. Without climate protective measures global temperatures will spike in a short time but with climate protective measures the curve can stay below 2 degrees celsius increase.

COVID-19 is teach­ing us an impor­tant les­son about flat­ten­ing the curve.” We now know that by tak­ing ear­ly action like social dis­tanc­ing, we have a fight­ing chance to avoid a cat­a­stroph­ic build-up of infect­ed patients that can over­whelm the health care sys­tem. Push­ing out the cri­sis time­line also pro­vides an oppor­tu­ni­ty for med­ical inno­va­tors to find and test ther­a­peu­tics and, ulti­mate­ly, a vac­cine that can van­quish the virus.

This flat­ten-the-curve teach­ing also applies to the cli­mate cri­sis. The time­line dif­fers and, thank­ful­ly, the strate­gies for attack­ing cli­mate are far more eco­nom­i­cal­ly palat­able than those for the coro­n­avirus. But the mes­sage is the same: If we take action now to decar­bonize our econ­o­my, we have a fight­ing chance to keep the glob­al tem­per­a­ture rise in check, avoid­ing the most cat­a­stroph­ic con­se­quences of cli­mate change. Indeed, because of the long life of the cli­mate-dam­ag­ing green­house gas­es that we are adding to the atmos­phere, if we miss our chance to shave off peak emis­sions, we may be liv­ing above the line” with a cli­mate cat­a­stro­phe for a very long time.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, when it comes to cli­mate, this admin­is­tra­tion is ignor­ing the experts and tak­ing steps that will steep­en, not lessen, the destruc­tive cli­mate curve, while also show­ing lit­tle inter­est in invest­ing in the cli­mate equiv­a­lent of ther­a­pies (adap­ta­tion) or vac­cines (net zero emis­sions tech­nolo­gies and practices).

This week, for exam­ple, the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) and the Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment final­ized a rule that rolls back exist­ing mileage effi­cien­cy require­ments that the auto indus­try already had agreed to meet. As a result, the U.S.’s largest source of green­house gas emis­sions — the trans­porta­tion sec­tor — will cumu­la­tive­ly gen­er­ate an addi­tion­al 1.5 bil­lion met­ric tons of car­bon emis­sions by 2040, accord­ing to an analy­sis by the Envi­ron­men­tal Defense Fund— an increase in cumu­la­tive emis­sions larg­er than the annu­al econ­o­my-wide emis­sions of more than three-quar­ters of the coun­tries on earth.

Like­wise, as reviewed in our recent 300 and Count­ing report, the admin­is­tra­tion steep­ened the cli­mate curve a few months ago by aban­don­ing car­bon reduc­tions in the pow­er sec­tor — the sec­ond largest source of green­house gas emis­sions in the U.S. The EPA also has pro­posed nix­ing the oil and gas industry’s oblig­a­tions to restrict its high­ly-destruc­tive and waste­ful methane emis­sions, miss­ing anoth­er impor­tant oppor­tu­ni­ty to bend the curve. And by rolling back high­ly-suc­cess­ful ener­gy effi­cien­cy stan­dards for light­ing and oth­er appli­ances, the Ener­gy Depart­ment is accel­er­at­ing the rise of the cli­mate curve.

It is utter­ly irre­spon­si­ble for the admin­is­tra­tion to not acknowl­edge — or take pre­ven­ta­tive mea­sures to flat­ten — the cli­mate curve and, worse yet, to insist on steep­en­ing its tra­jec­to­ry. Its actions are com­plete­ly at odds with the broad con­sen­sus held by the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty, elect­ed offi­cials (par­tic­u­lar­ly at the state and city lev­el), cor­po­rate lead­ers and the pub­lic at large, that we need to take mean­ing­ful steps now to fight cli­mate change and tran­si­tion to a clean ener­gy econ­o­my. And, unlike the response to the coro­n­avirus, cli­mate pro­tec­tive mea­sures can be imple­ment­ed with­out harm­ful eco­nom­ic dis­rup­tions — in fact, many will cre­ate jobs and reduce cost­ly health impacts.