Reston, VA

This is an opinion column by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

The highlight of last week along with Earth Day was the announcement by President Joe Biden that the United States is returning to the Paris Climate Agreement. The Agreement that was adopted by nearly 200 nations of the world came into being in 2016. President Barack Obama led the United States in joining the Agreement that united the world’s nations for the first time in a single understanding on global warming and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The only other example of something like this agreement previously was the Montreal Protocol in which 197 countries agreed in 1987 to ban chlorofluorocarbons (CFC). Scientists had discovered that CFC was causing a hole in the ozone layer which if not stopped would lead to disastrous health results. All nations banned CFC as a result. The United States estimates that because of the ban by the year 2065 more than 6.3 million skin cancer deaths would have been avoided and between 1985 and the year 2100 Americans avoiding suffering from cataracts would number 22 million.

With the Montreal Protocol the leaders of the world responded to scientific findings, prevented a huge amount of human suffering, and saved trillions of dollars in healthcare costs. On the subject of climate change and global warming there are those who want to continue to debate scientific findings and ignore the evidence that is becoming even more apparent that the earth is heating up and the consequences are going to be devastating if action is not taken right away.

The Paris Climate Agreement commits nations of the world to take action to keep global temperature well below the pre-industrial level of 2.0C or 3.6F and endeavor to limit temperature rise to 1.5C. The Agreement limits the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the same levels that trees, soil and water can naturally absorb. Each country sets its own emission-reduction targets that are reviewed every five years. The Agreement has richer nations helping poorer countries with financing to switch to renewable energy.

While the United States left the Agreement for a short time under the previous president the announcement by President Biden restores the United States to its rightful role of being a leader in ending climate change. Many states and cities had pledged to seek these goals even when the country for a short time seemed not willing to. After all the United States is the largest contributor to greenhouse gases exceeded only by China. Beyond re-joining the Agreement, the President is committing the United States to more aggressive actions to cut emissions by 2030 rather than 2050 that scientists now say is necessary if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Just as nations came together to rid the world of CFC and prevent major health horrors, I believe that nations can come together to provide responsible leadership and actions to stop climate change. It will cost money to do so, but the savings to the planet will be inestimable. We will end fossil fuel use, control carbon release, and adopt more alternative and resilient ways of living and doing things. Our country can and will be a leader in these planet-saving changes!

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