Friday, July 11, 2014 | 2:03 a.m.
This week, the Heartland Institute came to Las Vegas to host what it called “the biggest gathering of global warming skeptics in the world.” Meanwhile, back in the real Heartland, intense storms have flooded the Mississippi River. Rising waters have swamped city streets and submerged thousands of acres of crops in Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota. The Twin Cities alone have experienced their wettest year on record; residents have coped with weeks of flood warnings.
Heartland Institute conferencegoers may travel to the desert to deny climate change, but their Midwestern neighbors can’t escape reality that easily.
And the reality is our climate is changing is dangerous ways, and pollution from human activity is causing it. A full 97 percent of scientists support this finding, as do experts ranging from the Pentagon to Wall Street. The evidence shows that climate change is happening here and now. In 2012 alone, extreme weather cost our country more than $140 billion; taxpayers picked up nearly $100 billion of the cost of cleanup, according to a Natural Resources Defense Council analysis.
Las Vegas is no stranger to the hazards of global warming. The region is in the midst of the driest 14-year period on record, and Lake Mead — the source of 90 percent of Las Vegas’ water supply — hit its lowest level ever this week. Local scientists estimate that temperatures will rise about 2 degrees within 16 years and 4 degrees in 46 years.
The climate skeptics gathering in Las Vegas this week were welcome to enjoy the city’s attractions, attend conference sessions and discuss their own opinions. They are not, however, entitled to their own facts.
Fortunately, most Americans are looking the facts squarely in the face. A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 70 percent of Americans accept climate change as real, and perhaps more importantly, want their leaders to combat it. This includes a majority of Republicans.
Many of the Americans with whom I speak want to combat climate change because they view it as a moral obligation — they want to protect generations to come. They also want action because, after decades of warnings, climate change is happening right now and doing serious damage.
Thankfully, America is taking action. President Barack Obama has called on the Environmental Protection Agency to do the single most important thing the United States can to confront climate change right now: reduce carbon pollution from power plants.
These plants kick out 40 percent of the country’s carbon pollution, making them its single largest source. Right now, the U.S. limits mercury, arsenic, lead and other dangerous pollutants from power plants, but carbon gets a free pass and plants can release as much as of this pollution they want into our air. That’s not right.
Finally, our nation is closing the pollution loophole.
The EPA has released the “Clean Power Plan,” which will accelerate the move to a modern, clean energy system to power our future — one that relies on wind, solar and other forms of renewable energy. It also means new investment in efficiency, so we can do more with less, save money and make our workers more competitive.
This effort will protect our communities, our air, our water and our health. It also creates an opportunity to drive innovation, investment and jobs. Done right, cutting carbon pollution from power plants could stimulate $52 billion to $121 billion in cost-effective energy efficiency and renewable energy by 2020, and it could save U.S. families and businesses more than $37 billion on their electricity bills by the same year. That’s about $100 a year in savings for the average household.
It’s no wonder there is broad and growing support for cleaning up carbon pollution. An April poll by Harstad Strategic Research of 11 purple states found that more than two-thirds of people say the EPA should limit carbon pollution from power plants. That includes 53 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of independents and 87 percent of Democrats.
As for the last remaining climate deniers, they had their fun in Las Vegas this week — perhaps the flat earth devotees had similar gatherings in Rome — but their numbers are dwindling rapidly. Despite Heartland’s disinformation campaign, America is no longer debating climate change. We’re now working to solve it.
Frances Beinecke is the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.