May is usually a rainy time of the year but this year is special. As I write the Arkansas River is rising to a historic high level. Some homes in low lying areas of Fort Smith and Van Buren are flooded and the crest is still days away. The Interstate 540 bridge over the Arkansas River is closed and some Highways near the river are closing due to flooding. Pope County Judge Ben Cross has suggested that even sections of Interstate 40 may close.
This flooding presents immediate problems for travelers and homeowners alike but also threatens agriculture, the number one industry in Arkansas. Waterlogged fields can’t be planted and this is the planting season. Couple this the self-inflicted wounds of tariff wars with China and one can see that farming in the Arkansas River Valley is in trouble.
Could this particular flooding event have been predicted? Of course not, but the likelihood of the flooding has been predicted. General Circulation Models (GCM,) the computer systems that estimate the effects of climate change due to global warming, indicate that a warmer climate is a wetter climate for the simple reason that warmer air holds more moisture. The models are doing a good job of predicting a general increase is severe weather including storms and flooding in the midwest and midsouth.
Although most Americans accept the reality of man-made global warming, we have yet to demand action to mitigate or reduce the threat. What will it take? What ever steps we take need to be done immediately and with the understanding that the solution will take a long time. It has taken a couple of centuries to increase the concentration of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere by 70% but we are realizing the effects at an increasingly rapid rate.
The solution of course is to decarbonize our energy systems. Simply put we need to stop burning stuff to produce energy for industry, to heat and cool our homes and fuel our vehicles. Tremendous strides have been made to lower the cost of wind and solar energy. The next revolution which will make the transition possible is battery storage of the electrical energy. We need an immediate program, a national agenda, to support sustainable energy and suppress carbon emitting fuels.
Democrats have introduced a bill in the US House of representatives to institute a Carbon Fee and Dividend. This will both favor the transition to sustainable energy, but create millions of high tech jobs – jobs that can’t be outsourced as the work must happen here. Additional benefits include a reduction of hundreds of thousands of premature deaths due to improved air quality.
The biggest fear of this transition to a stable future is economic. The fossil fuel industry has tried to paint a sustainable energy future as more expensive but nothing could be further from the truth. The cost of inaction is increasingly expensive. The avoided cost to taking action now, coupled with the reduced costs of wind and solar versus fossil fuels makes for a bright future.
Lower energy costs, more jobs, a more stable climate, and cleaner air – the time has come.
Dr. Bob Allen, Ph.D., is Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at Arkansas Tech University.