As a student, I care about climate action because my future literally depends on it — recent reports by the IPCC and Trump’s own administration suggest that if we don’t make drastic progress decarbonizing our economy now, we won’t be able to avoid the catastrophic consequences of climate change.
A change of this scale requires action at all levels of government, including state and local levels. North Carolina is doing a great job so far: Locally, entities like the Wake County Commission, the city of Durham, and the town of Apex are committing to 100% clean or renewable energy, and at the state level, Governor Cooper’s Executive Order 80 calls for the state to reduce emissions 40% from the 2005 baseline. But North Carolina’s senators, Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, have yet to support important Senate legislation that would strengthen the United States’ commitment to take global climate change seriously.
The House of Representatives has proven that it is taking this matter seriously, as it recently passed HR 9, or the Climate Action Now Act, which would prevent congressional funding from being appropriated towards withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement. It would also mandate the executive branch to produce an annual climate action plan, which would then go to Congress to receive funding and approval. Now that HR 9 has passed the House, it must pass the Senate, which also seems to be showing interest in climate action. Last Friday, a companion bill, the International Climate Accountability Act, was introduced by New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. These bills both provide easy opportunities for Thom Tillis and Richard Burr to indicate that they are willing to protect North Carolina’s people and economy from the threats that climate change poses to our state.
In particular, two of North Carolina’s most important industries — agriculture and tourism — stand to lose a lot from the effects of climate change. According to a recent report by NC State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, agriculture and agribusiness are responsible for $76 billion of North Carolina’s economy. That's 16% of the 2013 North Carolina GDP. Climate change has already caused damage to agriculture and agribusiness in N.C. Last year, Hurricane Florence caused more than$1.1 billion in agricultural damage, according to the N.C. Department of Agriculture. Climate change also brings an increased risk of wildfires — extra heat in the atmosphere draws out moisture from the land and from plants, drying them out. In the North Carolina Appalachians, this threatens valuable agricultural activities, including the state’s profitable Christmas tree crops.
North Carolina’s tourism industry is also an essential part of our economy. According to another report from NC State, tourism expenditures on the Outer Banks alone exceed$1 billion per year. Unfortunately, ocean temperatures continue to rise as a result of its absorption of atmospheric heat. Sadly, this also means that more Arctic ice will melt, raising the sea level as much as 20 feet by 2050 if carbon emissions continue at a business-as-usual rate. This means that much of N.C.’s present coastline could be underwater within our lifetimes.
Needless to say, North Carolina is not exempt from the effects of climate change. As leaders of a state that stands to lose so much from inaction on climate change, Sens. Tillis and Burr must do what is right for their state by acknowledging the financial risks and take action now before it is too late. Supporting HR 9 and the International Climate Accountability Act would be a small step towards ensuring a better future for North Carolina, but it would certainly be a step in the right direction.
Tymber Felts is a fourth-year studying international studies.