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Sven Sundgaard: However you vote, climate change should not be a partisan issue

The entire country needs to urgently come together to find a hopeful path forward.
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“We must leave this Earth in better condition than we found it, and today this old truth must be applied to new threats facing the resources which sustain us all, the atmosphere and the ocean, the stratosphere and the biosphere. Our village is truly global."

George H. W. Bush, 1992, at Rio De Janeiro’s "Earth."

Climate change should not be a "red" or ‘blue’ issue. The quote above from President Bush is a perfect example of that. While climate change is now predominantly considered to be a cause of the left, a significant number of historic environmental policies have been implemented by Republican presidents.

President Bush was actually the first president to raise the issue of climate change,and helped strengthen the Clean Air Act, reduced ozone emissions (remember there was a big hole in the '80s?) and reduced sulfur dioxide in coal mining to greatly reduce acid rain.

Meanwhile Richard Nixon set up the EPA, NOAA, the Clean Air & Water Act. He signed the Endangered Species Act which saved bald eagles, green sea turtles, manatees, grizzlies and wolves.

Speaking of endangered species, did you know that one of the world’s most vulnerable and rapidly disappearing animal, the rhino, lived as close as Nebraska, Iowa and maybe even in our own backyard, southern Minnesota at one time!? The first time I learned that, it blew my mind. It was not long after I saw wild black rhinos in Namibia, one of their last strongholds left on the planet. Of course, they’re an endangered species now, primarily due to poaching and loss of sufficient habitat- a common theme on our planet and the most common factor for struggling species.

These ancient Midwest rhino species, Teleoceras, died in a kind of "Pompeii" way. In fact, they are preserved in central Nebraska’s Ashfall Park. Their volcano, their Mount Vesuvius, was the great Yellowstone Caldera, which still has the potential to wipe out half of life in North America…and actually has in the past. These poor creatures, along with many others, suffocated in the hundreds of thousands near watering holes where they could gasp their last, final breath of air. Tragic of course, but a natural-caused extinction.

Why am I talking about Nebraska rhinos? Well, there have been five mass extinction events in Earth’s history, where vast numbers of biodiversity vanish forever. We are currently in the sixth, the only one caused by another species, which is – you guessed it – human beings.

This dilemma is multi-faceted. Of course, there are more than seven billion of us, destroying habitat, polluting environments. But a big, over-arching factor is climate change. Climate change is the warming of the planet caused by carbon emissions, much of which is the result of burning fossil fuels. While it remains a political football, there is no longer any serious debate on the issue in scientific circles, and hasn't been for decades. What's more, Americans are increasingly recognizing the threat it presents because almost all of us have seen the effects first hand.

This year alone we saw record fires in California and Colorado, and historic derecho storms that caused horrific damage in Iowa. Three of the four worst ever fires in Colorado were just this year. The acreage burned by fires in California this year are the most in recorded history, coming off what were record seasons in 2017, 2018 and 2019. Coincidence? I think not. This is science. This is climate change. 9 of the 10 hottest years on our planet have all been in this decade (the tenth is 2005). The trends and data are undeniable.

This September was the hottest September on our planet. July was the hottest ever-recorded month ever in the northern hemisphere. Siberia, in the Arctic Circle, hit 100 degrees this year. We’re still waiting for the seas on that side of the Arctic to freeze. That has never happened this late. Some people believe this only matters if you are a polar bear, but this matters to all of us because we are part of or the entire arctic ecosystem. We are an interconnected web.

What happens in the Arctic doesn’t just stay in the Arctic. Jet streams and weather patterns have become extreme and more erratic, affecting us particularly in Minnesota with drastic shifts (more so than normal) in weather, an issue that is all the more topical after Minnesota just experienced its snowiest and one of its coldest Octobers on record. 

This is potentially a direct result of a rapidly warming Arctic. The Arctic is the A/C for the northern hemisphere. Mess that up and we are in real trouble. Think about what it’s like not to have power and A/C in the middle of a July summer.

The environment, and clean air and water should be a bipartisan issue. Our future generations depend on us. They need us to take climate change seriously, not make its existence up for political debate. Any debate there is should be centered on the different ways we can tackle it, but preventing climate catastrophe should be the common goal.

Yes, China pollutes more, but we are still second in the burning of fossil fuels and disproportionate to our population in the world. 

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If we are lucky, we have maybe a decade to take drastic action that can avoid the worst case scenarios. No time for going backward. No time for trial and error.

Despite concerns over the economic cost, not taking action would be even more disastrous. We can create a clean energy economy. Solar energy this year officially became the world's cheapest energy resource. There are jobs to be created in the area of solar energy and this can help save our planet.

There is opportunity for America to become a world leader. Just to our south, the Amazon rainforest too is seeing record fires, started by people, encouraged by reckless leadership. The Amazon is vital to our planet’s ability to naturally absorb CO2, not to mention home to immense biodiversity. Why would they care if we do not care?

Irrespective of your political views, make climate change a priority. Let your elected representatives know, become active in eco-stewardship, become a more responsible consumer. Your kids, grandkids, and species on the brink of disappearing forever depend on it.

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