The United States is a major contributor to climate change. We need our elected officials, at all levels, to stand up to interests that enable global warming. We must lead to protect our humanity and planet. The first step is to enact a National Climate Emergency Plan. (If you haven’t yet, please read our letter to the president and Congress urging a plan now. Read and sign it here.)
The climate emergency is substantial, urgent, and vital to the health and security of our communities and planet. These dangers are daunting. Yet we have seen the world come together to solve global environmental issues. For example, in 1987, President Ronald Reagan, overruling dissenting members of his Cabinet, urged Congress to ratify an international cap-and-trade treaty that would protect the Earth’s ozone layer. The treaty is often considered one of the most successful environmental efforts in history.
The plan outlined below is not designed to be an exact framework, but a collection of proven, innovative solutions and policy examples that will protect our communities and planet, while creating increased prosperity. First we have highlighted issues with frontline stories that must be addressed and exhibit solutions that can help. At the end we suggest possible policy solutions.
Suffering from almost 20 years of megadrought, the Navajo Nation reached a grim milestone with the highest per-capita COVID-19 infection rate in the U.S. At a time when access to clean water and handwashing facilities is a matter of life and death, a third of the Nation has no running water. A lack of clean water across the Navajo Nation compounds the crisis, as 30 million tons of toxic uranium mining, coal, oil, and fracking waste has polluted their land and water. Pollution contributes to the reasons why members of the Navajo Nation are 600 times more likely to die of tuberculosis and nearly 200 times more likely to die of diabetes than any other group. Despite all the ways the U.S. has failed the Navajo people, we have an opportunity to right continued historical wrongs and bring the latest clean energy technology, regenerative agriculture, and water generation to create a healthy circular economy that can be an example for communities across America.
Missouri State Representative Maria Chappelle-Nadal has been fighting climate change and environmental racism for decades. In the predominantly African American community of St. Louis County, Missouri, radioactive and dioxin waste is being spread further into parks and communities by increased flooding — an example of the racial and environmental injustice made worse by the climate crisis.
The community is now a cancer and autoimmune disease cluster. Last year, many parts of the Midwest and South were swamped by floodwaters which caused $6.2 billion in damages, according to the NOAA. Special Flood Hazard Areas set by FEMA do not account for the areas increasingly likely to flood due to the effects of climate change: Nearly 70 percent more houses may be at significant risk of flooding than FEMA designates as in Hazard Areas. The dangers in Missouri are mirrored nationally as flooding disproportionately harms African American neighborhoods.
Fresno California City Council Member Miguel Arias’ 12-year-old daughter Anaii had to deliver water to low-income kids of color because half of Fresno’s water is polluted from toxic contamination from nearby oil and gas drilling. Adding economic injustice to environmental racism, water costs more than soda in many stores. Anaii also goes to school next to a brownfield that is too polluted to effectively develop. The ground in the area is projected to sink 13 feet due to drought over the next 20 years unless urgent action is taken. Fresno is pursuing a $100 million settlement, and a nearby town won a $22 million settlement. When Sacramento Councilwoman Katie Valenzuela, who grew up in oil-producing Kern County, came back to tour the area, children told her that they were scared to go to sleep because their friends would go to bed and never wake up.
While deployed to Fallujah, Iraq, with the Marine Corps infantry, former Representative Alex Cornell du Houx gained firsthand insight into how climate change, water security, and our safety and prosperity are inseparable. During a routine patrol on a sweltering hot day, a roadside bomb exploded and hit his HUMVEE. As the dust cleared and after they had checked their limbs for damage, they quickly caught the assailant as he tried to escape. Fortunately, this military-age man had not been well trained, and most of the blast had missed the vehicle. After securing the area, they investigated and soon learned that he was a desperate farmer with little or no explosives experience. There was a record-setting drought driven by climate change, and his crops had failed. Vulnerable, he had been turned into a terrorist, paid to attack Americans. These dangers are now directly impacting the U.S. The same ongoing drought is affecting Saudi Arabia, as their aquifers are 80 percent depleted. They are now buying up U.S. water rights in the drought-stricken Southwest.
Water unites us. Elected Officials to Protect America mobilizes lawmakers who are veterans or frontline elected leaders as well as youth leaders and business leaders, to educate lawmakers, the public, and media on the dangers associated with the climate crisis—which is a threat multiplier to the water crisis, exacerbating diseases and environmental racism. The following are water-related dangers imperative to address at the local level and by implementing a federal climate emergency plan.
Fossil Fuel Water Pollution – The US Government Accountability Office has found that 40 U.S. states expect water shortages in 10 years. Nearly a fifth of Americans, 63 million, were exposed to unsafe water in the last decade. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the U.S. drinking water delivery system a D on its most recent infrastructure report card, based on the high number of leaks and the presence of both legacy contaminants like lead and new threats like PFAS – making it even more susceptible to climate change disasters like flooding and extreme storms.
In Fresno, California, half the water is polluted, as fossil-fuel companies have sold their toxic waste to farmers as a pesticide, which was found to be carotenogenic and unfilterable. Fresno is pursuing a $100 million settlement, and a nearby town won a $22 million settlement, yet the local papers have provided minimal coverage to the Fresno water crisis. Additionally, the area is projected to sink 13 feet due to drought over the next 20 years unless urgent action is taken.
Plastic pollution is so widespread we are eating and drinking a credit card worth of plastic each week according to a study by Australia’s University of Newcastle. The largest source of plastic ingestion is by drinking water. Plankton provides over half the world’s oxygen. Plastic blocks sunlight from getting to plankton, which prevents the organism from photosynthesis and thereby oxygenate the ocean and world. Plastic production is projected to be nearly half of global oil demand growth by 2050.
At any given time half of the world’s hospital beds are suffering from diseases associated with contaminated water. The World Health Organization estimates that every year more than 3.575 million people , making it one of the leading causes of deaths worldwide. In the United States where illness from public drinking water systems is not well-documented range 32 million cases each year.
At any given time, half of the world’s hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from diseases associated with contaminated water. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 3.5 million people die as a result of water-related diseases every year, making it one of the leading causes of death worldwide. In the United States, where illness from public drinking water systems is not well documented, estimates are around 32 million cases each year.
A CDC report found that the number of cases of illness transmitted by ticks more than doubled between 2004 and 2016. And by the end of this century, almost all almost all of the world’s population could be exposed to mosquito-borne diseases that were once limited to the tropics, making this the world’s most dangerous animal. Drought increases contact between water-stressed animals and humans, further spreading disease.
Arizona and much of the western United States have faced a twenty-year-long mega-drought, yet China and Saudi Arabia are extracting water from the region. Driven by mismanagement and climate change, Saudi Arabia banned wheat harvesting, because their aquifers are 80 percent depleted. They are now targeting the Southwest U.S., buying up water rights and planting alfalfa to ship back home to feed 170,000 cows.
The Center for Naval Analyses has released a report explaining how water insecurity can empower violent extremist organizations and place stable governments at risk. They also found that 70 to 80 percent of conflicts in rural areas stem from disputes over water. The UN reports that since 1948, there have been 37 incidents of acute conflict over water.
Long droughts and limited rainfall make for more frequent, powerful, and deadly fires across the U.S. From 2000 to 2018, wildfires burned more than twice as much land area per year than fires from 1985 to 1999. The high number of mega-fires — fires that burn more than 100,000 acres (156 square miles) — did not occur before 1970 and 61 percent of all documented wildfires have occurred since 2000. The extent of California that burns from wildfires every year has increased more than five-fold since 1972. To make matters worse, by 2016, the average wildfire season in the Western U.S. was 78 days longer than it was 50 years ago.
River, coastal, flash, and urban flooding all contribute to making floods the most common natural disaster in the United States, occurring in 98 percent of the nation’s counties. Even small floods are costly, as just one inch of flooding is capable of racking up more than $25,000 in damage to the average home. Despite this, a mere 15 percent of American homeowners had a flood insurance policy in 2018, as they cost on average about $1,000 per year.
May 2018 through May 2019 was the wettest on record in the United States, making for the mass flooding of the Midwest, according to NOAA. Nearly 38 inches of rain fell, almost eight inches above average. In the Great Lakes region, the past five years have been the wettest ever recorded in the region. During the 2020 Michigan floods, The National Weather Service reported record rainfall where more than 4 inches (10 centimeters) fell across parts of Midland in 48 hours: The Edenville Dam then collapsed on the evening of May 19, sending floodwaters south across the landscape. About an hour later, water spilled over the Sanford Dam and further flooded the Tittabawassee River and the surrounding area.
The ocean absorbs about 30 percent of the carbon dioxide that is released in the atmosphere. Ocean acidity has increased about 25 percent from preindustrial times to the early 21st century, a pace faster than any known in Earth’s geologic past. If we continue emitting CO2 at the same rate, by 2100 ocean acidity will have increased by about 150 percent. This will end shellfish industries. In Maine, lobsters are moving north and further away from the coast, from the $500 million per year industry.
In the Gulf of Mexico, nutrient pollution from runoff is combining with carbon pollution in the atmosphere to cause waters to acidify much more quickly than scientists expected, putting the $10 billion fishing industry there at risk. And in Alaska, where half of the seafood caught in this country comes from, rapidly acidifying cold water is endangering 70,000 jobs.