THE BLOG

Cities Take the Heat for Global Warming

06/04/2014 10:49 am ET | Updated Aug 04, 2014
Ray Pfortner via Getty Images

Five years into his presidency, Barack Obama is finally addressing the most serious issue facing the planet: climate change. Of course, this week's proposed Environmental Protection Agency orders that polluters reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 will be stonewalled in Washington. Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell -- representative of the coal-producing state of Kentucky -- immediately attacked the plan as "a dagger in the heart of the American middle class."

Meanwhile, the disastrous climate studies pile up: The earth is facing mass extinctions Antarctic glacier collapse is unstoppable, and hundreds of cities will be swamped by sea-level rise.

If McConnell and the rest of Washington's climate-change deniers think EPA rules will harm the economy, what do they think will be the impact of worldwide food riots and coastlines washed away?

But while Washington fiddles, America's cities are responding -- if only by necessity. A very interesting development on this front happened in April: Farmers Insurance filed class-action lawsuits against the city of Chicago, arguing it is not sufficiently preparing for disastrous heavy rainfall resulting from climate change.

You can see where this is headed: Unless we do something big soon, climate disasters are only getting worse, and the insurance giant doesn't want to be left holding the bag. Someone has to pay homeowners and other policy holders the cost of ruined property.

As Climate Progress reporter Ari Phillips explained, the lawsuits aim to force cities "to take a more forward-looking approach in designing and engineering for a future made different by climate change."

It's a case of one big industry (insurance companies) attempting to get someone to take responsibility for the disastrous by-products of another industry (fossil fuel companies). Insurers are also cutting their ties to industry groups that deny climate change is real. In 2012, State Farm stopped giving money to right-wing think tank and global-warming skeptic The Heartland Institute.

But unless comprehensive legislation moves forward, local governments will continue to be on the front lines of disaster, and paying for it. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said as much at the United Nations last week. The new U.N. special envoy for cities and climate change, Bloomberg insisted cities should force greenhouse reductions.

"Those actions will save lives, they'll strengthen and protect the national economies, they'll make cities more healthy and economically vibrant and together they'll make a difference in the global fight against climate change," Bloomberg said.

He pointed to New York City's reduction in heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions "and the city's cleanest air in 50 years as a result of measures including eliminating the dirtiest heating oil from buildings and planting 800,000 new trees."

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, a member of President Obama's climate task force, supports the new EPA rules, while he trumpets local work already happening. "By 2025, Los Angeles will be buying 33 percent of its power from renewable energy sources, well ahead of the 2030 deadline proposed by the EPA," the Bay Area News Group reported.

But who really thinks this will be enough to forestall predictions such as those by Climate Central? Its researchers 'photoshopped' frightening future images of 12 feet of sea rise in major American cities. In L.A. we'll need to surround Venice beach with a dike.

Of course, the U.S. taxpayer often gets stuck with climate disaster bills, too. Remember Hurricane Sandy and its East Coast devastation. Even then, there was a fight in Washington, with Tea Party members of the House of Representatives insisting on budget cuts to offset the rescue of New York and New Jersey.

Such rescues are -- let's face it -- a bailout, just as taxpayers rescued failed banks in 2008. Whether it's insurers, cities, states or the U.S. government that pick up the tab for climate disasters, the fossil fuel industry is getting a free meal and making a huge mess.