10/24/2014 08:27 pm ET Updated Dec 24, 2014

New Studies, Reports Heighten Need for Action on Climate Change

For years our Congress has ignored humans' impact on climate change.

Many members of Congress have used terms like "pseudoscience" and ignored the fact that 97 percent of scientists studying the issue have concluded that climate change is real, that its impact will significantly worsen with time and that human activity is the principal cause.

It is about time for Congress to address the issue and pass legislation that provides an innovative approach to both mitigating and adapting to climate change. Ignorance, benign neglect and self-interest need to be overcome. That is what leadership is all about.

Consider: The state of New York, through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), recently released a report titled "Responding to Climate Change in New York State: The ClimAID Integrated Assessment for Effective Climate Change Adaptation." The report was prepared for NYSERDA by researchers from Columbia University, the City University of New York and Cornell University. The findings are both predictable and sobering.

The study reviewed the impact of climate change on seven geographic areas of New York state in the areas of water resources, coastal zones, ecosystems, agriculture, energy, transportation, telecommunications and public health. The report states, "Temperatures are expected to rise significantly across the state, by 1.5 to 3°F by the 2020s, 3 to 5.5°F by the 2050s, and 4 to 9°F by the 2080s." In contrast to other areas of the country, the report says, "Annual average precipitation is projected to increase by up to 5 percent by the 2020s, up to 10 percent by the 2050s, and up to 15 percent by the 2080s." Sea-level projections "suggest 1 to 5 inches of rise by the 2020s, 5 to 12 inches by the 2050s, and 8 to 23 inches by the 2080s." If rapid melting of polar ice were to be factored in, sea-level increases would be projected to be "37 to 55 inches by the 2080s."

These numbers are astounding.

The report suggests how adaptation measures might reduce impacts but clearly recommends that "mitigation and adaptation measures should be considered in concert." The report also identifies the areas or locations and population groups that are likely to be affected if mitigation and adaptation measures are not adopted and implemented.

It's no surprise that the most vulnerable areas include rural areas, regions dependent on agriculture, low-income urban neighborhoods and coastal zones. As expected, the most vulnerable groups are expected to be the elderly, disabled and health-compromised individuals along with low-income groups.

For our policymakers who are not sympathetic to those who will suffer under the impact of human-induced climate changes, perhaps the economic effects will make a difference: The report suggests severe impacts to telecommunications, electric-grid infrastructure, agriculture, forestry resources, transportation, tourism and infrastructure.

Most recently the Pentagon released a report, "2014 Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap," that says climate change poses an immediate threat to national security. In the most recent report the Pentagon cites climate-derived impacts including strain on water supplies, destruction and devastation from more violent weather, droughts and crop failures and the potential for mass human migrations, all of which add up to global security threats.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has directed the Department of Defense to develop plans to integrate climate-change risk across all its operations. If global security isn't enough to make our Congress take action, what is?