Nearly one third of the Congressional chamber, 31 United States Senators, spent an entire night recently on the Senate floor highlighting the impact of climate change and calling for action. The 15 hour all-night marathon reiterated the dangers of a warming planet including worse air quality, an increase in food prices and damage and loss of property. Americans are seeing the impacts of climate change like never before, but the challenge is getting Washington to act at a time when progress has stalled on a variety of issues. This is a reality that should make us all lose sleep.
In the days following the Senate's vigil, a new analysis was published that reviewed 1,700 studies and found that even a warming of as little as 2° degrees Celsius will likely result in a reduction of staple crops like rice and corn. The study found that it will be increasingly difficult to predict the impact on crops as erratic weather becomes the norm. Large scale effects on our food supply will be evident in our lifetime, in as little as fifteen to twenty years.
Many of these impacts are already happening. On a conference call with the League of Conservation Voters recently, Congresswoman Linda Sanchez noted that the historic drought in California, where the rainfall in 2013 was only 25 percent of its usual total, is leading to higher food prices. The Golden State produces nearly half of U.S.-grown fruits, vegetables and nuts, while many other crops used around the country are produced only in California.
For Hispanics there is also an economic cost. Besides having to pay higher prices to put food on the table, Hispanics also make up the majority of farmworkers, whose job opportunities will become increasingly uncertain as these effects grow.
Watching Senator after Senator speak through the night last week made something else clear: the effects of climate change are being felt everywhere and in many different ways. Too often in policy debates, the rhetoric is repetitive. But during the all-night debate, each Senator made clear how climate change is impacting their state and their constituents in different ways.
Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley described how warmer winters are allowing pine beetle populations to grow, which are in turn decimating the state's forests.
Maine Senator Angus King described how warming ocean temperatures have pushed the lobsters off the state's coast to increasingly move north, disrupting the state's lobster industry and how carbon in the oceans is harming shellfish.
Nevada Senator Harry Reid reminded the Senate that the Colorado River has been affected by drought for more than a decade, which threatens the water source for more than 30 million people throughout western states.
And Senator Marin Heinrich of New Mexico highlighted that his state is seeing drier summers and bigger fires, with the two biggest fires in the state's history happening in just the last four years. When it does rain, it often leads to severe floods.
Time and again that night, one thing was made crystal clear: climate change is real, it is caused by humans and we have the obligation to act. So why haven't we? Right now Congress isn't moving nearly anything forward because corporate polluters and their allies like the Koch brothers stand to benefit financially from denial and delay. They have a stranglehold on too many members of Congress, who do their bidding by standing in the way of action even as the situation becomes more dire.
Luckily, the President is already advancing a strong climate action plan that sets limits on carbon pollution from power plants. For years our country has set limits for arsenic and mercury, but has allowed power plants to spew unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into our air. It's time to change that.
So our Senators need to continue to speak out, and the voices of Latino families who are feeling the impact of climate change also need to be heard. That's the only way we can get the safeguards we need to protect our communities.
Jennifer Allen is Director of the Latino Outreach Program at the League of Conservation Voters, www.lcv.org, on twitter: @LCVoters.