Credit: George Danby

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Rev. Richard Killmer is a retired Presbyterian minister and lives in Yarmouth.

Last month, there was extraordinarily hot weather in the U.S. and around the globe. More than 100 million people in the lower 48 states were under heat alerts on Thursday, July 21, amid relentlessly sweltering temperatures that have soared as high as 115 degrees in recent days.

The U.S. heat wave, which has set at least 60 records, peaked last week as a historic bout of exceptional temperatures killed more than 1,000 people in Europe. While summertime is bound to be hot, the trend toward increasingly severe and long-duration heat events bears the fingerprint of human-induced climate change.

At the same time that North America and Europe were caught in the heat wave, the rest of the world, especially in the low-income nations, were suffering as well. The Global South is often hurt by the climate crisis first and foremost. As experts have long noted, the biggest climate injustices involve low-income countries that will suffer deeply because they already tend to be hotter. The Horn of Africa is struggling with drought, and South Africa, Chile and Brazil have faced water shortages. It’s all a reminder of both the extreme dangers from climate change and the unjust burdens that it is causing.  

This record-breaking weather followed a momentous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 30. Its ruling on the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate power plant greenhouse gas emissions hamstrings the Biden administration’s efforts to facilitate the power sector’s transition to renewable energy.

The landmark 6-3 opinion in West Virginia v. EPA stated that while EPA has power under the Clean Air Act to address climate warming pollutants, the law does not give the agency the authority to craft a regulation requiring power plants to shift their energy sources from fossil fuels to renewables. This means that the EPA can’t do the kind of transformational policy that climate experts say is necessary to reduce greenhouse emissions.

Consequently, President Joe Biden’s pledge to the rest of the world that the United States will cut its greenhouse pollution 50 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 will be difficult to pull off. In order to do that, most experts say that the United States would need a combination of new legislation and aggressive regulations on the most polluting sectors of industry — vehicles, power plants, and oil and drilling wells. This decision takes one of those tools, power plants, and makes it far less effective.

With the mayor of Washington, D.C., declaring a heat emergency in the city, Congress and the administration should take exceptional note and take extraordinary action. Biden and Congress still have significant tools to combat climate change.

There’s a spending bill that is being resurrected in Congress, the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, that includes $369 billion in climate and energy spending, reducing emissions by 40 percent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels. The bill also includes $60 billion in environmental justice investments. Passing this piece of legislation is critical to addressing climate change.

In addition, the EPA still has some other regulatory authority to cut emissions and it is working on new rules to cut methane.  

Many of us older Americans know that we have a responsibility to provide to the younger generations a world free from 115-degree heat and the other disastrous effects of the climate crisis. While we can work in our own homes and communities to reduce emissions, we need Congress and the Administration to step up and take action. Only then can we reverse the devasting trend of climate impacts and in so doing protect our communities.