Opinion: A need for national climate change legislation
We have just experienced a preview of what climate disruption has in store for us.
Because of increasing ocean temperatures, the recent hurricanes with their record-breaking intensity and floods have devastated large regions of our Gulf states, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.
In addition, because of a hotter, dryer atmosphere and higher winds, the wildfires in the U.S. West have been horrific. A 2016 study, by highly respected Columbia University scientists, concluded that human-induced climate change has doubled the western states’ area affected by wildfires over the past 30 years.
The loss of life, plus physical and psychological health costs, have taken an unbearable toll. The economic estimate to replace homes, businesses, and infrastructure from this year’s destruction alone exceeds $300 billion.
Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree, based on the evidence, that human activity is exacerbating global warming, primarily by our relentless burning of fossil fuels.
The warming effect has been unequivocally described from at least four different perspectives: The Defense Department states that global warming is a serious “threat multiplier” endangering our national security; medical professionals state that it is our major public health risk going forward; economists and business leaders agree that it will have a terrible effect on our economy; and biologists are observing climate-related species extinction and dying oceans, soils, and waterways.
Here in the Sierra and foothills, we are on the frontline of climate change. Droughts will be longer, causing our forests to be more susceptible to diseases and wildfires. Warmer winters will mean a decreasing annual snow pack, impacting our outdoor recreation industry and local economy.
We know we cannot stop the effects of the global warming that has already occurred. But we still have time to stabilize the climate and prevent the hotter, drier and wetter weather that further global warming will cause, putting bigger and bigger burdens on our environment, our economy and our national security. How?
We can get Congress to pass legislation putting the market to work on solving climate change by placing a price on carbon. Despite the negativity of the current Washington administration on climate change, Congress, a separate and equal branch of government, can act on its own.
The policy that has garnered support from thought leaders across the political spectrum is a steadily rising fee on fossil fuels at the well, the mine or the border with revenue returned to households. This uses the power of the marketplace to hold fossil fuels accountable for the damage they inflict on society.
A gradually increasing carbon fee provides the predictability necessary to unleash investment and entrepreneurship that will accelerate the transition to renewable energy. It will help change consumer behavior to support low-carbon alternatives, reducing overall carbon emissions.
The revenue, which would be returned equally to households as a monthly “dividend,” would protect consumers, especially low-income consumers, from the impact of rising energy costs associated with the carbon fee.
A study from the highly respected, nonpartisan economic consulting firm Regional Economic Models, Inc. modeled the effects of such a policy. It concluded that after 20 years, the carbon fee and dividend legislation would not only reduce carbon emissions to 50 percent of 1990 levels, it would actually grow the economy — creating 2.8 million jobs and increasing gross domestic product and real incomes — and avoid thousands of deaths from the effects of carbon pollution.
There are clear signs that bipartisan action on climate change is gaining support. In the House of Representatives, the Climate Solutions Caucus, started last year by two members of Congress from South Florida, now has 60 members, half from each party. They are engaged in bipartisan dialogue to find common ground on reducing the risks of climate change.
An influential group of conservatives, headed by former secretaries of state George Schultz and James Baker, have formed the Climate Leadership Council and advocate for a carbon pricing policy that returns revenue to households.
It is up to us as citizens — Republicans, Democrats, independents, liberals and conservatives, young and old — to tell our members of Congress we want action on climate change. We can meet with them and their staffs often, write them letters, telephone them, and question them at town hall meetings.
We can ask friends, family, local community leaders, and locally elected officials to do the same. If we do not, we will leave our children and grandchildren a world in which more destructive storms and wildfires, economic instability, and international strife are our legacy.
Deirdre Henderson is group leader of the North Tahoe Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. John Sorensen is co-leader of the Northern California chapter of the Elders Climate Action Campaign