“We’ve got this closed system. We’re on a ball floating through space, with a thin skin of gas around us. We’re changing the composition of the atmosphere with pollution in a way that traps more heat. This is going to continue as long (as) greenhouse gases continue building up.”
— Maxx Dilley, director of the Climate Programme at the World Meteorological Organization, following the recent report of what is likely a record high global temperature at Death Valley.
The negative impact of warming our atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels has been widely understood for over 30 years (and by many scientists long before, going back to the 19th century advent of the industrial era). But psychologically, economically and politically we have been in denial. Not only has global warming been with us for 150 years, it has been accelerating in the lifetime of everyone reading these comments.
Time is not on our side. The ecosystems that support our lives (and all living things) have breaking points that, when reached, transform them into different constellations of temperature, water and plants and animals. In the extreme flooding, wildfire, hurricanes and other wind events now becoming the norm, we can see that these changes do not favor human societies. And as the ice melts on the poles and on Greenland, the main regulator of global climate is being disrupted.
We are not incapable of response to this situation. In fact, enormous amounts of research, creativity, experimentation and funding are addressing exactly these problems all around the world. Clearly, psychologically most Americans have passed denial, and economically the will and ideas to do things differently have been demonstrated by many. And politically, there is much to cheer in some state and city actions that are moving toward a greener, cleaner and more just life for all.
But politically, we have stalled at the federal level. The problems of a warming world are complex and systemic and need to be addressed at a large scale if we are to have any hope of avoiding the most severe outcomes. So what better time than now, in the face of a critical election, to let candidates running for federal office know what we want?
Do we want strong action on climate? Do we want to discourage the burning of fossil fuels by putting a price on the greenhouse gases emitted when burned, to be paid by those who bring them into the economy?
Putting a “price on carbon,” as it is known in shorthand, can actually be a simple and highly effective way of removing the main driver of our increasing temperatures. If we are not able to stop adding greenhouse gases to our atmosphere, all of our other solutions to the problems caused by warming temperatures will ultimately be ineffective.
There is a bill in the U.S. House, HR 763, with 82 co-sponsors that would place a fee on the owners of fossils fuels when they first enter the economy. The fee is based on the greenhouse gases released upon combustion of the fuel. No other action would be necessary. As the fee gets passed along the supply chain, those who can meet their energy needs with renewable sources that are not subject to the fee will benefit. This is the market at work across the economy.
And what about the impact of this fee on people? The funds collected would be returned to American households as a dividend to cover any increases in prices and stimulate local economies with expected energy-smart choices made by consumers. A win-win.
How about asking candidates for federal office this year how they plan to fight for climate action?