Time has arrived for voters to call on Congress to reduce carbon emissions

By Guest Columnist JEFF JOSLIN, an airline captain who chairs the North Atlanta Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. 

Climate change anxiety is growing in America. Georgians are no exception. Voters in our state exhibit broad public support for actions that would tame the growing climate threat.

Jeff Joslin

Jeff Joslin

Seventy-three percent of Georgians support regulating the greenhouse gas, CO², as a pollutant. A whopping 82 percent support funding increased renewable energy research, according to results of the Yale Climate Opinion 2016.

Sadly, the Trump Administration is doing the opposite by aggressively rolling back progress. They have begun dismantling the EPA’s clean power plan and stated an intent to open public lands and waters to increased coal mining and oil drilling. Plans to rescind regulations on coal fired power plant emissions are being implemented. America’s participation in the Paris Climate Agreement is in jeopardy, threatening a leadership role that will be filled by other nations. Why the disconnect?  More importantly, what can we do?

President Trump campaigned on promises of reducing government regulations on the coal and oil industries that hinder profits and restrict job growth.  Economists however, question these “job saving” proposals.  Meanwhile clean energy jobs have been experiencing explosive growth.

A 2017 US Department of Energy report shows solar jobs growing at a rate of 25 percent and wind employment at 32 percent, a remarkable accomplishment which must continue. America is experiencing a much-needed energy transition, providing robust employment opportunities.

The vibrant yellow-orange color of a sunset is a signature of air pollution, according to a report in 'Scientific American.' Credit: Jeff Joslin

The vibrant yellow-orange color of a sunset is a signature of air pollution, according to a report in ‘Scientific American.’ Credit: Jeff Joslin

Here at home, University of Georgia climatologists point to increasing risks: To our health, farmers, and coastline. Smog and wildfire smoke increasingly puts the elderly, children and those with respiratory problems in jeopardy. Extreme heat and drought have destroyed crops, shifting traditional crop regions while stressing and killing livestock. Some north Georgia farmers lost their entire crops in 2016. On the coast, the continual flooding of the road to Tybee Island is a visual indicator of the catastrophic destruction sea level rise will eventually wreak on Georgia’s coastal communities. Storm damage exacerbates destruction of our fragile coast.

Many of us, seeing even more harmful impacts world-wide, are truly distraught.  The recent Science March and last weekend’s People’s Climate March expressed this broad frustration. Americans have often “taken to the streets” to express anger over inaction and injustice. But marches haven’t spurred the politically needed solutions that are essential to protect us from the human induced harms bearing down on us. Why? When asked what would prevent the adoption of putting a price on greenhouse gases, a Georgia congressional aid admitted that his greatest concern was the activation of special interest groups in opposition to both the legislation and the future employment of the congressman.

There is reason for hope.

Georvia voters and their elected congressmen are starkly divided over proposals to regulate carbon. Special: Jeff Joslin

Georvia voters and their elected congressmen are starkly divided over proposals to regulate carbon. Special: Jeff Joslin

Market based proposals to price air pollutants are seeing growing support. The Climate Leadership Council, a highly-respected group of former Reagan cabinet members (George Shultz, Jim Baker and Henry Paulson) stepped forward with a sound plan. “The Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends” consists of 4-pillars. The proposal calls for a gradually increasing tax on carbon emissions, border adjustments provisions (preventing competition from non-taxed imports), regulatory rollbacks and a carbon dividend for all Americans. This plan would put a price on the harmful impact of fossil fuels pollutants which have never been fairly priced into the market.  Also, a carbon dividend to every household would ease rising prices and stimulate the economy.

A similar plan has been proposed by Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL). CCL’s thousands of volunteers have been speaking directly to Congressional members over its 10-year history. Their “Carbon Fee and Dividend” (CFD) bill would dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 52 percent over 20 years. Removal of associated air pollutants would save 227,000 American lives. Lower income Americans are protected from price increases. They typically have small carbon footprints, making the dividend a modest income for some. This stimulative effect grows jobs and the economy.

voters on carbon

Nearly three out of four Georgia voters think carbon should be regulated. Special: Jeff Joslin

CCL members are creating political will to implement CFD. Members focus on developing long term relationships with members of Congress and their staff. Building trust and understanding for this conservatively approached strategy is essential. Political will is also grown through public engagement such as letters to the editor of newspapers, speaking and tabling at public events.

CCL’s efforts have fostered the growth of the House of Representatives Climate Solutions Caucus. The 38 members are truly bipartisan, joining in pairs, one Republican and one Democrat at a time. Their stated goal is to “explore policy options that address the impacts, causes, and challenges of our changing climate.”

What about Georgia politicians?  Not one of our Congressmen is a member of the Climate Solutions Caucus. Sadly, the Georgia delegation’s climate change support too often follows ideological lines. We can change that.

As scientists increasingly worry that we are approaching serious tipping points in the Earth’s systems, it is more important than ever that all of us speak up. Politicians respond to vigorous, sustained pleas from the majority. Have you ever contacted your congressional Representative and told him or her you want them to support a fee on carbon?  The question we must ask is, if the majority of Georgians support regulating carbon, why isn’t it priced or regulated?

An important election is underway right now in Georgia’s 6th District to replace Tom Price.  This is an ideal opportunity to query the climate stance of both candidates. Every candidate forum should address this issue. You don’t have to live in the district to raise questions about the changing climate.

Georgia voters can lead. Let’s step forward, ensuring climate gets attention commensurate with the steep risks we face. We can set the stage for the 2018 midterm elections. Otherwise, unaddressed burdens we will be placed on future generations.

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