Congress needs to take climate change seriously

By Guest Columnist MICHAEL WALLS, a former labor and employment lawyer and long time advocate for environmental, public transit and peace and justice issues

As a father and grandfather, I am deeply concerned about the most pressing issue the world’s children will likely have to face during their lifetimes.

Michael Walls

Michael Walls

Every news cycle seems to bring more bad news about climate change. Each of the last two years set records as the warmest since we began measuring surface temperatures over 150 years ago. Based on temperatures to date, it’s virtually certain that 2016 will establish another record. In fact, July was the hottest single month ever recorded.

Studies show that the annual Arctic ice melt is starting earlier and ending later, resulting in a decline in total sea ice and causing sea levels to rise faster than originally expected. In South Florida and along the Georgia coast, local governments are struggling to fund infrastructure improvements made necessary by rising sea levels. In Louisiana, coastal villages are endangered and in Alaska, some villages have already had to be relocated.

Exit glacier, sign

This sign at Exit glacier, near Seward, Alaska, reads, in part: “If you had been standing here in 1998, the ice would have been right at your feet. … As you walk the trail watch for clues of life rebounding in the wake of the glacier. … Can you imagine how this place will look in 10 or 20 years.” Credit: Erin McFall

The Pentagon warns that our major future security threat is political instability and dislocation due to climate change. A prime example may be Syria, where civil war was immediately preceded by seven years of extreme drought that forced farmers off the land and into cities where they were unable to find jobs and overburdened services.

Similarly, in Central America, coffee production has declined dramatically due to warmer and wetter growing seasons, resulting in thousands of displaced coffee workers. It is no coincidence that the countries most affected – El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala – have experienced an increase in drug trafficking, violence and migration.

Without question, our country and the world is already dealing with the effects of global warming. The scariest part is that recent events are playing out exactly the way climate scientists predicted they would. If the scientists continue to be correct, we are seeing a small hint of the world we’re leaving future generations. Unfortunately, this is unfolding at a time when our elected officials are paralyzed in partisan gridlock, with one party refusing to even acknowledge that global warming is a problem.

But, there is reason to be hopeful.

Evidence exists that a consensus has been reached by the American public that would support significant steps to deal with global warming. According to recent polling, over 70 percent of Americans now believe global warming is real and supported by solid evidence. Sixty-five percent believe it is caused by human activity and 59 percent believe the effects have already begun.

Moreover, cracks are appearing in the solid wall of opposition by congressional Republicans. Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY), along with 13 Republican co-sponsors, introduced House Resolution 424, which calls for legislative action to reduce the effects of climate change. A Climate Solutions Caucus has been formed in the House that presently has eight Republican and eight Democratic members working together to come up with bi-partisan legislation to address climate change. A Senate Energy and Environmental Working Group was created by four Republican Senators. All of that has occurred within the last twelve months. Interestingly, almost all of the Republicans involved are from states such as Florida, South Carolina, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and California that are already experiencing severe effects from global warming.

Exit glacier, view

Exit glacier, near Seward, Alaska, is shrinking at a rate of nearly 200 feet a year. Credit: Erin McFall

Scientists and economists agree that the most effective first step to reducing the likelihood of catastrophic climate change is to price the cost of burning fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas).

Citizen’s Climate Lobby, a non-profit, non-partisan organization, advocates for a carbon fee and dividend plan that’s modeled on the Shultz-Becker Plan, first proposed by former Reagan Secretary of State, George Shultz and Nobel laureate in economics Gary Becker. It is a conservative, market-based plan that imposes a revenue-neutral and steadily rising fee on fossil fuels. As proposed, 100 per cent of the revenue collected through the fee would be paid into a fund administered by IRS that would then be distributed equally to taxpayers on a monthly basis.

ice flow calving

An increase in the calving of ice flows has been attributed to global warming. Credit: globalchange.gov

This is a concrete, substantive proposal that would effectively decrease carbon emissions without raising taxes while providing relief from inflationary pressures that might result from the fee. It is designed to be able to receive the support of conservatives who understand that we have a problem and want to be a part of the solution. It deserves consideration by elected officials in Georgia, from city and county officials struggling to deal with needed infrastructural improvements caused by rising sea levels to officials in the metro Atlanta area concerned about rising asthma rates among children, due to pollution. It especially deserves consideration by our Republican Senators and Congresspersons who should join with those of their colleagues who have acknowledged climate change is a serious issue that warrants their attention.

Climate scientists warn that urgent action on global warming is required to mitigate its effects. Our children and grandchildren deserve leaders who are willing to listen to that warning and to take their futures seriously.

 

11 replies
  1. Avatar
    PJMD says:

    This is a reasonable proposal by the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, of which I’m an active member. Note that it includes a border carbon tariff to level the playing field between US industry and other countries’, who will quickly fall in line with their own carbon pricing plans rather than pay American tax payers at the border for the privilege of doing business with the world’s biggest economy. They’d rather keep their money. 

    Remember, there’s no world government to set a worldwide price on carbon to solve this global problem. The only enforcement mechanism is the world economy itself. Carbon fee, dividend and border duty engages the gears of the global economy like no other entity can, certainly not the UN nor any single country. This is economics 101. 

    And as former Secretary of the Treasury and State George P. Shultz says, “It’s not a tax if the government doesn’t keep the money.” He ought to know.Report

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  2. Avatar
    Heath Harvey says:

    Don’t expect much from the Georgia delegation. God himself could proclaim the human contribution to climate change and our Senators and most of our Representatives would deny it.Report

    Reply
  3. Avatar
    Dave Cartwright says:

    It’s almost too late already. If a magician or a god made our world economy carbon neutral tomorrow, we’d have decades of warming already baked in based on the carbon we’ve already released. By the time we actually get to carbon neutral, we’ll likely have already baked in enough warming to knock large scale human civilization back to the bronze age.Report

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  4. Avatar
    bcngator63 says:

    We obviously are in a period of global warming because we are not in an ice age.  Now you need to stop parroting the party line and show us some calculations.  In the 1970’s the pseudo scientists claimed that if we didn’t stop polluting, we were going to have another ice age.  We shut down all the steel mills, foundries, etc and now you claim that if we don’t stop polluting  all the glaciers will melt.  You need to make up your mind.  While we’re at, 15,000 years ago there were glaciers in Ohio, what caused them to recedeReport

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  5. Avatar
    Emil Walcek says:

    Warming? Yes. Human-induced? One theory among many according to Dr. Chris Walcek, Senior Research Scientist at Atmospheric Sciences Research Center, State University NY Albany, previously with National Center for Atmospheric Research. For 450,000 years some process causes the earth to briefly warm up every 100000 years or so, but this warmth is fleeting and the world slips back into ice ages. The average temperature of the earth ALWAYS CHANGES.

    Why? The scientifically honest answer is: We don!t know. Theories: 
    • Solar Variations?
    • Earth orbit changes (Axis tilt, eccentricity, “Milankovic”)?
    • Geological: Volcanoes, continental drift?
    • “Internal oscillations” (e. g. El Nino)?
    • Astronomical reasons? Intergalactic Dust?
    … and the latest …
    • Human-induced factors….Report

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  6. Avatar
    Wormser Hats says:

    Life, as we know it, has hitched a ride on this cosmic pendulum we call “home.”  It matters-not that the Earth’s climate is warming, cooling, or changing in any dramatic or subtle ways. What matters is that, like most other organisms on this planet, we’re sensitive to the paradigm of change and respond to it adaptively, creatively, and evolutionarily. 
    Just like life on this planet always has and continues to do, we must, we can, and we will adapt. 
    Life on Earth has endured previous and catastrophic extinction-level-events.  It will again.  Maybe humans have caused some, maybe not.  At time we’ve been victims of our own shortsightedness. While at others, we’re triumphant over the adversities of life (and physics).
    It’s not about saving the planet from certain peril.  Earth’s shown itself to be a remarkably resilient place, capable of achieving equilibrium, with or without divine intervention or the sometimes arrogant dominion of mankind.  If we fail to manage the planet’s resources that we require for sustenance, it will simply flick-us-off and live-on.  It’s done it before.  It can do it again.
    Rather than look up for evidence that the sky is falling, or to the heavens for divine revelation of what truths and virtues we ought embrace or deny, what we need most – now – is to stop pointing or shaking fingers at each other and decide whether we are bystanders on or heirs to planet Earth.  As well as , whether we’ll continue trying to chase the pendulum, or synchronize ourselves to the rhythm of adaptation.Report

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  7. Avatar
    mikeleeph12 says:

    The Global Warming has been off the charts lately.  This summer in Atlanta has been the worst, hottest summer I’ve ever experienced in my life.  Atlanta has basically been uninhabitable for the last 3-4 months.  Temps in the 90’s with high humidity every freaking day?  I’ve been in Atlanta for 10 years and I’ve never seen a summer this bad.  I feel like it’s almost too late to do anything and screw the Republicans for not getting on board with doing anything and being in the pockets of the oil and gas companies.  Thank God I’m never having kids because I wouldn’t want them to experience the destruction of the planet and our inability and unwillingness to do anything to stop it.Report

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  8. Avatar
    bcngator63 says:

    mikeleeph12 You spout the party line pretty well but you have yet to prove that there is a correlation between carbon emissions and global warming.  Until you do that, you are just spouting a lot of hot air.  Show me your calculations!Report

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  9. Avatar
    Wormser Hats says:

    bcngator63 mikeleeph12  Speaking of spouting a party-line, how’s life on your flat Earth?
    Plain and simple physics: higher concentrations of carbon dioxide and other gases in the atmosphere, like methane, cause Earth’s average temperatures to warm. Warmer temperatures increase the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. Because water vapor is – itself – a greenhouse gas, this leads to even further or prolonged warming. 
    Whether human activity, now or in the past, is a significant source of atmospheric carbon, is a worthwhile discussion. Whether or not we should bother to do anything about it, or that a change now would make a difference, we can (and should) have meaningful debates about that, too.
    But there’s no point in debating the physics or the FACT that climate (like everything else on this rock) is changing. We do need some consensus around what we can, should, and will do to adapt to the inevitability of change.Report

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  10. Avatar
    bcngator63 says:

    Wormser Hats bcngator63 mikeleeph12 Consensus is not the answer.  We need to know for sure what is causing our global warming.  Cutting greenhouse emissions may help or it may not, we just don’t know.  If we run around half cocked making decisions, the unintended consequences may be worse than what we have now.  Maybe the answer is as simple as planting more trees or it may be as complicated as fixing the earth’s wobble on it’s axis.Report

    Reply

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