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.
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.
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.
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.
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.