I’m on a (low-carbon) holiday for the next while, with little access to a computer, so please accept my apologies for delayed responses or posting of comments. All should be back to normal the last week of March. In the meantime, I scoured my files for some photos and graphics to post while I’m away. Enjoy!
Today’s blog post is courtesy of Citizens Climate Lobby:
In his State of the Union address, the President said, ‘If Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations [from climate change], I will.’ Republicans who wish to avoid more regulations should embrace the free-market approach of a revenue-neutral tax on carbon.
Saying that “for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change,’ President Obama used his State of the Union address to reaffirm his commitment to actions that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“I urge this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change,” said Obama. But with prospects appearing dim for legislation to price carbon, the President quickly added, “But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.”
While the President did not spell out “the executive actions we can take,” many observers assume the centerpiece of that plan will be to use the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA has already formulated rules for new power plants that will virtually rule out construction of coal-fired facilities. The President now intends to regulate emissions from existing power plants, a move that may require the closing of many coal-fired plants and produce howls of protest from GOP lawmakers.
Republican efforts to block such regulations are likely to be a waste of time and energy, given the Supreme Court has already ruled that the EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases as pollutants.
Rather than curse the darkness, the GOP could light a solar-powered lamp. They can unleash the power of the marketplace to speed the transition away from fossil fuels and toward clean sources of energy. The mechanism to motivate that transition is a consumer-friendly tax on carbon that gives revenue back to households.
A number of conservative economists have endorsed this approach.
Art Laffer, President Reagan’s economic advisor has said, “By eliminating subsidies for all fuel types and making all fuel types accountable for their costs, free enterprise will make clear the best fuels for our future. Reduce taxes on something we want more of – income –and tax something we arguably want less of – carbon pollution. It’s a win-win.”
Greg Mankiw, economic advisor to President George W. Bush and presidential candidate Mitt Romney, also supports a revenue-neutral carbon tax, saying, “Economists have long understood that the key to smart environmental policy is aligning private incentives with true social costs and benefits. That means putting a price on carbon emissions, so households and firms will have good reason to reduce their use of fossil fuels and to develop alternative energy sources.”
The concept behind the carbon tax is simple: Polluter pays. There are many costs to society not reflected in the price of fossil fuels. These include the health costs of respiratory problems induced by air pollution, military costs to secure the shipment of oil from the Middle East, and costs to repair damage from weather-related disasters that are becoming more frequent and destructive because of global warming. A tax on carbon begins to take these costs into account, ultimately making clean energy the cheaper and preferable option.
What would a simple and effective carbon tax policy look like?
- Start with a tax on coal, oil and gas of $15 per ton on CO2 that each fuel will emit when burned. The result at the gas pump would be an additional 13 cents per gallon.
- Increase the tax by $10 a ton each year.
- Implement the tax at the fuel’s first point of sale – the mine, wellhead or port of entry.
- Take the revenue from the carbon tax, divide it equally among everyone in the U.S., and return it to consumers, preferably as monthly or quarterly “dividends.”
- To protect American businesses from unfair foreign competition, apply border tariffs on goods coming in from countries that do not have comparable carbon pricing.
The tax, which is imposed upstream at the first point of sale, will eventually be passed down to consumers. By returning revenue to households, we protect consumers from the economic impact of rising energy costs associated with the carbon tax. At the same time, these rising costs influence consumer choices, like making their homes more energy efficient or purchasing vehicles that are more fuel-efficient.
By motivating clean-energy investments in the private sector, federal subsidies to spur the development of solar, wind and other technologies will eventually be unnecessary. Yet another reason Republicans should want to embrace a revenue-neutral carbon tax.
The provision of border tariffs in such legislation does far more than protect American businesses. Republicans often reject national policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with the argument that our efforts will make no difference if other countries aren’t doing the same. Senator Rubio’s stance, reported in a BuzzFeed interview Feb. 5, is typical:
“Anything we would do on that would have a real impact on the economy but probably, if it’s only us doing it, would have a very negligible impact on the environment. The United States is a country, not a planet. If you did all these things they’re talking about, what impact would it really have?”
A border tariff would negate that argument. If companies doing business with the U.S. must pay a duty on carbon, trading partners like China and India will prefer that the revenue is deposited in their own treasuries rather than given to the United States. Carbon tariffs, thereby, become a strong incentive for other countries to follow the U.S. lead and implement their own carbon tax.
The President has made it clear that, one way or another, America will “respond to the threat of climate change.” The question is whether that response is through expansion of government regulations or through the power of the marketplace. Republicans, who abhor the former, should embrace the latter with a revenue-neutral tax on carbon.
Stop the phony ‘debate’ about climate science
Republicans would find it easier to discuss climate solutions if they accepted the conclusion of nearly every scientific study done on global warming: It’s happening, and human activity is the primary cause.
Senator Rubio, like a number of his colleagues, continually casts doubt on climate science with statements like this:
“Well, first of all, the climate’s always changing. That’s not the fundamental question. The fundamental question is whether man-made activity is what’s contributing most to it. And I understand that people say there’s a significant scientific consensus on that issue. But I’ve actually seen reasonable debate on that principle.”
Reasonable debate? Let’s direct the senator’s attention to the following pie chart:
Jim Powell, who was a member of National Science Board for 12 years, conducted a search of peer-reviewed climate change articles from 1991 to 2012. Of the 13,950 articles he reviewed, only 24 “clearly reject global warming or endorse a cause other than CO2 emissions for observed warming.”
The visual representation of Powell’s study should end all discussion. We must waste no more time debating the existence and cause of climate change. Attention must now focus on solutions.
Disasters awaken public to climate reality
At the beginning of the year, the U.S. government confirmed what most Americans already knew: 2012 was the hottest year our nation has ever experienced, shattering the previous record set in 1998 by a full degree. That record heat contributed to a host of disasters that awakened many to the harsh consequences of a warming climate.
It started last year with wildfires in the West. Trees, ravaged by drought and insects thriving in warmer temperatures, became kindling for infernos that consumed more than 9 million acres across the U.S. In one horrific episode, a wall of flame swept into Colorado Springs and reduced 346 homes to ashes.
Then came the drought. At its peak last summer, 65 percent of the U.S. was experiencing moderate or worse drought conditions. The impact on the agricultural sector has been devastating, as corn crops withered and grass used to feed cattle fell into short supply. Deutsche Bank Securities Inc. estimated the drought reduced U.S. gross domestic product between 0.5 and 1 percent. Damage estimates range between $75 billion and $150 billion. Dust storms across the Great Plains conjure images of the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s.
More and more Americans became aware that something was wrong last spring when record-breaking high temperatures in early March gave way to scorching heat in the summer. Jaw-dropping images of the record ice loss in the Arctic (at left) provided further evidence that our world is heating up.
Climate change really hit home, however, with the arrival in late October of Superstorm Sandy, which inflicted damage in excess of $60 billion. Recovery and cleanup efforts continue months after the storm roared ashore. The influence of global warming was evident in Sandy’s intensity, size and path.
Hurricanes, floods, droughts, heat waves, and wildfires are all naturally-occurring phenomena that happened long before the current rise in global temperatures. What’s different is that our weather is now “juiced” – much like a baseball player on steroids – by a warmer climate, increasing the odds that severe weather will strike with greater intensity. Climate Central has an excellent series of short videos – “Extreme Weather 101” – explaining the impact of climate change on drought, heat waves, snowfall and rainfall.
If this is what our world looks like with barely 1 degree Celsius of warming in the past century, what hellish future awaits us if average global temperatures climb 4 degrees C or 6 degrees C (11 degrees Fahrenheit), as a number of studies have predicted?
The longer we delay action to address climate change, the more difficult and costly it will be to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to levels that prevent us from breaching the 2 degress C threshold of global warming considered manageable by most scientists. Despite the toxic atmosphere in Washington, Democrats and Republicans must work together to enact legislation that will put a price on carbon, one that will speed the transition from fossil fuels to clean sources of energy.
 First appointed by President Reagan and then by President George H.W. Bush.
In a rather lukewarm* way, at his post-election press conference today, President Obama responds to reporters questions about Hurricane Sandy and the need to take action on climate change. His lack of passion and commitment on this issue is disappointing but remember, it would have been sooo much worse with Mitt Romney at the helm!
Thanks to my FB friend and fellow climate warrior Ina W. for posting this on her FB page in such a timely manner!
The PBS Frontline program “Climate of Doubt” masterfully exposed the strategies and tactics that climate denialists have used to delay, if not undermine meaningful action in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing climate change in the US. Perhaps the #1 strategy they have pursued involves denying the scientific consensus on human-caused global warming.
The number one strategy this shadowy, well-financed group has pursued involves denying the scientific consensus on human-caused global warming. As Myron Ebell of the right-wing think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) put it,
“We felt that if you concede the science is settled and that there’s a consensus…the moral high ground has been ceded to the alarmists.”
Republican Congressman from Wisconsin and climate denialist James Sensenbrenner explained the importance of the public awareness of the scientific consensus:
JOHN HOCKENBERRY:Do you think this will ever be settled scientifically, if 97 percent consensus doesn’t settle it for you?
Rep. JAMES SENSENBRENNER:Well, I — you know, I think that it’s up to the scientists and their supporters to convince the public that this is the right thing to do. And the supporters of that side of the argument in the Congress have been a huge flop.
Colin Beavan, aka “No Impact Man“, lives in New York City and wrote this thoughtful response after experiencing Hurricane Sandy last week (bold type added):
I don’t say this often but I am scared. Not scared to the point of paralysis. Not scared enough to run away. Not scared enough to stop trying to help. Not scared enough to think we’re doomed. Just scared enough to feel worried for myself, my family, my friends, my community, my country, and my world.
I was lucky when Hurricane Sandy hit. My daughter Bella and I put on our waterproofs in the early hours and ran around Brooklyn’s Fort Greene park in the wind and rain with Frankie–our dog–and our Occupy Wall Street activist friend/hero Monica Hunken.
That night, the lights flickered a couple of times. I lost my internet for three hours. Frankie the dog hid in the upstairs bathroom bathtub. That was the extent of it.
But when I woke up, lower Manhattan was flooded and without power. All the coastal parts of Brooklyn and Queens from Red Hook to Coney Island through the Rockaways and Hamilton Beach were hammered. The wind had driven a fire through Queens that destroyed so many houses. And the world’s most amazing subway system was brought to its knees. To say nothing of poor Staten Island and coastal New Jersey.
We in the Tri-State Area didn’t get Katrina. But we got a taste of her.
Yes, there are some good parts. New Yorkers have been showing up some of the emergency shelters in such numbers that they have been turned away. There are donation drives and volunteer efforts. And about a gazillion New Yorkers have taken to cycling.
But there is a lot of suffering. And a lot of fear not of what Sandy brought. But of what next year’s storm will bring. And the year after that. And after that. First Irene, now Sandy, for how many years in a row can New York City withstand a “once in a century” storm, people are asking?
I hung up the phone with a friend just a few minutes ago. She said, “In some ways, this is way more scarey than 9/11, because you get the feeling that it could happen again and again and again.”
In a coffee shop this afternoon, everyone at every table was talking about climate change. People are talking about where they will go next time. To an aunt’s in New Hampshire. A friend with three cottages in Maine. People are talking about their escape plan for when New York stops functioning.
Katrina, Irene, Sandy, droughts all summer, busted corn crops, water shortages in the southwest: it’s hard to believe we aren’t seeing what the climate scientists predicted. But sooner. Way sooner than they said.
It feels ironic and sad. That the war in Iraq sparked by 9/11 may have got us what we wanted–control over more oil. But that burning that self-same oil has brought us another mini-9/11. Except that this one we are kind of doing to ourselves.
Fracking–the drilling for natural gas by injecting poisonous chemicals into the same rock formations that our drinking comes from. Fighting in the Middle East. Drilling in the arctic. Mountaintop removal in Appalachia. Mining the Canadian tar sands. Building the pipelines. This is bonkers.
Especially when the sun shines everywhere. The wind blows everywhere. The rivers run everywhere. We can generate our power in better, cheaper, safer ways.
Of course, there are reasons for resistance. Our economy is based on fossil fuels. Changing it would be a gargantuan effort. There would be a cost to a transition. But the costs of not making the transition will be much higher. Ask the NY Mass Transit Authority, which is still pumping out the tunnels. Or ask the citizens of New Orleans.
But this isn’t a bitch fest. It’s an appeal.
Years ago, when I did the No Impact Man experiment, I went on the Good Morning America show and I said it wasn’t important that all Americans did as much as I did. “We must each just do something,” I said.
I was mistaken. We must each do a lot.
We all–including me–have a tendency to think that shaking our fist at the TV news or leaving an angry comment on a blog or “clictivism” is some sort of an expression. We need to do more. Not just more at home, but more in our civic engagement, more in the citizen guiding of how our society moves forward.
In fact, I’d argue that we–all of us–need to find a way to dedicate at least some part of our lives to solving our problems. Climate change we need to fix, yes. But also we need to accept that the economic system we live in is driving that climate change. Consumption, as the basis for economy, has become like a winter coat that needs to be shed. It no longer serves us.
Now, I’m not going to claim that I know what each of us should do, how each of us should help to bring about the Great Transformation. I don’t think anyone exactly knows. This, by the way, was the great criticism of Occupy Wall Street, back in the day. That they didn’t say exactly what we should do. They didn’t make their demands clear, the press kept saying.
That was Occupy’s strength in my view. The willingness to bring attention to problems we don’t quite know the solutions for. Occupy didn’t have concrete demands because none of us quite know what we should be demanding quite yet. Occupy was saying “stop ignoring problems just because we don’t know the solution!!!!!!”
You may disagree with me. You may say, we know the solution, it’s renewable energy. But where is the political will to bring that change about when the fossil fuel industry has spent $150 million in this election cycle?
You may say, the solution is getting corporate money out of politics. But how do we do that when the politicians we need to vote for such a thing are the beneficiaries of that self-same corporate money?
You may say, the solution lies in measuring Gross National Happiness instead of Gross Domestic Product. But how do we get that done?
We have lots of ideas about what would fix things, but we have no idea how to actually get those ideas instituted. That’s kind of where we are at a loss. How do we actually bring about the change?
It’s not to say we can’t bring it about. But it is to say that a lot more of us are going to have to join the search for the solutions and the effort to institute them.
In a way, what I am saying is the same as what Occupy said: “Stop pretending that you can’t help just because you don’t know exactly how to help!!!!!!”
We all have to start dedicating some of our lives to these problems. Not just voting for the right people. Not just leaving comments on blogs. Not just having intense conversations over coffee.
So what then?
Here’s a thought. Decide to dedicate five to ten hours a week to helping figure out what to do. Then use those five to ten hours to bring your personal gifts to the search for societal solutions and the means of implementing them.
If you are political then, whatever side of the aisle you are on, start going to your party’s meetings and insist that they address themselves to the major, new-world problems we are facing instead of grumbling over the same stuff they have for 50 years. Get them to try to be leaders instead of winners.
If you are an artist or musician or writer, use your talents to bring more and more attention to our problems and the quest for the solution. Be a constant reminder of the peril our society and world faces.
If you are a therapist or life coach, find a way to introduce to your clients the idea that the problems they face are the same problems all of us are facing. Financial insecurity, for example, is something we can fix together better than any one of us can fix alone.
If you are a banker, bring your personal values and your heart and soul to work with you. The expression “it’s only business” has to be jettisoned. This idea that the free market will fix things so we can ignore the dictates of our conscience needs to be fixed.
If you have a spare bedroom, find an activist who can’t drag themselves away from the work they are doing for all of us long enough to earn themselves some rent. Home and safety for those on the front line of social change is a wonderful service.
If you have two feet, march with my friends at 350.org whenever you have a chance.
All of us have our own ways to help.
One thing is clear, whatever our individual contribution, every one of us needs to be moving back into the political system and the democracy. We are all so disgusted by it that our instinct is to abandon it. In this case, our instinct is wrong. We totally need to Occupy our democracy. We need to flood it with people, with us.
Overall, though, my point here is that all of us have a role to play in our cultural healing. There is no leader who can tell us how to contribute. Each of us has to look around us and use our own minds and souls to see what needs doing and how we are best suited to do it. Each of us must contribute in our own way.
I began this piece by saying that I’m scared. Because I am. But my fear is just a sign that I need to do something. There is really only one thing I know how to do–to write. And so I’m doing it. I don’t know if if will help. But it is the one thing I know how to do.
What is the one thing you know how to do? What is the one thing you can dedicate a slice of your life to?
We can’t leave it to the politicians or the designers or the Occupiers or the activists. It’s up to each of us.
Because–and I’ve said and written this many times–the question is not whether each of us is the type of person who can make a difference. The question is whether we are the type of people who want to try to make a difference. And Sandy has told us we all need each other to try.
PS I’d love to hear in the comments what you are doing or plan to do.
PPS If you want to let your Brooklyn friends know that I’m running for Congress and ask them to vote for me on Tuesday, that would be great too.
Colin blogs at No Impact Man.
Casy answered him. “It’s ever’body,” he said. “Here’s me that used to give all my fight against the devil ’cause I figgered the devil was the enemy. But they’s somepin worse’n the devil got a hold a the country, an’ it ain’t gonna let go till it’s chopped loose. Ever see one a them Gila monsters take hold, mister? Grabs hold, an’ you chop him in two an’ his head hangs on. Chop him at the neck an’ his head hangs on. Got to take a screw-driver an’ pry his head apart to git him loose. An’ while he’s layin’ there, poison is drippin’ an’ drippin’ into the hole he’s made with his teeth.”
John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath
It’s All Hallows’ Eve, the time that creatures of darkness are said to come out and haunt humans. That is certainly true in Ottawa today, as Stephen Harper and his minions stir up a cauldron of trouble for Canadians by fast-tracking their Canada-China investment treaty. FIPA or FIPPA (Foreign Investment Promotion Protection Act) is set to become ratified today. If you are Canadian, FIPA – which is set to be passed by the Harper government without any debate in the House of Commons or scrutiny by the public – should be on the top of your scary list, too. If you’re from China, well then you should be very very pleased:
The Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPPA or FIPA) is the most startling trade deal to be put before Canadians in more than a generation. Actually, that’s not quite right… The deal has NOT been put before Canadians. The Conservative government is actively avoiding debate and discussion on the deal, and are instead rushing towards ratification without anything resembling a sober second look.
This trade deal has the potential to permanently alter the course of Canada’s economic and environmental security. It’s set to pass in less than a week. Time is not on our side. We need to push our politicians to put the brakes on this deal, and to closely examine it with Canada’s best interest in mind.
Go to LeadNow.ca to learn more. Right now you can donate to Lead Now to help them place ads right in the Conservative heartland about Harper’s Halloween trick.
Also on my very scary list, as always, is the incredible capacity for humans to ignore and/or deny the impact of our dirty energy system on the climate, and on our children’s future health and happiness.
George Lakoff, author of “Don’t Think of An Elephant!”, has a good piece on his blog on the language to use to make the connection between Hurricane Sandy and climate change, Global Warming Systemically Caused Hurricane Sandy.
Also, Hurricane Sandy hit Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti and The Dominican Republic on the way to the U.S., creating chaos and killing more people than in North America. Read more on FirstPost.com
And lastly, here’s an image that speaks for itself. Happy Halloween, folks.
The pictures and videos coming out of New York and New Jersey are a vivid reminder that Mother Nature always bats last; human technology, civilization, and hubris crumbles in the face of her power. Reports are that 17 people are dead, and 7 million are without power on the U.S East Coast.
Arianna Huffington wrote: “Two presidential candidates decided not to speak about climate change, and now they are seeing the climate speak to them.”
Let’s hope the forecasts are wrong and the hurricane loses its punch, but after a summer of record drought, temperatures and destructive wildfires, Hurricane Sandy should be treated less like an anomaly and more like the new normal.
Whether or not the presidential candidates want to talk about it, climate change is driving severe weather to new extremes—with costly results. Last year, U.S. property/casualty insurers paid out more than $32 billion in losses after facing a string of pronounced droughts, wildfires, flooding and other climate-influenced weather events.
These losses hurt taxpayers too. As insurers adapt to the changing climate, they are cutting off coverage in riskier areas, leaving state governments, the federal government and the American public to pick up the slack. Since 1990, total government exposure to losses in hurricane-ravaged states has grown more than 15-fold, up to $885 billion in 2011.
Many insurers have pulled out of Florida and the Gulf Coast, but they can’t entirely escape extreme weather. Now big storms and other extreme weather are hitting northern New England, the Midwest and other supposedly safer regions. For example, some of the biggest damages caused by Hurricane Irene last year were in Vermont and New Hampshire – states accustomed to snow, not hurricanes.
Of course hurricanes are only part of the problem. In other parts of the country, the biggest losses have come from devastating drought and wildfires. This summer’s drought resulted in about $5 billion of losses for private insurers, but – through the federal crop insurance program – the government and American taxpayers will pay far more.
This shift of exposure from private insurers to governments and taxpayers is a troubling trend, and it’s all the more reason why the insurance industry, policymakers and the winner of the presidential race need to come together in tackling the enormous threat from escalating extreme weather and climate-driven risks.
For more discussion on what the cost of climate silence, and inaction is, go to National Journal’s Energy Experts page. Except for the right-wing ideologue from the George C. Marshall Institute, all of the columns on that page are worth a read.
If you want more food for thought, or ideas for action, here’s Paul Gilding discussing The Great Disruption that is coming upon us. You can also go to my Action not Apathy page for inspiration.
“If you think mitigated climate change is expensive, try unmitigated climate change.”
Dr. Richard Gammon
The “Frankenstorm” combination of Hurricane Sandy, super-storm conditions, and climate change is starting to pummel the North American East Coast as I write this. The Weather Channel’s Bryan Norcross said: “This is a beyond-strange situation. It’s unprecedented and bizarre.” It’s almost as if the voices of climate scientists who have been raising the alarm about increasingly severe and chaotic weather for decades has been drowned out; almost like the special interests who have the most to lose in the switch to clean energy, with deep pockets and unrestricted political access, have been spending hundreds of millions to dollars to ensure that the message of climate science does not get out. Peter Sinclair over at ClimateCrocks.com refers to Hurricane Sandy as a “teachable moment” and reminds us that we have to get used to them. These are the key takeaways he suggests from this teachable moment:
Climate Change is changing the weather. The last several years have been marked by a series of extreme weather events that fit the characteristics of a changing climate
A warmer atmosphere provides more energy for storms
A warmer atmosphere holds more water, and that can make storms more destructive
Storm surges are now riding on top of elevated sea levels, amplifying flooding along coastal areas
Right now, Sea surface temps along the Northeast US coast are about 5 F above average, which is likely to keep the storm powered up and load extra moisture, fueling heavy rains. September had the second highest global sea surface temps on record
In the Northeast US, sea levels are rising up to 4 x faster than the global average, making this area more vulnerable now, and in the future
Multiple high tides may help drive flooding fueled by a triple climate-whammy: storm surge from a storm kept alive due to elevated SSTs, sea level rise driven by global warming, and extra heavy rains due to the additional available moisture
Meanwhile, north of the border, Canada is also bracing for the impacts of the Frankenstorm. But last week another natural disaster closed the TransCanada Hwy in northern Ontario:
October 26, 2012: Flooding Forces Wawa To Declare State Of Emergency:
It was such a heavy downpour that if you were driving down the street you wouldn’t see in front of your vehicle,” [Wawa Mayor] Linda Nowicki said. “It was raining that heavily.”
…At this stage, with the two bridges that failed, we’re looking at a $4 to $5 million bill to replace those. And when you add the fact that the other roads that were supposed to be used to get into town are washed out, we will need money to help fix those.”
The damage to some roads connecting Wawa and surrounding areas is extensive.
“One road, I’m told, there’s a 30 foot crater in it. That’s 30 feet deep,” she said.
Our thoughts should be with those people who are going to suffer the worst effects of Hurricane Sandy in the next few days, but let’s also spare some thought for future generations who are going to be suffering more frequent, and worse, weather calamities and food shortages because of the “frankenclimate” our generation’s inaction on this issue will create.