Sen. John Boozman recently signed a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to halt Environmental Protection Agency regulations on power plants. During the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee oversight hearing, Boozman expressed concern about the impact of regulations on energy prices, affecting the poor.
Although I respect his caution, if we do nothing to halt carbon pollution, the impact will be catastrophic and the greatest effect will be on the poor.
Boozman asked, “Can climate science adequately predict and explain the complexity of climate change?” Climate change is admittedly complex, but the modeling is accurate. Models are long-term, from decades to millions of years. They can’t be evaluated by simply looking out one’s window at today’s weather.
Some predictions have, in fact, been conservative. According to Scientific American, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research has obtained results indicating warming “will come on faster, and be more intense, than many current predictions,” and “impacts of that warming … sea level rise, drought, floods and other extreme weather, could hit earlier and harder than many models project.”
Boozman asked if regulations would have significant impact on global climate. Regulations were effective in the 1970s when CFCs were regulated and phased out due to their role in ozone depletion. But there is another approach to cutting carbon emissions: carbon fees and rebates.At least 10 countries currently have such a fee, along with many local and regional governments. Sweden enacted a carbon fee in 1991, and by 2008 Sweden’s emissions decreased by more than 40 percent. In 2008, British Columbia implemented a carbon fee, rebated to citizens through lowered income taxes. Emissions fell 10 percent by 2011 as compared with a 1.1 percent decline for the rest of Canada.
What are the costs of not acting? The Business Coalition report, “Natural Capital at Risk: The Top 100 Externalities of Business,” estimates the economic costs of greenhouse-gas emissions, loss of natural resources, loss of nature-based services such as carbon storage in forests, and pollution-related health costs at $4.7 trillion a year. Non-economic costs include victims of extreme storms, food sources depleted by drought and flood, islands submerged by rising oceans, and risks to national security.This all makes for an urgent case for action.
Industry is interested in a carbon fee. Global droughts have dried up water needed for Coca-Cola’s soda; Nike sees extreme weather disrupting its supply chain; and billionaires Tom Steyer, Michael Bloomberg, and Henry Paulson are working to commission an economic study on financial risks from climate change. Twenty-five of the nation’s biggest corporations and five major oil companies are planning future growth on expectations of a carbon fee.
Boozman added that we should let renewables develop on their own, encouraging a mix of wind, solar, hydro, biomass and nuclear. But can this happen quickly enough?
Suzanne Goldenberg reported in the Guardian that the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that the world has only about 30 years left before exhausting the rest of the 1,000-gigaton carbon-emission budget that is estimated to lead to “only” 3.6 degree Fahrenheit warming. Furthermore, scientists warn that the 3.6-degree target will fail to avoid a climate disaster. James Hansen warns we cannot afford more than 1.8 degrees.
Nuclear power is problematic, expensive, unpopular, and takes many years to become operational. We have the technical ability now to develop renewable resources, but wind and solar have been discouraged because of unreliable tax rebates and because fossil-fuel companies rely on estimated (by the International Energy Agency) subsidies of $544 billion worldwide. Furthermore, those companies do not pay their real costs in damage to the environment and to our health.
I believe we can truly assist families battling the high cost of energy through a revenue-neutral carbon fee on point sources of carbon pollution. A substantial percentage of the money collected should be returned as a dividend to the consumer to compensate for higher energy prices. It is estimated that two-thirds of U.S. citizens would break even or come out ahead.As fossil fuels become more difficult to extract, the price will rise in any case. We have to use this small window to wean ourselves off fossil fuels and prepare renewable infrastructure. Sun and wind are free once the infrastructure is developed.
Only when our energy source does not rely on petroleum and coal production will American families truly know energy security.
Regulations are needed, but are unpopular with conservatives. A carbon fee and dividend is the free-market solution to emission reductions, and will assist in the development of clean technologies. This would be an economic boon and job creator, keeping America economically in the world market.
Renewables may also be our only chance to preserve this planet for our children.
Shelley Buonaiuto is chair of the Fayetteville Citizens’ Climate Lobby.