Letters to the editor in the Democrat-Gazette the past two weeks are overwhelmingly about Syrian refugees, whether to open our hearts or close our borders. While I support compassion, there is another action that should be taken immediately: Address climate change.
An article by Aryn Baker in Time on Sept. 7 explains that the drought in Syria from 2006 to 2011 led to increased poverty and relocation to urban areas, displacing 2 million people. Francesco Femia of the Center for Climate and Security said, "That internal displacement may have contributed to the social unrest that precipitated the civil war. Which generated the refugee flows into Europe." A recent study, "Climate Change in the Fertile Crescent and implications of the Syrian Drought," found that global warming made Syria's drought two to three times more likely.
On Aug. 31, Secretary of State John Kerry warned that climate change could create a new class of migrants, what he called "climate refugees": "You think migration is a challenge to Europe today because of extremism, wait until you see what happens when there's an absence of water, an absence of food, or one tribe fighting against another for mere survival," he said.
Michael Werz of The Center for American Progress says "All the indicators seem to fairly solidly convey that climate change--desertification and lack of water, or floods, are massively contributing to human mobility." The Time story said that while Syrians and Afghans may make up the largest number of refugees flooding into Europe right now, Africans from the Sahel are not far behind.
How do we address climate change to mitigate this unfolding crisis?
World leaders are meeting in Paris at the 21st meeting of the Conference of Parties to negotiate international reductions in carbon emissions. Recent initiatives offer some hope. The EPA Clean Power Plan requires reductions in emissions from power plants, and in September, U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-N.Y., introduced a resolution on climate change, which now has 11 GOP co-sponsors, stating that the House should commit "to working constructively, using our tradition of American ingenuity, innovation and exceptionalism, to create and support economically viable, and broadly supported private and public solutions."
Last month, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and three Republican colleagues announced the formation of the Senate Energy and Environment Working Group that will focus on ways to protect our environment and climate while also bolstering clean-energy innovation to help drive job creation.
Harvard professor Greg Mankiw, who was chair of the Council of Economic Advisers for George W. Bush in 2003, and advised Mitt Romney on his campaign, advocates a carbon tax as the mechanism that can meet these requirements. He says in an October interview with Amanda Little for Grist.org that "the sooner we deal with this problem, the less costly it's going to be."
When asked "how will this work?" he replies: "The basic idea of a carbon tax is mainly to put a price on carbon, to directly raise prices on carbon. Once you put a price on carbon, people will conserve on carbon emissions, just like they conserve on other things that are costly. ... If we put a price on carbon and raise revenue through that carbon tax, we can then take that money and funnel it back to people by reducing sales taxes, income taxes, or other taxes."
Or, the money could be funneled back in a monthly check. Carbon pollution could be reduced by regulations, or through a revenue neutral market-based policy. Regulations could work, but most economists support the latter.
The Fayetteville Citizens' Climate Lobby recently had a study done by the nonpartisan Regional Economic Models Inc. on the impact that a state-level carbon fee and dividend would have on Arkansas. It was compared with the projected results of the EPA Clean Power Plan. With a fee starting at $15 per ton and rising $10 a year, and with dividends coming back to consumers and businesses, after 15 years:
• 20,000 to 30,000 additional jobs over the baseline scenario are created.
• gross state product and real disposable personal income are increased;
• there is a reduction of 20 to 30 million metric tons per year total, the same as or below Clean Power Plan regulations;
• $500 million to $1 billion are collected in the first year, $4 billion long-term;
• monthly rebate to households and employers over $200 per month.
Without action to curb climate change, some of us in the U.S. may also find ourselves displaced as our land is stricken by drought or inundated by the rising ocean. If we take action and meet the requirements of the Clean Power Plan, we may be able to lower carbon emissions to prevent the catastrophic rises in CO2 concentrations and the ocean that are predicted.
If we do it with a carbon fee and dividend, we can reduce emissions and create jobs and improve the economy, too.
Shelley Buonaiuto of Fayetteville is co-chair of the Fayetteville Citizens' Climate Lobby.
Editorial on 12/05/2015