Saturday, July 25, 2015

Climate Tipping Point?

Have we passed a tipping point on global warming? Or is there still time to slow the warming trend by reducing the burning of fossil fuels? Could predicted effects get worse faster than scientists have predicted? According to recent research released by world renowned climatologist James Hansen and his colleagues at Columbia University, sea levels could rise a staggering ten feet within fifty years instead of three feet envisioned previously.

A warming planet is no longer disputed, even by most Republican politicians. Climate scientists overwhelmingly agree the warming is caused by the extreme levels of carbon in the atmosphere and oceans largely from burning fossil fuels in which carbon has been stored since dinosaurs roamed.

Hansen could be wrong in his predictions, but what if he’s right? What will it cost to move cities to higher ground? What happens to populations forced to compete for food resources and agricultural land as farmland is lost to the sea and drought? Even if Hansen is wrong, what are the costs of rising seas, increased damage from powerful storms, heat waves, droughts, forest fires, and the other impacts of rising temperatures predicted by more conservative scientists over the coming decades? We have spent hundreds of billions in tax money and private dollars on such weather related disasters in recent years. 

Around the world and in some states and municipalities here, alternative energy sources are being developed and tapped to reduce the use of carbon-based fuels on a large scale. Solar panels get cheaper every day and are now competitive with the price of electricity produced by coal burning power plants. Wind power, geo thermal, bio-fuels, waste to energy, fuel cells, are entering boom times. The alternative energy market is producing jobs at up to ten times the rate of the national average. (

Corporations must plan ahead. They want to transition to cleaner energy sources but need a level playing field. In fact, six of Europe’s biggest oil producers including Shell and BP recently called for a world wide pricing system on carbon. They’d rather compete in a predictable marketplace than face unpredictable regulations.

Why a price on carbon? It’s similar to taxes on tobacco products. We know that tobacco use leads to disastrous health consequences: lung cancer, heart disease, lost work time, etc. That costs all of us money, not just those who use it. So we have put high taxes on it, and because of that, smoking and the health costs of smoking for all of us has been reduced.

A revenue neutral carbon fee designed to garner bi-partisan support has been proposed by Citizens’ Climate Lobby ( and endorsed by former Republican Secretary of the Treasury and State, George Schultz. It would collect fees and return them to American families. 

This proposed legislation sets a modest fee of $15 per ton on carbon rising by $10 each year so that the economy can adjust. Revenue is divided equally among American families (1 share for each adult, 1/2 share per child up to two children), providing the resources to cope with rising fuel prices and consumer goods. The respected firm, Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI)4 predicts a family of 4 would receive dividends greater than increased costs each year. By 2026 they’d be receiving $300/month. One million new jobs would be created in the first 4 years in addition to health benefits and a 50% reduction in carbon use over 20 years, far more than currently proposed regulations such as the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. The incentive to increase efficiency and develop alternative energy is obvious.

Our state’s representatives in Congress and most state legislators say that the continued mining and burning of coal is good for WV. They say coal is an inexpensive fuel and warn of job and tax revenue loss if use is limited in any way. But West Virginians are not only paying the costs of climate change, we pay for the negative effects of coal mining on communities: to health, water and air quality, and even threat of destruction from impoundments.  West Virginia could be a leader in alternative energy production and reap the benefits of a job boom in solar, wind, hydro, and other green energy initiatives with the help of forward looking policies.

Our representatives will not change their minds unless they hear from many of us relentlessly. Tell them this is critically important and that you demand action. Carbon pricing legislation does not rule out coal, but assesses the true costs of carbon it contains. Perhaps the industry will find cost efficient ways to reduce or sequester carbon emissions, but until they do, they should pay for the damage they are causing.