After such a cold winter in the Northeast, it’s tempting to wonder if global warming is actually real. It may seem as if the dire predictions were untrue and we can go about business as usual. Unfortunately, while we had a frigid winter in the Finger Lakes, the planet as a whole once again suffered unprecedented heating, the eighth warmest February on record, according to the U.S. National Climatic Data Center.
The world’s leading scientists agree that the main culprit is the heat trapped by excess carbon dioxide and methane, caused by carbon-based fossil fuels. And now, we have a detailed account of climate change impacts, some of which are already upon us. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently released a report on the impacts of a “do nothing” scenario. The impacts of continuing to heat the planet include:
Farmers not able to grow enough food.
Increase in severe storms, droughts, floods and wildfires.
Sea-level rise that could displace hundreds of millions of people.
Entrenched poverty for the world’s poorest.
Destabilization of nations, leading to war.
To avoid worst-case scenarios, climate experts report that we must act now to contain the heating increase to 3.6 degrees F (2 degrees Celsius). Our current trajectory is at least 7 degrees F -- way beyond our ability to manage or adapt. So the real cost of burning fossil fuels, then, is much higher than is reflected in their current price.
We have seen some increase in use of wind, solar and other renewable energy technologies. Yet, while a very good start, it is not enough. With fossil fuels remaining artificially cheaper than renewables, business as usual seems inevitable. For many, this has meant sinking into despair over each new article on global warming.
However, there is an idea emerging among a broad cross-section of citizens, which if put into action would create the needed shift. Simple economics dictates that the market will gravitate toward the lowest cost. To fix this problem, there’s a simple solution: Tax carbon at the point of production or importation. The fee, about $15 per ton of coal, gas, or oil, could be increased gradually so as to avoid shocks while advancing conservation and renewable energy development.
Most people’s immediate reaction is probably to say “No way!” to any new tax. Hold on for a moment while I give you the second half of the solution: Take the revenue from that carbon tax and refund it to all households.
Individuals would then have the extra income to offset additional energy costs arising from the tax. Done this way, a carbon tax/rebate would avoid economic hardship, and allow market forces to create a smarter, less destructive energy future.
By John Finn, P.E.
John Finn is a licensed professional engineer and volunteer with the local chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby. Learn more online at www.citizensclimatelobby.org