The pope's encyclical on climate change, and the linkage between climate change and poverty, was released on June 18. What the pope has to say about these issues, and the moral imperative for dealing with them, will speak to many. Many leaders of other faiths have also spoken up about the need to deal with climate change as stewards of the earth. The pope emphasizes that the poor and vulnerable are most at risk from climate change, and need to be protected. We don't need to be religious to understand all this as a moral imperative and a necessity for our own longer-term survival.
The time for denial is over. Scientists are a skeptical bunch, who critique each others' work vigorously. In spite of this, virtually 100 percent of the scientists around the world who focus on climate, though they use different methods and independent sets of data, have been arriving at the same conclusions. Climate change is happening, it will get worse, and it is being caused by human activities. If anything, the pope may have understated the case when it comes to the human contributions to climate change. The bulk of the evidence suggests that human activity is most likely responsible not just for "most global warming," but all of it.
Here in Alaska, we are already experiencing the effects of climate change in a big way. We see the CO2 from fossil fuels that cause climate change also causing ocean acidification, placing crab and salmon fisheries at risk. The cumulative effects of carbon pollution are causing a great many changes; many of them threaten our communities directly, including infrastructure damage, coastal erosion, more frequent and severe wildfires, and threats to subsistence activities.
It will not be easy to leave oil and gas behind as main drivers of the Alaska economy. Some oil and gas will still be needed for quite a while, and attention must be paid to those Alaskans whose jobs depend on it. However, we really have no choice. To keep insisting on pumping more and more oil and gas makes no sense in the face of climate change (not to mention other threats such as oil spills). We can still meet our energy needs, and Alaskans have plenty of ingenuity to build a more sustainable economy. The real question, at this point, is what solutions are there?
This week, six Alaskans from the Alaska chapter of the Citizens' Climate Lobby will travel to Washington, D.C., to participate in the Sixth International Citizens' Climate Lobby Conference, and to meet with all three members of our congressional delegation. CCL is proposing a carbon "fee-and-dividend" system.
This is a specific type of carbon tax. Fees per ton will be charged at the source (wellhead, mine, etc.) and will be scheduled to rise year-by-year. Then, much like the Alaska Permanent Fund dividend, the funds collected from all these fees will be rebated to households to offset the slight increase in consumer fuel prices that would result. This approach would be of great benefit, both in leveling the playing field for renewables to compete in the marketplace with fossil fuels, and in providing incentives for conservation.
It is very unfortunate that climate change has become a political issue, which some would like to pin on "liberals." The type of solution preferred (regulation versus other approaches) may separate the left and the right, but all of us can recognize an urgent problem when we see it, and the laws of physics don't follow party lines. As for carbon fee and dividend, it is a free-market solution, supported by conservative economists (e.g., Greg Mankiw, Gary Becker) and other prominent conservatives, such as former Secretary of State George Shultz. Economic modeling shows that it would reduce emissions and, far from tanking the economy and "killing jobs," would actually grow the economy, with a net gain in the number of jobs (see the study by Regional Economic Models, Inc.).
Are there still a few climate change dissenters? Yes. Can we afford to wait until we have no dissent at all? No. If the current consensus is correct, the result of doing nothing will be catastrophic. Common sense and morality demand that we act. We hope that our congressional delegation, and other members of congress, will see their way clear to supporting a solution that we can live with, and even benefit from. Carbon fee and dividend is such a solution.
Phil Somervell is a retired epidemiologist, and a member of the Citizens' Climate Lobby. Curt Karns is executive presbyter, Presbytery of Yukon, and a member of the Citizens' Climate Lobby.
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