There is much disturbing news about climate change, but there is also good news. This tells both.

Bad news first. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, burning fossil fuels has increased the level of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, in our atmosphere. In effect, we have covered the Earth with an atmospheric blanket of greenhouse gases. Current concentrations of carbon dioxide are higher than at any time in the entire history of humans on Earth.

The oceans are absorbing about half of this increased carbon dioxide, making ocean water more acidic, which is beginning to seriously affect our shellfish industry, as detailed recently by Colin Woodard of the Portland Press Herald.

The really bad news is that there is a real and dangerous probability that one or more climate disruptions (scientists refer to them as tipping points) will come into play and accelerate climate warming if we take no action to reduce our emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. The major result would be a rapid rise in both sea levels and the associated costs of dealing with such a catastrophe.

A July 23 Department of Defense report to Congress begins, “Climate change … is an urgent and growing threat to our national security, contributing to increased natural disasters, refugee flows and conflicts over basic resources such as food and water. These impacts are already occurring, and the scope, scale and intensity of these impacts are projected to increase over time.”

It’s not just climate scientists and climate activists who see the bad news. Many conservatives recognize that the risks to the climate and our national security require action but dislike the government regulatory actions that have been the only option so far since the Supreme Court has acknowledged that the risks fall under the Clean Air Act.

Now for the good news. It’s not too late to reverse the increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases with a bold legislative solution that both political parties can embrace. The policy, called Carbon Fee and Dividend, creates many new jobs as it builds a new economy with alternative energy.

Carbon Fee and Dividend was developed by George Schultz, President Ronald Reagan’s secretary of the Treasury and is being put before Congress by Citizens Climate Lobby. It is a market-based solution that corrects the failure of the market to properly assign the costs to society of burning fossil fuels. Costs such as:

• Extra flood disaster costs faced by FEMA.

• Health care costs of air pollution and increasing heat stress.

• Disruptions in agriculture caused by unpredictable weather.

• Changes in fisheries caused by ocean warming and acidification.

Under Carbon Fee and Dividend, companies that extract fossil fuels will pay a fee at the source (the coal mine, oil or gas well, or port of entry). This fee would start at $15 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions, and increase steadily each year so that clean energy will be cheaper than fossil fuels within a decade. All of the money collected from the carbon fee will be returned to American households on an equal basis. About two-thirds of all households would break even or receive more in their dividend checks than they would pay in higher prices due to the fee. This would protect the poor and middle class.

On the side of industry, a predictably increasing carbon price will send a clear market signal to entrepreneurs, businesses and homeowners to invest in the new clean-energy economy. There is also a border adjustment to protect U.S. companies from imports originating in countries that don’t have a similar economic plan to control carbon dioxide emissions.

A 2014 study by Regional Economic Models Inc. found that Carbon Fee and Dividend would save hundreds of thousands of lives over 20 years while cutting greenhouse gas emissions in half, building the economy and adding 2.8 million new jobs.

Carbon Fee and Dividend legislation will put us on the path to a sustainable climate by reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning us to a clean energy economy. I invite interested people to join efforts to persuade members of Congress by writing to their representatives and senators. People also can register their support at www.citizensclimatelobby.org.

Peter Garrett, Ph.D., has an Earth science background and is a co-founder of EGGI (Emery & Garrett Groundwater Investigations) in Waterville. He also is a member of Sustain Mid Maine Coalition and Mid Maine Citizens Climate in Waterville. Email at [email protected].


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