The United Nations climate talks in Paris showed a greatly increased willingness by the whole world to reduce climate change. This is very hopeful, but will this resolution stop climate change from harming our future?

Unfortunately, no. As the Dec. 13 article about the global warming pact in the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel reports, the goal of the pact is right, but the government pledges that have been made are not strong enough to meet that goal.

Why do we delay taking effective action even now? Surely, we would not purposefully risk our future. I think the answer is three-fold. One is that conversion to renewable energy sources will be expensive, and leaders fear that constituents will strongly resist such expense. A second is the fact that the fossil fuel industry has paid hundreds of millions of dollars to political writers and politicians to create the false impression that there is scientific uncertainty about climate change.

The final reason is the fact that our brains are designed to respond to threat that is obvious and abrupt, right here and right now, while climate change has been gradual until now, and it usually seems to affect people far away. In fact, carbon dioxide also has delayed effects on climate that are not noticeable right now, largely because the ocean is absorbing a huge amount of heat. Over the years, this heat will radiate back into the atmosphere.

The UN resolution sets a goal of stopping climate change at 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above historical temperatures. Unfortunately, our average world temperature already has risen nearly 1 degree Celsius, and the delayed effects of carbon dioxide could bring us close to the dangerous 2 degrees of climate warming, even if we stopped burning fossil fuels right now.

This combination of deception and economic and psychological factors has caused us to delay taking action for too long. To keep things livable for our grandchildren, we will need to stop burning fossil fuels more rapidly than world governments are yet considering.

Fortunately, we did not need a perfect resolution in Paris. We needed progress, and we have certainly received it. Now we must solve the dilemma of how to meet the goal of stopping climate change at 2 degrees. A piecemeal approach to stopping climate change one pipeline or one regulation at a time will not do enough, quickly enough, to safeguard future generations. As long as burning fossil fuels is cheaper than buying new, clean energy systems, we will keep burning too much fossil fuels. Consequently, the key solution to climate change involves increasing the price of fossil fuels, to reflect their true cost, which includes their damage to our climate and how this will impair the lives of our descendants.

Once renewable energy is cheaper than fossil fuels, the simple need to save money will cause a rapid shift away from carbon fuels everywhere in our complicated economy. Powerful market forces would push the transition to renewable energy sources.

Unfortunately, the Paris climate resolution did not endorse a worldwide approach to carbon pricing. If we want to lead the world in this direction, we need to first get a carbon pricing plan through our own Congress. At this point, the plan with the best chance of passing and being effective appears to be the Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s proposal to collect a fee on all carbon fuels and rebate all this money to every American household.

World governments are starting to move in the right direction, and this is very hopeful, but to succeed we will have to keep pushing to create the political will that will enable our leaders to solve this problem. We must act, or face the day when we may have to tell our grandchildren that we failed to take action to protect their world. Let us rise to the occasion by urging Maine’s congressional delegates — Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, Republican Sen. Susan Collins and independent Sen. Angus King — to support the Carbon Fee and Dividend proposal.

Richard Thomas is a Waterville resident and volunteer activist with the local Climate Lobby and 350 Central Maine.

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.