In March 2014, The American Association for the Advancement of Science — the world’s largest general scientific society — released a report on global warming entitled, “What We Know:”
“The evidence is overwhelming: Levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are rising. Temperatures are going up. Springs are arriving earlier. Ice sheets are melting. Sea level is rising. The patterns of rainfall and drought are changing. Heat waves are getting worse, as is extreme precipitation. The oceans are acidifying.”
The online publication “ClimateProgress” recently showed that 90 percent of the Republican leadership in both House and Senate deny climate change. Our Rep. Bob Goodlatte’s position is given as:
“There is no doubt that the earth’s climate is changing. The earth and its climate are dynamic, and have changed throughout history even without human activity. We have reached a point where some experts concur that the earth is once again warming. Regardless of the reason, the debate over climate change should remind us that we should be good stewards of our planet” (Richmond Times Dispatch, July 4, 2010).
How are we supposed to regard the rejection of this science by so many of our leaders? Why should we citizens have to continue cajoling our representatives to act on this issue? Should their failure to address climate change be regarded as malfeasance or corruption?
All these leaders need to know is that the earth’s temperature — and, therefore, its climate — is determined by the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. That concentration for thousands of years before the Industrial Age was 275 ppm. Today, it is 400 ppm, increasing 2 ppm per year, and most of the increase has been in the last 40 years. The consensus that climate change is manmade and critical is unusually strong, consisting of 97 percent of qualified climate scientists.
There came a time when southerner Jimmy Carter said, “[a]t the end of a long campaign, I believe I know the people of our state as well as anyone. Based on this knowledge of Georgians North and South, Rural and Urban, liberal and conservative, I say to you quite frankly that the time for racial discrimination is over.”
Carter’s statement in 1971 represented a paradigm change in race relations. The time has come for Rep. Goodlatte and other Republicans to make a comparable statement about climate change, and then to act on it.
Conservatives claim that if this problem needs to be solved, it will be solved by the market. Actually, that is true to a degree, but the market has really not solved it because the cost of the damage from fossil fuels to the climate and environment is not taken into account in the pricing of fossil fuels. Like any environmental issue, this can only be done by legislation. Revenue-neutral legislation to do just that has been promoted by former Republican representative Bob Inglis and by several current Democratic members of the House and Senate. It places a tax on fossil fuels that corrects the distortion in price, which will produce an economy based on sustainable energy and practices. The tax is paid back to the people through the income tax system, so that the result is a changed economy, not a less vital one. The legislation places a tariff on goods from countries that do not have a comparable tax on carbon, with the likely result they will enact such a tax.
We built the Industrial Age with coal, oil and natural gas. We can build the next age, which I would call the age of sustainability, with renewable sources of energy and with energy-efficient technologies. In doing so, we will build the next economy. We are not talking about sacrifice; rather, this is about change — the change we need to preserve the basis of human existence, happiness and prosperity.