Our part of the country (as well as the world) has received some sobering news recently, in the form of two major climate reports — one from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and the other our latest National Climate Assessment. Both reports paint a distressingly dismal picture of our future if we don’t do something very, very soon to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions in our atmosphere.
The IPCC report says global temperatures could reach a tipping point in only 12 years — an incredibly short time to do what will be necessary to cut emissions sufficiently. Furthermore, Joel Clement, a senior fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, says of the report, “If there’s anything wrong with it, it’s that the assumptions are conservative. The reality may be even worse.”
Here in the Southwest, under a business-as-usual scenario (that is, NO action on climate change), the IPCC report forecasts increasing temperatures that would lead to even more intense heat waves, droughts, flooding and wildfires than we’re already experiencing. The National Climate Assessment adds to that rising sea levels — something of serious concern to Californians — and threats to air quality, water supplies, critical infrastructure and vulnerable communities. It estimates that approximately $1 trillion in coastal property nationwide is threatened by rising sea levels (a good portion of that being in California) and that economic losses will be in the hundreds of billions annually in some sectors by 2100.
The National Assessment says, “The severity of future impacts will depend largely on actions taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the changes that will occur.” It’s a daunting challenge, but there’s reason for hope, despite Donald Trump doing everything in his power to reverse policies that would reduce emissions — making the U.S. an outlier in the world community.
To begin with, use of renewable energy such as solar and wind has been growing exponentially and renewables are now at par cost-wise with fossil fuels in many areas. Huge national and international corporations such as Coca-Cola, WalMart, Microsoft, Google, BMW Group and Nike have pledged to power their operations with 100 percent renewable energy in the near term. And then there are the U.S. cities and states — with California in the lead — that are taking independent climate action, plus all the rest of the countries worldwide who signed on to the Paris Climate Agreement.
Since the mid-term election, there is even hope in the U.S. Congress! In addition to the election of new congressional representatives who are poised to act on climate, there is actually hope for national climate legislation in the form of a new bipartisan House bill. The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act was introduced this month by three Democrats and three Republicans, who all happen to be members of the Climate Solutions Caucus.
For over a decade, Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), including the Santa Clarita chapter, has been promoting national legislation to levy a carbon emissions fee on fossil fuel companies, with all collected money returned to households. CCL Executive Director Mark Reynolds says, “To call this legislation a breakthrough is an understatement. This bill is easily the most significant congressional move on climate change since 2009. And with bipartisan sponsorship, it has a real chance at passage.” The bill, of course, won’t go anywhere in this Congress, but the sponsors have pledged to re-introduce it in the 116th Congress next year.
The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act’s price on carbon would shift the runaway costs from climate disasters like Hurricane Florence and California’s recent wildfires onto the fossil fuel companies. Those companies, along with our power and transportation sectors, will be motivated to find cleaner, cheaper ways to power our country, reducing emissions and stabilizing our climate. By returning the revenue to Americans in a monthly dividend, our economy would benefit, too.
Analytical studies — such as a 2014 study done by Regional Economic Models Inc. — plus on-the-ground experience in British Columbia and elsewhere show that a fee and dividend approach is good for both the environment and the economy. Furthermore, polling by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communications shows that a large majority of Americans actually support carbon pricing — 68 percent versus only 29 percent opposed.
Surely the good news outweighs the bad — but there’s no time to lose. We must all work to reduce our carbon footprints and urge our local, state and national representatives to take immediate action, too. A livable planet depends on it.
Cher Gilmore is a member of the Santa Clarita chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby and lives in Newhall. The weekly “Democratic Voices” column will return next week.