Op-ed: Nelson Mandela can inspire us to act on climate change
By Alexandra Amonette
I appreciate The Wenatchee World’s coverage of the courageous and magnanimous Nelson Mandela and Tracy Warner’s editorial about him, “The legacy of forgiveness” (The World, Dec. 6).
Years ago, I heard him talk in Yankee Stadium after his release from prison. On the way, people in the subway car were the usual silent, paranoid crowd. But after his speech, we were brothers and sisters talking with mutual respect and kindness.
Thank you, Nelson Mandela, for teaching us that respect, forgiveness, and reconciliation transcend all of our differences, and allow us to thrive as compassionate human beings on this planet we all share.
Interestingly, The Elders — a group of world leaders founded by Nelson Mandela — state that our greatest challenge today is solving our climate crisis and protecting those people and regions most vulnerable to the worst of climate change’s impacts.
Here in our region, we are getting a small taste of the weather extremes that are strongly affecting other parts of the world and it is particularly of concern with respect to our agriculture. We had a cold wet spring that hurt the Concord grape yields, sporadic spotty rains that inflicted severe damage on the cherry harvest, followed by a very hot summer that hurt the potato crop.
While each of these things has happened in any given year, to have them all happen in the same year is unusual. Our irrigation allotments are vulnerable in the river valleys due to reduced snow pack and we could face a greater probability of wet springs that wash out wheat crops. Average warmer temperatures could increase heat stress of crops and encourage the spread of undesirable plants (e.g., kochia) and insects (e.g., potato tuber moth). The combined effect of climate-related events is to increase the economic uncertainties faced by our farmers.
How did we get here and what can we do?
Since the beginning of the industrial revolution mankind has increased the level of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide (CO2), in our atmosphere, inducing an unprecedented rapid warming of the climate. Climate scientists report that the major source of the CO2 emissions is combustion of fossil fuels and that these emissions must be reduced rapidly to avoid irreparable harm to nature and future generations. Warming causes the atmosphere to hold more water vapor — the fuel that drives thunderstorms and tornadoes.
We have seen only a small portion of the warming that is in the “pipeline.” The weather — the biggest variable affecting farmers — is becoming less predictable and more volatile.
The irreversible consequences of a rapidly warming climate include sea level rise large enough to inundate most coastal cities in the next century or two and the extermination of many species. Changes that would normally take thousands of years are happening in decades. The oceans are absorbing much of the increased CO2, making them more acidic and affecting their ability to support life.
The unfortunate reality is that more than 85 percent of the global energy supply currently involves the combustion of fossil fuels, making it an enormous challenge to transition to other sources of energy. Sure, we can take personal actions to reduce our own emissions, like turning off lights and appliances when not in use, switching to electric vehicles, or riding a bike instead of driving, if practical, and buying locally produced foods and goods. There are many small and important things each of us can do.
But to quickly reduce our CO2 emissions on the scale required, the most effective, efficient, and best first step our country can do is to implement a revenue-neutral carbon tax and dividend (www.CitizensClimateLobby.org).
This proposed legislation taxes the amount of CO2 released by combustion of fossil fuels. It’s assessed at the source of the fuel (e.g., mine or well) or at the port of entry, starts out low, and increases annually in a predictable manner until renewable energy is competitive with fossil fuel. 100 percent of the tax is reimbursed to all citizens to help offset the increase cost of energy. No government bureaucracy is created and no burdensome regulations are required. Because the tax (and the price of fossil fuel) goes up predictably over time, it sends a clear price signal to use fossil fuels more efficiently or replace them with “green” energy. Investment then flows to green technologies based on merit rather than political clout. The rising cost of fossil fuels increases the demand for these products, driving the transition to a fossil-free economy, and creating millions of new clean energy jobs. If the U.S. and China (which will enact a carbon tax in 2016) both had a carbon tax and dividend, it would spur near-global agreement.
This is a huge but not impossible task. As Mandela said, “It always seems impossible until it is done.”
We can honor the memory of Nelson Mandela by working together to solve our climate crisis.
Alexandra Amonette of Richland is trained as a geologist and chemist and volunteers with the Tri-Cities chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby.