If Congress won’t act on climate change, it’s up to us
By Madeleine Para
I remember as a student reading about governments in other parts of the world that couldn’t manage to govern, but I never thought that I would experience that in our country. I always assumed we’re a country that knows how to make things work and get things done. So I’m dismayed that parts of our government are shut down, and that people who need services won’t get them until Congress finds a path out of gridlock. It leaves me feeling uncertain about our future and unsure who we are as a nation.
But there’s an even bigger uncertainty that has been overshadowed by the battles within Congress. The International Panel on Climate Change issued a summary of its fifth report last week. In the six years since the last report scientists have been increasing their knowledge and understanding. Here’s what they’ve concluded:
• Atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years.
• Warming of the climate system is unequivocal. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.
• It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.
Who are the people making these pronouncements? The IPCC is composed of over 2,000 climate scientists who analyzed more than 9,200 peer-reviewed scientific studies; 110 countries were represented in the review of the report prior to its release. The diagnosis is clear: Climate change threatens the ecosystem which gives us life.
Wisconsin farmers have already had a taste of the future, with weather that is sometimes too dry and sometimes too wet for normal planting and growth of our crops. Worse yet, farmers in countries like Bangladesh will lose their fields as the oceans rise and be forced to move elsewhere. Where will all the environmental refugees go?
More than ever before in the history of humanity we need to come together to head off a global crisis. The government of the most powerful country in the world needs to pull itself back together and demonstrate again the strength and resourcefulness of the United States. There are solutions to the problem of climate change. We need to get going on deploying them.
At the heart of the problem is the mis-pricing of fossil fuels. As a society we are paying for the costs of carbon pollution in our insurance premiums, our national defense, our disaster relief funds, and in many other places besides the gas pump and electric meter. If fossil fuel companies had been required all along to pay for the destruction caused by their product, we would have invested in alternatives long ago. A fee on carbon emissions is a simple, transparent, and effective way to bring these external costs into the price of carbon-based fuels. Returning the revenues raised by the fee to all households will provide a cushion against the rising prices while still giving everyone an incentive to conserve and to switch to renewable energy. Many, many jobs will be created in the process of building up the new energy system.
When Congress won’t lead, it is up to the citizens. Not only should we be demanding a functioning government, but we must also insist our members of Congress face and solve the problem of climate change. Write your congressperson and your senators and ask them to read the IPCC report and then get to work passing effective climate change legislation such as a revenue-neutral price on carbon.
Madeleine Para is national program director for Citizens Climate Lobby.
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