OP-ED, FEB. 27, 2014
Time to address the climate crisis
By Cher Gilmore
Many proposals have been put forward to address California’s drought crisis, from more water recycling and groundwater cleanup to desalination plants, better conservation, and the latest state proposal to build $25 billion to $52 billion worth of new canals to transport Bay Area water to Southern California.
These may or may not have merit for the short term, but what I haven’t seen much about is an effective way to address the elephant in the room — global warming — the underlying cause of our drought.
We can put as many fingers in the dike as we can afford, but if we don’t find a way to stop pouring carbon emissions into the atmosphere, it will all be for naught.
Ten years ago, climatologists, including James Hansen, former head of NASA’s Goddard Space Institute, predicted that climate change would bring on worse droughts in the West, especially California.
Hansen, quoted in a recent article by Joe Romm for “Think Progress,” says, ”As long as we keep increasing greenhouse gases, intense droughts will increase, especially in the Southwest.
“Rainfall, when and where it comes, will tend to be in more intense events, with more extreme flooding. These are not speculations, the science is clear.”
Ice core samples collected from Antarctica and analyzed by our National Research Council shows that for the past 800,000 years we have had cycles of ice ages followed by warmer interglacial periods.
Scientists have measured both temperatures and carbon content in the air over that entire time span, and the amount of carbon in the air, shown graphically, tracks very closely with temperature changes.
The highest concentration of atmospheric carbon during all past interglacial periods was just under 300 ppm. Last year, we reached an unprecedented 400 ppm carbon concentration, and temperatures today are higher than at any time during the past 800,000 years.
Since science has proven that excess carbon in the atmosphere is causing global warming, the obvious solution is to reduce the amount of carbon going into the atmosphere.
Most of the carbon is the result of burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas), and that means we have to switch to renewable resources and leave most of the remaining fossil fuels in the ground. And we have to do it very quickly if we want to avoid catastrophic consequences.
But how? To discourage the use of something (like cigarettes), we know to make it more expensive so people will buy less of it. That strategy has worked with cigarettes, and it makes sense to do the same with fossil fuels.
Our local members of Congress — Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Santa Clarita, and nearby Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield — should take the lead in proposing legislation to levy a steadily rising fee on carbon-based fuels.
Returning all revenues to households would protect the poor and middle class from rising energy costs during the transition to sustainable energy and increase public support for the program.
Such a market-based carbon fee and dividend program would be the fastest, most efficient, most effective, and easiest-to-implement solution and should be the centerpiece of our fight against global warming.
Anything else that would cut carbon emissions should also be in the mix in order to put on the carbon brakes before global warming becomes a runaway train.
That includes a moratorium on fracking (which accelerates release of greenhouse gases and undercuts sustainable technologies), greater investment in renewable energy resources (which would also create six jobs to every one created by fossil fuels), increased focus on retrofitting buildings for energy conservation (another major source of jobs), and eliminating government subsidies to fossil fuel companies — the wealthiest companies on the planet.
California is already reeling from three years of drought, driven by an anticipated change in the jet stream due to climate change (which is also causing frigid conditions on the East Coast).
Now we are facing the likelihood of a longer and more intense fire season this year, and severe economic consequences as well. A January article from Bloomberg reports, “lost revenue in 2014 from farming and related businesses such as trucking and processing could reach $5 billion, according to estimates from the 300-member California Farm Water Coalition.”
California’s drought is not a Democratic or Republican issue, but a question of human survival, so let’s not treat it like a partisan football in this election year.
It’s time we implemented a solution to address the cause of our climate crisis rather than the symptoms, before California becomes the latest Dust Bowl.
Cher Gilmore lives in Santa Clarita and is group leader of the Santa Clarita Chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby.