MEDIA PACKET, JAN. 20, 2015
State of our union is tied to the state of our climate
Rather than erecting obstacles to action, Congress should enact the market-based solution of a revenue-neutral fee on carbon where the money collected is given back to households
As he has for several years now, President Obama used his State of the Union Address to highlight the growing threat of climate change and to reaffirm his commitment – despite Congress’ inability to act – to deal with the risks of unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions.
In the run up to Tuesday’s speech, Obama focused on the overlooked problem of methane leakage, announcing that he would have the Environmental Protection Agency develop rules for new oil and gas projects.
Obama had a little fun with the latest Republican talking point on the science of climate change:
“I’ve heard some folks try to dodge the evidence by saying they’re not scientists; that we don’t have enough information to act. Well, I’m not a scientist, either. But you know what – I know a lot of really good scientists at NASA, and NOAA, and at our major universities. The best scientists in the world are all telling us that our activities are changing the climate, and if we do not act forcefully, we’ll continue to see rising oceans, longer, hotter heat waves, dangerous droughts and floods, and massive disruptions that can trigger greater migration, conflict, and hunger around the globe. The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.”
The President made it clear he would not let Congress undo the steps his administration is taking to rein in global warming and lead other nations toward a global climate agreement in Paris later this year:
“Over the past six years, we’ve done more than ever before to combat climate change, from the way we produce energy, to the way we use it. That’s why we’ve set aside more public lands and waters than any administration in history. And that’s why I will not let this Congress endanger the health of our children by turning back the clock on our efforts. I am determined to make sure American leadership drives international action. In Beijing, we made an historic announcement – the United States will double the pace at which we cut carbon pollution, and China committed, for the first time, to limiting their emissions. And because the world’s two largest economies came together, other nations are now stepping up, and offering hope that, this year, the world will finally reach an agreement to protect the one planet we’ve got.”
2014 the hottest year
The President’s speech was set against of the backdrop of news days earlier that 2014 was the hottest year for the Earth in recorded history. Justin Gillis of the New York Times reports:
Last year was the hottest on earth since record-keeping began in 1880, scientists reported on Friday, underscoring warnings about the risks of runaway greenhouse gas emissions and undermining claims by climate change contrarians that global warming had somehow stopped.
Extreme heat blanketed Alaska and much of the western United States last year. Records were set across large areas of every inhabited continent. And the ocean surface was unusually warm virtually everywhere except near Antarctica, the scientists said, providing the energy that fueled damaging Pacific storms.
In the annals of climatology, 2014 surpassed 2010 as the warmest year. The 10 warmest years have all occurred since 1997, a reflection of the relentless planetary warming that scientists say is a consequence of human activity and poses profound long-term risks to civilization and nature…
Several scientists said the most remarkable thing about the 2014 record was that it had occurred in a year that did not feature a strong El Niño, a large-scale weather pattern in which the Pacific Ocean pumps an enormous amount of heat into the atmosphere.
The growing risk of climate change
With each passing year, it becomes increasingly clear that the state of our union is inextricably connected to the state of our climate. Last summer, a bipartisan coalition of our nation’s top political and economic leaders issued the Risky Business report listing the threats that climate change poses for our nation over the next century:
- If we continue on our current path, by 2050 between $66 billion and $106 billion worth of existing coastal property will likely be below sea level nationwide, with $238 billion to $507 billion worth of property below sea level by 2100.
- By mid-century, the Southwest, Southeast, and upper Midwest will likely see several months of 95°F days each year.
- Demand for electricity for air conditioning will surge in those parts of the country facing the most extreme temperature increases, straining regional generation and transmission capacity and driving up costs for consumers.
- As extreme heat spreads across the middle of the country by the end of the century, some states in the Southeast, lower Great Plains, and Midwest risk up to a 50% to 70% loss in average annual crop yields (corn, soy, cotton, and wheat), absent agricultural adaptation.
Congress’ failure to act
Despite these risks, not to mention the destabilizing impact of global warming throughout the rest of the world, Congress has consistently failed to enact any legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and thereby reduce those risks. With no solution forthcoming from federal lawmakers, President Obama took the initiative two years ago by announcing his Climate Action Plan, which will use EPA regulations to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from new and existing power plants.
The response from Republicans in Washington, who now control both the House and Senate, has been to attack the President’s climate agenda at every step. Last week, House Speaker John Boehner once again declined to acknowledge that climate change is driven primarily by human activity, saying, “”I’ll let scientists debate sources and their opinion of that change.”
Boehner said the “real question” that should be asked is why “every proposal we see out of the administration with regard to climate change means killing American jobs…
“The American people are still asking the question, ‘Where are the jobs?’ I just don’t understand why every proposal that comes out of administration is going to kill thousands and thousands of more American jobs.”
While the Speaker’s assertion that the President’s proposals put Americans out of work is debatable, nevertheless, we have an answer to the pressing question: Where are the jobs?
Cut carbon while creating jobs
If Congress is looking for a policy to boost employment in America, Carbon Fee and Dividend is the tool to make it happen. It also provides a free-market alternative for cutting carbon emissions rather than relying on government regulations.
It works this way:
A steadily-rising fee is placed on the carbon dioxide content of fossil fuels with revenue from that fee returned to households in equal shares. To protect American businesses, border tariffs are placed on imports from nations that lack an equivalent carbon price, providing the motivation for other nations to adopt similar policies.
A study from Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI) – released last summer by Citizens’ Climate Lobby – looked at the impact of a fee starting at $10 per ton of CO2 that rose $10 per ton each year. In the study, all the revenue from the fee was divided equally among every household and returned as monthly payments. The aforementioned border tariffs were also factored in.
After 20 years, CO2 emissions were cut in half and 2.8 million jobs were added to the economy. The job growth comes primarily from the stimulus effect of recycling carbon fee revenue into the pockets of people who are likely to spend the money.
Off Capitol Hill, a number of prominent Republicans are speaking up for revenue-neutral carbon pricing, including former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and former Secretary of State George Shultz, who told CCL, “It’s not a tax if the government doesn’t keep the money.”
President Obama has laid out the steps he’s willing to take to protect our nation and the world from the ravages of climate change. Rather than erecting obstacles to Obama’s initiatives, Congress should provide an effective alternative that reduces the harmful effects, already being felt, of global warming. The market-based approach of Carbon Fee and Dividend is the solution all sides can embrace.