By Patricia Scott, for the Chippewa Valley Post
The effects of human-caused climate change are increasingly evident here in Wisconsin.
Birds are arriving sooner and spring plants are blooming earlier. According to the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts (WICCI), since 1950 the average temperature in this part of the state has increased about two degrees, the growing season has lengthened by eight to 12 days, and annual precipitation has risen by four to seven inches with more frequent downpours.
Although warmer winters might sound appealing, the trends present challenges to our infrastructure and budgets. Roads, storm water systems and wastewater treatment facilities risk being overwhelmed by greater volumes of water while street and highway departments can expect more road damage from heat waves and more frequent freeze/thaw cycles.
Impact on health
Our health is also affected. The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health, a publication from the National Institutes of Environmental Health, warns of increasing heat-related illnesses and exacerbations of respiratory and heart disease due to higher ozone levels. Food and water borne disease may increase if the power for refrigeration goes out or water and soil become contaminated during flooding.
We may also see more Lyme disease or other insect borne illnesses because of habitat changes.
It seems clear even from this partial list that we would benefit from reducing our risks. The challenge is finding a way to address the problem without unacceptable economic or human consequences.
The basic issue is the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2). We have known for over a century that CO2 acts like a blanket around the earth and that the more CO2, the heavier the blanket. Still we allow gigatons of it to be freely discharged annually, primarily from the burning of fossil fuels. We need to curb those emissions and a good way to do it is to put a price on carbon.
The Citizens Climate Lobby Plan
One well-studied, relatively simple plan – called carbon fee and dividend – has been proposed by Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL). Under this plan a steadily rising fee on fossil fuels and greenhouse gases would be imposed where they enter our economy whether at a mine, well or port of entry. To prevent any trade disadvantage, a border tariff would be imposed on imports from countries without an equivalent carbon fee
The fees would be collected by the Treasury Department and that money, minus administrative costs, would be returned to households in equal per-person monthly dividends. A study of the household impacts of this plan shows that most would benefit or break even, with the biggest gains going to those with lower incomes.
Evaluating the Proposal
To evaluate their proposal, CCL commissioned Regional Economic Models, Inc (REMI) to analyze the projected environmental, economic and health impacts. REMI concluded that during the first 20 years we would see at least a 50% reduction of carbon emissions below 1990 levels, prevent 230,000 premature deaths due to pollution and stimulate the creation of 2.8 million jobs. Those are significant figures.
The CCL plan has also attracted interest across the political spectrum, something that can be difficult in these polarized times. It appeals to many because it is market-based and will not require reams of new environmental regulations administered by multiple governmental bodies. It is also revenue neutral and avoids creating new government bureaucracy.
The political will to act is the missing piece. That’s why CCL has made creating that will its primary mission. The CCL website, citizensclimatelobby.org, is full of resources to help individuals exercise their political muscle. You can find information on the science, economics, and politics of climate issues as well as how to approach different audiences.
Check it out. Then let your representatives know you support the carbon fee and dividend plan. It’s a livable world, not carbon, that should be priceless.
Patricia Scott is a retired quality information specialist and a member of the Eau Claire chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby.