Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Hope for Collectively Rolling Back Climate Change

In response to one of his fellow-Republicans who had been dismissive of one of my recent posts which took a market-driven approach to reducing carbon as a means to roll back climate change, David Jenkins wrote:

“So are we to believe that we can dig up all of that sequestered carbon from bygone eras, burn it, and send it back into the atmosphere without consequence? That view is as impious as it is imprudent. It is certainly not conservative.”

Jenkins, who grew up in Taylorsville, NC, worked as a volunteer in high school on Jesse Helms Senatorial campaign and then attended Brevard College here before graduating from Furman University in South Carolina, also delivered possibly the most concise, if not best, description of what carbon regulation is and why it is important when he wrote:

“The earth was designed (I happen to believe it was designed by God)with something called the carbon cycle that naturally regulates the chemistry of our atmosphere and keeps it in balance.”

Of course a market-driven approach to reducing emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases such as methane is to levy a tax on them.  The idea was first proposed by Republican Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush before being stigmatized as a liberal conspiracy by many of the economic conservatives who now control the Republican Party.Berkley Video of 250 years of Climate Change by Decade

Economists all along the political spectrum prefer the use of taxes to curb negative behaviors such as “sin taxes” on tobacco and alcohol.

The idea of substituting a carbon sin tax for taxes that currently exist on productive behaviors such as work, has been supported by many such as Mitt Romney advisory Dr. N. Gregory Mankiw at Harvard and Cornell University’s Dr. Robert H. Frank, author of this year’s award-winning book entitled The Darwin Economy.

Frank argues that a relatively small $80 per metric ton tax on carbon would balance the climate while resulting over time in a gradual increase in the price of gasoline of 70 cents per gallon.  To level the “playing field” it could also be applied to imports from countries who refuse to curb their emissions.

As applied to some examples in or near Durham, NC, where I live, this would translate to $3.1 million for a municipal landfill here and $1 billion to a huge coal fired plant further north along the Virginia border.  Free marketers shouldn’t complain because these are costs to society that should have been accounted for anyway but were left as externalities.

In his book Frank also illustrates that dramatic savings to society through reduction in CO2 would create enough revenue to self-fund vouchers to low income households to be used to replace highly polluting vehicles with  more fuel efficient cars.

Oil tycoon, T. Boone Pickens proposes that we can eliminate 75% of our reliance on OPEC oil by just converting the 8 million 18-wheel trucks on our nation’s highways to natural gas.  Dr. Richard Muller at the consortium Berkley Earth has suggested that one of the most effective things we can do to curb global carbon emissions is to make the technology for natural gas fracking readily available to China as a means to wean that country from coal.

Muller, a longtime climate change skeptic, dramatically reverse his position after analysis published two and a half months ago demonstrated that essentially all of our climate change problem is the “result from human emission of greenhouse gasses” over the last 250 years.

Click here or on the image shown in this blog to watch the impact of greenhouse gasses year by year or decade by decade in a very cool video of the earth.  Watch the video at that link closely for the impact of greenhouse gasses from 1950, just two years after I was born, until to today.

There is a renewed bipartisan interest in a carbon tax, as reported in an August Wall Street Journal story, including those at The Energy and Enterprise Initiative, a think tank formed by Republicans.

Social conservatives including many Evangelical Christians will be important to our coming together as a nation to address climate change.  Jenkins, the VP of Government and Political Affairs for ConservAmerica, formerly Republicans for Environmental Protection, laid this out in a 2009 brief entitled God’s Climate Plan, where he concluded:

“Once we, as Christians, understand how God has designed the earth to keep its chemistry in balance and support life, we have an obligation to respect that design and live within it.”

In their 2009 book entitled A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions, co-authors Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist and Dr. Andrew Farley, a pastor, describe the need for urgency in addressing climate change and propose a Christian basis for action.

They note that:

“In the United States, individuals and households produce 21% of the nation’s heat-trapping gas emissions. Another 17 percent is produced by personal transportation.  As individuals, that means we control more than a third of the country’s greenhouse gas budget.”

It is easy to feel futile as my friend Jason Walser, a young lawyer and conservationist, does as he bicycles to work each day in Salisbury, a community in central North Carolina, as he passes a freight train consisting of nearly 200 carloads of coal which are required daily by a nearby Duke Energy power plant.

All this said, I still have a feeling that we’re turning the corner on the debate over climate change and that soon we’ll apply our collective efforts to successfully reverse this problem.

However, while collective action at the national and global level is critical, it is just as important to ensuring a future for our children and grandchildren that we apply the technology now available to pinpoint our efforts to address climate change at the household, street, neighborhood and community level.

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