Viewpoint: National climate report, Trump’s gut, congressional action

Karen Rubin

During Obama’s administration, EPA administrator Gina McCarthy issued a report that forecast the impacts of climate change with a focus on public health – how many more would die from wildfires, pollution, disease because of longer seasons and wider territory supporting insects and microbes (Lyme, Zika, West Nile, dengue), loss of crops and livestock to drought and flood. It was eerily, disturbingly spot on.

As was Vice President Al Gore’s forecast laid out in “An Inconvenient Truth” but mocked by a growing Republican orthodoxy branding global warming “a hoax” perpetrated by money-grubbing scientists and the Chinese.

Obama did a lot to put into place what needed to happen to slow, even stop the march to higher temperatures, faster than humans can evolve or adapt, to that point when scientists say will render the earth virtually uninhabitable, or at least, unleash a dystopian “Lord of the Flies” fight to survive on shrinking resources and landscape.

The result: Trump can assert he can pull out of the hard-won Paris Climate Agreement, which 197 nations signed under Obama’s leadership, and reverse every one of those clearly successful mitigating programs based on his out-of-his-ass statement that the U.S. has “record clean” air and water (U.S. is eighth in urban air quality, and though 5 percent of the world’s population, generates 25 percent of the carbon emissions), while stating that he doesn’t believe the 1,600-page report by 13 federal agencies documenting the economic impacts of unstopped climate change, because, you know, his gut is smarter than the best brains.

The Fourth National Climate Assessment, mandated by Congress, seemed designed to speak directly to Trump’s most primal desires: money.

It put into dollars and GDP the consequences unfolding from climate change. Left unchecked, climate change will stunt America’s GDP by 10 percent.

Besides draining all funding away from education and research, economic costs come from lost productivity (people get sick, die prematurely). Not put into the equation, though, is how the US will fall behind the world (even Saudi Arabia which is transitioning its economy from oil) in technological innovation.

One can easily imagine countries banning the import of US-manufactured gasoline-powered cars. Indeed, Trump is now declaring he intends to end subsidies for electric cars (take that GM!) and clean, renewable energy, while actually steering financial protections for coal. That should be added to that growing list of impeachable offenses.

One of the problems now is that the economic cost of carbon-emissions – on health, on environmental degradation, pollution and destruction – is not incorporated into decisions whether communities and companies should invest in clean, renewable energy, even though the obvious historic trends are that the cost of fossil-fuel-based energy goes up (supplies are limited, more difficult and costly to extract, transport, process) while the cost of solar, wind, geothermal and other clean-energy solutions is coming down with advances in technology and wider use.

As climate disasters literally wipe out the old, communities and utilities should be sweeping in the new.

Trump may be willfully, malevolently ignorant, but there is a hint of bipartisan consensus in Congress to take action.

Last week, five House members – Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL), Rep. Francis Rooney (R-FL), Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL), Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Rep. John Delaney (D-MD) – introduced the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act.

It would apply a nationwide price on carbon emissions of $15 for each ton of carbon emitted into the air and return the revenue equally to American households people each month.

The changing economics of the equation, supporters contend, would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent in 10 years, and 91 percent by 2050. That’s a bigger cut than Obama’s Clean Power Plan or the US commitment under the Paris climate agreement, which Trump has promised to exit.

“To call this legislation a breakthrough is an understatement,” said Citizens’ Climate Lobby Executive Director Mark Reynolds which has been advocating for the carbon dividend for years. “Any long-term solution needs buy-in from both Republicans and Democrats. And now that their constituents are feeling the negative effects of climate change firsthand, both sides are more willing to cooperate on a solution that brings about real change.”

Reynolds said the new policy will create 2.1 million new jobs over the next 10 years, based on estimates from a 2014 Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI) study on the effect of a revenue-neutral carbon price on the American economy.

The program is revenue neutral, does not grow the size of government, and has been a strategy advocated by both economists and climate scientists as the simplest, most effective approach to solving climate change.

Additionally, implementing this policy will reduce health care costs by cutting pollution, which is responsible for 60,000 U.S. deaths each year, sickens hundreds of thousands more, costing $150 billion per year.

But you have to consider why Climate Denial has become a mark of Republican orthodoxy: it’s because it would disrupt dependency on monopolistic entities like the Kochs and Exxon-Mobil, decentralizing and democratizing supply, capturing sun, wind, geothermal, hydro power –resources that all people own, “the commons” – which would input into a grid that would work in two-directions, with residential, commercial and government buildings able to send out excess energy they generate.

I’m not so sure I would advocate a dividend that expands consumerism over a dedicated (“lock box”) fund to transition the infrastructure and economy to clean, renewable energy. But, like Obamacare which sacrificed a public option, if this is the “compromise” needed to get bipartisan support to put it over the finish line, so be it.

“This aggressive carbon pricing scheme introduced by members from both parties marks an important opportunity to begin to seriously address the immediate threat of climate change,” said Congressman Deutch. “The status quo is unsustainable; the time to act is right now.”

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Karen Rubin

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