Opinion

Ready for a hurricane? Only if we act on climate change.

Red flags fly on the beach Tuesday as Hurricane Florence approaches the coast of Myrtle Beach. The storm is expected to make landfall Thursday evening.
Red flags fly on the beach Tuesday as Hurricane Florence approaches the coast of Myrtle Beach. The storm is expected to make landfall Thursday evening. jbell@thesunnews.com

As Hurricane Florence bears down on the Carolinas this week, President Trump told reporters, “We are absolutely and totally prepared.” He may be right about federal emergency readiness – we’ll see – but he’s plainly wrong about the nation’s broader preparation for weather calamities.

This president is doing the opposite of preparing. In the face of climate change that is clearly contributing to more powerful storms, droughts, floods, rising seas levels and wildfires, Trump is dropping the nation’s guard.

He’s withdrawn from the Paris climate agreement, backed off of more rigorous fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks, rejected President Obama’s Clean Power Plan for power plants, encouraged the burning of coal and just this week eased regulations on energy company operations that release methane, one of the most dangerous – and preventable – sources of greenhouse gases.

In the next week or so, the president may be in North Carolina to survey the wreckage from Hurricane Florence. But such damage in the future will be intensified by his own big wind that’s upending efforts to avert climate change. Call it Hurricane Donald.

Fortunately, the negative actions at the top are being countered by preventive steps at the state and local level. Major cities are committing to using more renewable energy and smaller cities are expanding mass transit and promoting alternative transit, such as bike sharing and bike commuting. On Wednesday, the N.C. League of Conservation Voters announced that 94 General Assembly candidates have committed to having North Carolina use 100 percent clean energy by 2050.

One of the most promising responses is coming from the grassroots level – the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. The group, composed mostly of volunteers, is pressing lawmakers to adopt a carbon fee and dividend plan.

The idea is to impose a $15 per ton tax on carbon released by coal, oil and natural gas companies and increase the tax by $10 a year. The tax would increase utility and fuel costs, but the higher prices would be offset by dispersing the collected taxes back to all U.S. residents in the form of dividends.

It’s an intriguing concept that would discourage carbon emissions by making such emissions expensive while offsetting the costs to consumers. It’s the kind of broad thinking and action that’s needed in the face of a global threat.

The carbon tax has attracted a surprisingly bipartisan group that includes former officials from Republican administrations and current Republican members of the U.S. House and Senate. The Climate Solutions Caucus, backed by the Citizens Climate Lobby, now includes 86 members of the House. The caucus requires that every new member be matched by a new member from the opposite party.

Unfortunately, none of the Climate Solutions Caucus members are from North Carolina. The delegation’s lack of commitment to this nonpartisan action on climate change is an embarrassment to North Carolina, a state especially vulnerable to ocean storms and rising sea levels.

Don Addu, of Durham, southeast director of the Citizen Climate Lobby, said some delegation members are interested in joining the caucus, but are hesitant about making the time commitment. “And then we have others who just don’t regard climate change as a priority,” he said.

Perhaps Hurricane Florence will rearrange their priorities as it rearranges their state.

“Unfortunately, it takes extreme events to bring some members on board about responding to problems that North Carolinians are seeing every day,” Addu said. “When we have these extreme events, it makes it easier for members to come forward and engage on the topic.”

Barnett: 919-829-4512, nbarnett@newsobserver.com



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