Amid gloom on climate change, a spark of hope

Data show the U.S. is among the dirtiest countries when it comes to heat-trapping carbon pollution.
Data show the U.S. is among the dirtiest countries when it comes to heat-trapping carbon pollution. Observer file photo

For people concerned about climate change, the daunting drumbeat of year-end news is alarming.

“It is hard to overstate the urgency of our situation,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last week at the U.N. climate conference in Poland. “Even as we witness devastating climate impacts causing havoc across the world, we are still not doing enough, nor moving fast enough, to prevent irreversible and catastrophic climate disruption.”

The U.S. government’s Fourth National Climate Assessment – quietly released on Black Friday – also describes in disturbing detail the anticipated impacts of climate change. As temperatures increase, so do the odds of wildfires in the West, more record-breaking “nuisance flooding” and more disruptions in ocean fisheries. Absent a course correction, it suggests we face staggering effects on water, energy and human health.

And the annual Arctic Report Card released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this week says the Arctic region has experienced a multi-year period of warmth “unlike any period on record” and the effects are cascading around the globe.

President Trump has rolled back Obama-era restrictions on coal emissions. And at the global climate change summit, his representatives set up a trade-show exhibit promoting fossil fuels. “We strongly believe that no country should have to sacrifice economic prosperity or energy security in pursuit of environmental sustainability,” his top adviser on energy and climate, Wells Griffith, told the assemblage of 200 nations.

Think about that. Our nation won’t sacrifice economic prosperity for our environment. What a sorry statement from a country whose values have long inspired the world. Besides, we don’t have to choose between one or the other. The business of sustainability creates economic prosperity for people who put their minds to it.

Still, amid this flood of dispiriting news, a flicker of hope arose that deserves more oxygen.

The spark comes from U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, a South Florida Democrat who is committed to addressing the threat we face from sea-level rise. Two years ago, with former Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Miami, he created the Climate Solutions Caucus, which now has 90 House members – 45 Republicans and 45 Democrats.

Sadly, the climate caucus splintered before the election, when only four Republican members voted against a House resolution that denounced the idea of a carbon tax as detrimental to the economy.

Deutch bounced back two weeks ago with a small bipartisan group. Together, they introduced a bill that would impose a fee – not a tax – on carbon emissions, and return the money to citizens as a dividend.

The fee would gradually increase the price of carbon products, like coal and petroleum, based on the emissions they produce. The goal is to encourage consumers to use less, and to spur coal and oil companies to innovate clean-energy solutions. As a trade-off, the bill would suspend federal environmental regulations on greenhouse gas emissions. If the plan fails to achieve hoped-for carbon reductions, the regulations would return.

Without question, Deutch’s bill would lead to higher fuel and energy costs, but people would get a monthly dividend check to help offset those costs. If they want to spend that check on other things, perhaps they’ll be motivated to turn up the air conditioner or drive fewer miles. And companies that produce carbon-emitting products might be spurred to innovate to reduce their fees.