Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 16, 2013

Forum: Waste of fossil fuels cannot continue

By Mary Van Valin
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — We often hear jokes about husbands forgetting their wedding anniversaries, but this month there is an anniversary we must not forget. I’m suggesting we commemorate it with action.

Twenty-five years ago, on June 23, 1988, Dr. James Hansen presented to a U.S. Senate committee his findings on the connection between human activities, the growing concentration of atmospheric CO2, and a warming climate.

Dr. Hansen recently retired as director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies out of a moral obligation to pursue climate activism and his concern that “we’re going to leave a situation for young people and future generations that they may have no way to deal with.”

Since Hansen’s testimony, the burning of fossil fuels has continued unabated. Well-organized disinformation campaigns claim scientists disagree about whether human activity causes global warming. Yet the science is clear and scientific consensus is without question. Even major oil companies such as BP and Shell acknowledge the consensus.

It is no longer a concern that we’ll run out of gas and oil. Today’s concern is if we burn the oil and gas we already have in reserves, we raise the temperature of the planet beyond what scientific models show is sustainable for life as we’ve known it to continue.

Imagine the value of the investments big oil has in those reserves! It comes down to a pretty gritty question: will profit win over the well-being of living things? And do we have a say?

This 25th anniversary can be commemorated by our action: let’s insist that Congress pass a revenue-neutral carbon tax. This plan is supported by conservative and liberal economists as the best market-based solution. A tax is placed on carbon-based fuels at the source (well, mine, port of entry.) It increases steadily each year so that clean energy becomes cheaper than fossil fuels within a decade. All of the money collected is returned to Americans on an equitable basis through a dividend check. Under this plan, 66 percent of households would break even or receive more in their dividend than they would pay for the increased cost of energy, thereby protecting the poor and middle class.

A predictably increasing carbon price will send a clear market signal, unleashing entrepreneurs and investors in the new clean-energy economy. It’s estimated that more than four million jobs would be created.

There is real promise in clean, renewable energy. For instance, the potential for Michigan job growth is tremendous. Did you know that wind generators are being made right here in Michigan, with Michigan-made parts? Did you know more renewable energy patents are processed in Michigan than anywhere else in the country? We, the citizens of Michigan, are innovators, manufacturers, and pioneers in leading new industries. Let’s just do it.

June 23, 2013: put it on your calendar. It’s an anniversary this old planet needs you to remember by making a commitment to action.

About the author: Mary Van Valin of Traverse City is a Michigan Land Use Institute board member, helped lead the group’s educational efforts during the 25% by 2025 campaign, is a member of the Citizen’s Climate Lobby and of She is a former teacher and elementary mathematics consultant.

About the forum: The forum is a periodic column of opinion written by Record-Eagle readers in their areas of expertise. Submissions of 500 words or less may be made by e-mailing Please include biographical information and a photo.