Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

June 16, 2013

Forum: Waste of fossil fuels cannot continue

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.

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