Speiser: Congress should affirm evidence on climate
Do you still doubt that climate change is happening, and that human actions cause it? Please take another look.
A team of researchers released a survey of more than 12,000 peer-reviewed climate research papers last week, by far the largest and most rigorous such survey to date. The upshot: 97 percent of climate research, published in solid scientific journals, affirms that climate change is happening and that human actions are responsible.
But it isn't just the scientists. Research published last month by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication shows that most Americans support substantive action. A large majority (80 percent) say the president and Congress should make developing clean energy a significant priority. Further, six in 10 (59 percent) think the U.S. should reduce its own greenhouse-gas emissions regardless of what other countries do.
What might continued climate change be like along the Wasatch Front? Our snowpack was unusually low again this year. With climate change it's likely to shrink further. Are we ready for severe, extended drought?
Irrigation wells in several nearby states are going dry. We've recently had wildfires that disrupted whole communities. Are we prepared for worse?
Last summer, acrid smoke from fires elsewhere blew here and stayed for weeks. Don't we already have too much polluted air?
Such symptoms may be daunting, but the science helps us trace them back to causes that we can address. Burning fuels like gasoline and coal add more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. Warming air becomes more turbulent, its variations more extreme and less predictable.
What we've had so far is just a taste of what the climate cooks, ladles in hand, have on the fire. To protect our way of life we'll need to cut down drastically on burning fossil fuels.
Given the need to shift toward safer, cleaner energy, what's the surest way? Congress looks gridlocked. Worse, so many senators and representatives seem frozen in denial, even of basic scientific facts.
Given this impasse, the administration will likely turn to the Environmental Protection Agency to further regulate greenhouse emissions, extending regulation, for example, to existing coal-fired power plants.
In contrast to a regulatory approach, there is a direct, market-based alternative: a steadily-increasing tax on the carbon content of coal, oil, and natural gas, as proposed, for example, by the nonpartisan Citizens Climate Lobby.
A significant but predictable fee for carbon would engage the power of the market to impel transition to clean energy. Further, returning revenue from the tax to the public equitably would compensate consumers, especially low-income households, for rising costs associated with the tax.
This market-based approach would also open opportunities. Most Utah energy now comes from burning fossil fuels, coal especially. As fossil fuel costs rise, alternatives like solar, wind, and geothermal power should expand, not just at the margins, but as main sources for electric power.
We've thrived before on challenging, high-quality enterprise. We've got the sun, wind, expertise and skill to forge ahead and prosper.
To set in place a revenue-neutral carbon tax and dividend, we'll need to let our senators and representatives (who seem entrenched in their denial) know how much we want it. Prominent conservatives, for example former Secretary of State George Schultz, already think so.
We need to tell our politicians that we care and that we're watching what they do.
The scientists who work on climate now are practically unanimous. It's time for Congress to affirm the evidence and act on it.
Robert Speiser is a retired mathematician and educator who volunteers with the Citizens Climate Lobby.