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Op-ed: Part-time legislators need full-time climate experts

By Steve Glaser

First Published Mar 04 2014 05:29 pm • Last Updated Mar 04 2014 05:30 pm

I do not envy our legislators. They make decisions about a host of issues, many of which must be unfamiliar. If they are lucky, they will be knowledgeable on perhaps half of the matters that arise each year. The rest must be learned on the fly.

Their task is especially great with a highly technical issue such as global warming. I wouldn’t expect or even want my legislator to be an expert in this area. To do so would be a full-time job. My legislator would be uninformed on other concerns, with no time for listening to constituents, and unemployed when the Legislature was not in session.

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When understanding an issue is such a challenge and the stakes are so high, it must be tempting to take a stab in the dark and hope all turns out for the best. Such may have been the case when Rep. Jerry Anderson announced his bill forbidding the regulation of carbon dioxide below 500 parts per million, claiming there is a shortage of this compound. His rationale: We don’t have enough CO2 in the atmosphere, so plants are being starved.

He doesn’t say how he reached this conclusion. I know that whenever I hear about a food crisis, the most common reason is drought. Sometimes there are other problems, but I’ve never heard of a crop failure that resulted from too little CO2.

Anderson also played down the fact that 97 percent of climate scientists believe that global warming is happening, is caused by man, and will do great damage if nothing is done to alter our present course (http://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus).

Climate change is an area where people are seemingly comfortable ignoring those with the most expertise. If 97 percent of engineers said a mine was in danger of collapsing, would Anderson encourage his coal-mining constituents to continue working? If 97 economists shared an opinion about a tax plan, would he vote with three who disagreed?

We have a moral obligation to listen to those with real expertise and take global warming seriously. This obligation is to today’s children, who will live in a much different world when they are grandparents. It is not sufficient to say that climate has always changed. That is like saying that because the economy is always changing, we shouldn’t worry if Congress chooses policies that cause people to lose their jobs.

I don’t expect a state legislature to solve a global problem. The best solution I’ve heard is phasing in a national tax on carbon sources (coal, oil, natural gas). There would be no net increase in our tax burden though, as all of the money collected would be rebated as a dividend or offset by cutting other taxes.

This approach gives American companies a huge incentive to reduce carbon emissions. Those that succeed will make a lot of money. After all, a bakery that sells bread for just a dime less has a big advantage in the supermarket.

To keep American manufacturers competitive, the tax would also apply to imports from countries that don’t put a price on carbon. Countries like China would almost certainly be coaxed into a similar framework. Their manufacturers could pay a tax to the United States, or the Chinese government could tax carbon and keep the money for itself. Which do you think it would choose?

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This proposal is for Congress. All I ask of our Legislature is to not create obstacles for those who would fight against global warming.

Steve Glaser evaluates toxic waste sites and is a member of Citizen’s Climate Lobby.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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