In light of the tragic wildfires and ensuing mudslides that have ravaged Southern California, it’s important to take note of a 2015 issue of the U.S. Forest Service's journal, Fire Management Today, titled “Climate Change: The Future Is Here.”
This publication states: “Increasing temperatures and changes in precipitation and snowmelt patterns are increasing the severity and size of wildfires in the West.” Concern is also expressed about "the occurrence of fire that is outside the range of our existing experience” and the danger this poses to firefighters and communities.
The Thomas Fire recently became the largest wildfire on record in California, and 14 of the state's 20 largest wildfires have occurred since 2000. It's no wonder that climate change has been called an accelerator of crisis.
Even more troubling, we are experiencing these impacts when the earth has warmed just 1°C (1.8°F). Consider the warning from the U.S. National Climate Assessment that, without significant emissions reductions, the increase in global temperature could reach 5°C or more by the end of this century.
Many members of Wisconsin's Legislature and congressional delegation are avid hunters who have a great appreciation for the outdoors. This includes House Speaker Paul Ryan, my representative in Wisconsin's 1st District. It’s crucial for these politicians to hear the plea from our nation's forests and wildlands and take a leadership role regarding climate action.
One policy that should be considered is a revenue-neutral carbon fee and dividend program, which would reduce emissions while protecting the poor and the economy. This involves putting a steadily rising fee on oil, coal and natural gas and returning all of the money to the American people in a monthly dividend check. A study by Regional Economic Models, Inc. concludes that the stimulus from the dividend would actually lead to economic growth.
A border tariff adjustment on imports from countries that don’t price carbon similarly would protect American businesses and encourage other nations to adopt their own carbon pricing systems to gain access to valuable U.S. markets.
In his book "The Climate Casino: Risk, Uncertainty and Economics for a Warming World," economist William Nordhaus writes that to attain the level of emissions reductions needed to slow climate change “the incentives must be for everyone, millions of firms and billions of people spending trillions of dollars” in a low-carbon economy. Nordhaus states that “the most effective incentive is a high price for carbon.”
The National Academy of Sciences also advocates putting a price on carbon dioxide emissions as the most cost-effective way to address climate change. The NAS asserts that strong climate policy is wise risk management because climate impacts will last for hundreds to thousands of years, but climate action can be scaled back if it is shown to be more stringent than what is needed.
Climate change poses great threats, such as sea level rise, extreme weather and the destruction of the world’s coral reefs. Conservatives would be unlikely to tolerate this level of risk with regard to national defense or financial markets. Prudence dictates that we also hedge against the risk of disastrous climate change.
With 60 votes needed in the Senate to pass most legislation, many Republicans recognize the need for bipartisanship in 2018 on issues like infrastructure and immigration. It’s essential that members of Congress also work together on climate solutions.
Terry Hansen of Oak Creek is co-leader of the Milwaukee chapter of Citizens' Climate Lobby.
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