Jan 18, 2017 Op-Ed by ICCA member James McCoy

Base climate policy on science

Climate change is complex and does not lend itself to proof in a three-sentence sound bite. However, 97 percent of climate scientists agree the Earth is warming, with human activity playing a major role. The arguments used to challenge this tend to be ideological and not scientific. Yet we refute scientific ideas with ideology at our peril.

A historical example of such folly is the story of Trofim Denisovich Lysenko. His unsubstantiated idea that wheat plants could produce seeds of rye if grown in the appropriate environment was attractive to Stalin in the late 1940s/early ’50s. Such a dramatic shift in a plant’s inheritance pattern within one seed cycle would potentially mean a much more rapid increase in Soviet agricultural productivity. No need to wait years to get the seeds you want through Mendelian genetics! Lysenko became the director of the Institute of Genetics of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, and geneticists who opposed him were persecuted. As a result of following this ideologically attractive, but scientifically unvalidated — and subsequently repudiated — theory, Soviet biological science and agriculture were set back dramatically.

Our major criteria for reliable truths needs to be scientific evidence, not what fits best with our ideology. Our country has developed innovative technologies not by ignoring science that contradicts our assumptions, but by working within the framework of scientific reality. The intergovernmental panel on climate change has concluded that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal” and “anthropogenic [manmade] greenhouse gas emissions have increased since the pre-industrial era … and are now higher than ever [with] atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide that are unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. Their effects … are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

We cannot lead the world without acknowledging and responding to the best information from independent scientists. China is well ahead of us with their investment in clean and renewable energy, having exceeded the combined total investment by the U.S. and Europe from 2010 to 2015. China has an emissions “trading system” in place in seven pilot programs that have already reduced emissions in those areas. To prevent further damage to the environment, we need to place a progressively rising price on CO2 emissions to encourage business and entrepreneurs to invest in a low-carbon future.

A well-developed idea of such a program is the Carbon Fee and Dividend System of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. This system places a fee on fossil fuels at the source (at the well, mine or port of entry), beginning at $15 per metric ton of CO2 equivalent emissions and steadily increases annually at $10 per metric ton. One hundred percent of the net fees are returned to American households on a per capita basis as a monthly dividend (similar to Alaska’s dividend from oil profits going to all households in that state). Finally, a border adjustment assesses a fee or rebate on goods traded with countries without a comparable carbon price.

Enacting such a policy will:

Send a clear price signal to entrepreneurs and existing businesses to invest in a clean-energy economy.
Protect lower- and middle-income households, as two-thirds of families will break even or receive more in dividends than they would pay in higher living expenses.
Create jobs, as the dividend will put money back into local economies.
Discourage domestic businesses from relocating where they can emit more CO2, and encourage other nations to adopt an equivalent price on carbon.
For more information on this approach, go to citizensclimatelobby.org. Then contact your senators and representatives and tell them to take action.

James McCoy is a resident of Iowa City and member of the Iowa City Climate Lobby.

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