Take the sensible approach on climate change

It’s been a while since I’ve responded to a climate change denier. It’s generally tedious and has little chance of moving the needle. But this morning, up early and thinking about my talk before the IUP screening of This Changes Everything tonight, I took a little time to address the issues on a friend’s FB page. I know I know. Don’t feed the trolls. Sometimes, I hope that a thoughtful message can make some headway.

They wrote,

Climate change will happen whether we change the way we live or not….the earth will warm and cool in cycles as it has done since the beginning of time….the sun has much more effect on this than the people on the planet…..the government must make the most out of disasters real or perceived so they can milk more tax money out of everyone they can…..notice how it is now “climate change” and not global warming or cooling…Al Gore and his hoax of global warming trying to get companies to have to pay for Carbon credits(taxes) while before that and since it has become a global cooling and impending mini ice age……we can not control what the planet is going to do……we can as “man” respect our surroundings and except that change happens.

These claims ignore the plain fact that adding huge amounts of carbon dioxide, methane, and other gases to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, deforestation, and other processes warms the planet. Why? Because the fundamental laws of matter are just that way. Sure, the climate changes very slowly over really long periods of time. The change happening now–roughly 1.1 degrees Celsius in the last 130 years and most pronounced in the last 30–is so fast that it’s due to a new force. That force is industrialized people wrapping the earth in a thicker blanket of greenhouse gases.

The international bodies that started to investigate this starting in the 1970s were using the term climate change interchangeably with global warming. But most scientists trying to understand the problem realized that while the earth was warming, in our regions we would (and do) experience changes in precipitation or drought, storm intensity or sea level rise, more heatwaves and fewer colder snaps. Let’s face it, the climate in Arizona is different from Maine and our experiences in each should be different. Both terms are accurate, but they emphasize different things. No matter the term, it’s expensive.

If this had started as a money-making scheme, then it would have the traces of money making scheme. But where are the rampant profiteers? But in 1965 President Johnson stated, “This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through radioactive materials and a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.” We’ve had good reason to believe that we could be harming ourselves and the rest of life on earth since. Johnson was informed, in part, by the Air Force. Hardly a commie organization in the 50s and 60s.

As it stands today, economists and risk assessors from big banks, national governments, the insurance sector, and the Department of Defense all recognize that climate change is already costing us a lot of money. Inaction will cost more. The business group Ceres says, “As the frequency and severity of extreme weather events intensify with the effects of climate change, our federal and state disaster relief and insurance programs will become increasingly unsustainable as losses from such events increase. The net present value of the federal government’s liability for unfunded disaster assistance over the next 75 years could be greater than the net present value of the unfunded liability for the Social Security program.” Note that Ceres is not a left-wing or socialist group. They work with businesses. Munich Re, who insures the insurance industry, recognizes the unequivocal risks to our economy and are therefore looking to invest and back policies, programs, and technologies that slow or prevent climate change, things like renewable energy. In 2014 Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said, “Rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict. They will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe.” That’s expensive.

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What I find really interesting is that the life you and I lead can be powered by low-carbon technologies that require little intervention in the market. We could have “more profit with less carbon” as Amory Lovins says. “If government can remove institutional barriers and harness free enterprise, the markets will naturally favor choices that generate wealth, protect the climate and build security by replacing fossil fuels with cheaper alternatives.” In fact, if we eliminated the billions of dollars in subsidies to coal, oil, and gas, and had sensible regulations for safety, health, and environmental quality across the board, renewable energy would immediately start kicking the stuffing out of fossil fuels. That wouldn’t be expensive at all and it would limit the actions of the government in energy markets. Folks like Mark Jacobson out of Stanford have proposed sensible plans to create a renewable energy economy by 2050, one that would employ millions of people in all 50 states. In fact, today the solar industry employs about 175,000 people and is worth about $18 billion. It employs twice as many people as the coal industry, is safer on the job, has fewer long-term health costs for employees, and has far less pollution. With battery storage emerging, it’s an incredible opportunity. But if some people keep playing dirty and denying the science and acting as if fossil fuels don’t cause a problem, THEY will have created a self-fulfilling prophecy because the dangers of climate change are that great. I’d prefer that not happen. By putting their heads in the sand they are their own worst enemies.

We have a choice. We can work together now and cooperate to create a cleaner energy economy with sensible land use to prevent the problem from getting out of control. Or we can ignore the problem and end up on the equivalent of the operating table. I’ll take the sensible approach.

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