The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set news policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.
Theresa Hainer is co-chair of the Bangor chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
The heat-trapping emissions humans have spewed into our atmosphere since last Earth Day was 10 percent less than a typical year, a cause for celebration if not for one salient fact: The reduction will be short lived as the global economy rebounds from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Though emissions were down, the 2020 impact of climate change was more devastating than ever. The Atlantic hurricane season broke records with 30 storms — so many that the World Meteorological Organization ran out of names and had to use the Greek alphabet. AccuWeather estimates the economic fallout from these storms to be between $60 to $65 billion.
The 2020 storm season also saw the rise of another troubling phenomenon: R apid intensification of storms, associated with increasingly warming ocean temperatures placing coastal communities in the path of deadly hurricanes with little time to evacuate.
While hurricanes wreaked havoc in the East, wildfires raged in the West in 2020. Dry conditions and record temperatures contributed to one of the worst fire seasons which burned a total of 10.27 million acres, killed at least 43 people and caused damages reaching $16.5 billion.
The human and monetary toll is considerably higher when the health impact of smoke-filled skies is taken into account. A 2018 study looking at the wildfire season in California found that the indirect impact of smoke resulted in hospitalizations and lost wages and caused $150 billion in economic damage.
Winter provides no respite from the impact of climate change. The rapid warming of the Arctic, scientists say, played a role in weakening the jet stream containing the polar vortex. This weakening allowed sub-freezing temperatures to reach all the way to the Gulf Coast of Texas earlier this year, knocking out electricity and heat to millions.
As temperatures rise so will the disasters afflicting nearly every part of the country. Unless ambitious steps are taken to curtail the emissions of warming gases, these catastrophes will outpace our ability to adapt and recover.
Among the numerous tools needed to bring down emissions, a robust carbon price is the most effective and foundational. Setting a price high enough to move investments and behavior toward a rapid transition to a clean energy economy is key. Returning revenue to households, thereby protecting Americans from the economic impact of higher energy costs, we can establish a price that gets the job done.
The end game is to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and a world where each Earth Day doesn’t mark a year of worsening climate impacts. A recent study by Columbia University economists estimated to meet that goal, the carbon price would need to reach between $34 and $64 per metric ton of CO2 by 2025 and between $77 and $124 by 2030.
Several bills employing the fee-and-dividend approach to carbon pricing fall within the range needed to achieve the needed emissions reductions. One is The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act in the House sponsored by Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Florida, which has 41 co-sponsors including Rep. Chellie Pingree. Another is America’s Clean Future Fund Act in the Senate sponsored by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois. The American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act, sponsored by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, is expected to be introduced soon.
By cosponsoring these bills, Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Rep. Jared Golden can help to ensure that Congress implements this critical tool this year.
In 1970, the first Earth Day kicked off a movement leading to cleaner air and water for all Americans. This year’s Earth Day comes with more and more Americans personally feeling the impacts of climate change. It’s time for Congress to act, and an ambitious price on carbon is a big step in the right direction.