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Peter Garrett of Winslow is the Maine state coordinator of the Citizens Climate Lobby.
We are facing two crises. Both are deadly. Both are worldwide.
Beware, this is not a feel-good story. On the climate side, the extreme heat and lightning-lit wildfires in California and the unusually numerous Atlantic hurricanes are starters. Events such as these create multi-billion dollar bills for the nation to pay.
Our tax-funded Federal Emergency Management Agency pays for restoration, and insurance companies, saddled by huge payments, increase insurance rates across the board. We may not be directly affected, though perhaps family, friends and colleagues must recover from lost homes and long-term health impacts. These climate-related costs and impacts are, of course, in addition to the economic and health impacts of the pandemic that makes the news every day.
Climate change is not just restricted to wildfires and hurricanes. The same applies to this year’s record-breaking heat waves in the West; devastating wind storms and flooding in the Midwest; the alarming recent breakdown of Greenland’s ice sheet, and the not-to-be-argued facts that carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas in Earth’s atmosphere, has increased 50 percent since we humans started burning previously buried coal, then oil and natural gas. Furthermore, concentrations of methane, which is many times more potent as a greenhouse gas, have increased 150 percent.
We in Maine were smart in 2018 to elect a governor and Legislature that took on climate change action with the establishment of the Maine Climate Council. The council and its working groups (on energy, transportation, buildings, coastal and marine, natural and working lands and community resilience planning) have met many times, in person before March, and virtually thereafter, in order to propose a Climate Action Plan for the Legislature to put into legislative action for the coming years.
The reality is that both the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change require action. Maine’s government action on the pandemic, led by Gov. Janet Mills and Dr. Nirav Shah, has proven sufficiently successful that Maine remains one of the least affected states. However, U.S. government action has been sadly lacking, so now the U.S. tops the world in per capita cases and is near the top in per capita deaths from COVID.
Maine’s climate actions, currently being considered by the Climate Council (with opportunities for public input) will be designed to radically reduce our carbon dioxide emissions over the next few decades. Such action should save us the $5 billion per year on fossil fuels we currently import from elsewhere to power our vehicles and heat most buildings, and will add jobs in clean energy, weatherization, and many other areas.
But, unless Congress and the president take similar action for the nation, and unless such action is quickly extended worldwide, we can expect only more deadly news about the effects of wildfires, floods, droughts and storms, with rising sea levels affecting coastal communities everywhere, including coastal towns in Maine.
Fortunately, there is already a bill in Congress, the bipartisan Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividends Act, that incorporates a solution to climate change advocated by more than 3,500 U.S. economists. The solution could be characterized as “cashback carbon pricing.” The idea is that instead of giving tax breaks to coal, oil and gas companies, a carbon dioxide pollution tax is imposed, based upon each fuel’s CO2 emissions when burned. The money is returned to people in monthly dividend payments (that’s how the cashback comes) in equal shares to every adult, with half shares to children. Those with low income come out best.
This funding mechanism won’t build the size of government, but will encourage every business and every household to consider how to make appropriate changes in investments or personal choices to balance corporate or domestic budgets. It will also benefit the climate in which we all live. To make it go global, the bill has a border adjustment on imports and exports that don’t make the grade.
Will it be sufficient? Like any urgent plan, for climate or for COVID, we must get it in place and stick with it.