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Peter Garrett of Winslow is the Maine state coordinator of the Citizens Climate Lobby.
COVID and climate change are the world’s two deadly crises. Every crisis calls for both planning and a determination for action.
Maine’s government action on the pandemic, led by Gov. Janet Mills and Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, has proven sufficiently successful that Maine remains one of the least affected states, despite the recent rise in cases. Nevertheless, lacking nationally coordinated planning and a determination to follow medical advice, the U.S. tops the world in cases and deaths from COVID.
Our governor and Legislature likewise took on climate change action with determination, resulting in the establishment of the Maine Climate Council. With its working groups, the council has met many times. By Dec. 1, they will have prepared a Climate Action Plan for the Legislature to enact for the crucial coming years.
The plan will be designed to radically reduce our carbon dioxide emissions over the next few decades. Currently, we Mainers spend $5 billion per year on fossil fuels that we import from elsewhere to power our vehicles and heat most buildings. We could save most of that by adding more clean energy generation and switching to electric vehicles for transportation and heat pumps for heating. Meanwhile, we will be adding jobs in many areas, including developing solar and wind power and implementing weatherization.
However, unless President-elect Joe Biden and Congress take similar action for the nation, and unless such action is quickly extended worldwide, we can expect more deadly news from across the U.S. and around the world, about wildfires, floods, droughts, storms, and rising sea levels affecting coastal communities everywhere, including Maine.
Fortunately, there is already a bill in Congress, the bipartisan Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, that incorporates a market-based solution to climate change as advocated by 3,589 U.S. economists. The solution can be characterized as “cashback carbon pricing.” Instead of continuing tax breaks to fossil fuel companies forever, we tax carbon dioxide pollution. The money raised will be returned to people in monthly “climate security” payments (that’s the “cashback”) in equal shares to every adult, with half shares to children. Those with low income come out best.
Pricing carbon pollution will encourage businesses across the economy to make appropriate changes in energy use. Household budgets will benefit from the dividend in excess of higher prices. The climate will benefit, and so will air quality. To make it go global, there’s a border adjustment for our exports and for imports from countries without carbon pricing.
The costs of doing nothing include the costs of recovery from events such as this year’s extreme heat and lightning-lit wildfires in California, unusually numerous Atlantic hurricanes, record-breaking heatwaves in the west, devastating wind storms and flooding in the Midwest; the alarming breakdown of Greenland’s ice sheet and the accelerating melting of the Arctic Icecap.
Our taxes currently pay multi-billion dollars to recover from such events. And insurance companies, saddled with huge payments, increase insurance rates across the board. We may not be directly affected, though perhaps our families, friends and colleagues are among those recovering from lost homes and long-term health impacts. These climate-related costs and impacts are in addition to the economic and health impacts of the pandemic that make the news every day.
Though slow climate changes are a feature of Earth’s history, this warming is proceeding 10 times faster than any since the dinosaur extinction. And it is caused by the 50 percent increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas in Earth’s atmosphere, since we humans started burning previously buried coal, then oil and natural gas. Methane, which is many times more potent as a greenhouse gas, has increased 150 percent! Can we slow current climate changes down sufficiently fast? We must.
Climate is a crisis — an emergency — that will require the same determination we are now giving to COVID. Big solutions such as cash-back carbon pricing are a necessary step!