As severe weather grips the nation, especially Superstorm Sandy, public acceptance that the planet is warming and humans are responsible increases. More than 75 percent now agree that addressing climate change should be a governmental priority while about 90 percent both support promotion of clean energy and addressing global warming even if economic cost results.
With the arrival locally of the grass-roots Southern Oregon Climate Action Network, awareness of climate change and its regional consequences is growing. To accelerate the process, SOCAN members and friends are organizing an afternoon of fun and action slated for Feb. 17.
What: "It's a Rogue Thing," a day of
When: 1 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 17
Where: Medford Public Library
A skeptic re-thinks
The Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Study is funded by the same deep pockets of the Koch Brothers, who support Americans for Prosperity and bankrolled Republican presidential candidates. Richard Muller, founder and scientific director, doubted the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change conclusions regarding climate change, making him a favorite among climate-change skeptics. But after many years as a skeptic, Muller finally examined the data.
Muller's judgment has dramatically shifted from that of a skeptic doubting climate change and its human causes. After accepting that estimates of the direction and rate of global warming were accurately depicted by the IPCC, he then acknowledged that human activities promote warming. His team has now concluded that the 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit global temperature increase over the past 250 years "results from the emission of greenhouse gases." They further ruled out solar irradiance as a contributor and indicated that the IPCC underestimated both the rate of surface warming and the human contribution.
Weird weather affecting us over the past two years demonstrates the impact of climate change: Weather-related events resulted in the declaration of more than 50 percent of counties in the continental U.S. as disaster areas. Droughts, floods, wildfires and storms not only cost lives but billions of dollars in damage, a price paid by average Americans. Simultaneously, mega-corporations harvesting fossil fuels desecrate our atmosphere without penalty.
'Externalities' are costs of business activities absent from the price but suffered by others not benefitting from the activity. Our polluted atmosphere and the warming it causes are externalities we all suffer while fossil fuel executives reap huge financial benefits. Adding insult to injury, these corporations enjoy huge subsidies from taxpayer coffers for promoting the climate disasters they cause.
If we continue to pollute our atmosphere, allowing warming to continue unabated, through destroyed natural systems and devastated agriculture, forestry and fisheries we will render our planet uninhabitable for future generations. Can there be any Americans who would argue we owe nothing to future generations, who would knowingly sacrifice our livable planet for short-term profits? Addressing climate change is a matter of inter-generational justice. The critical global tipping point beyond which destruction will likely befall our planet is estimated at 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, a value lower than that currently present. The message is clear; we have to change our ways.
A fee and dividend solution
One proposal is a fee and dividend system in which those extracting fossil fuels pay a fee per ton for the carbon they extract. This fee, collected by the federal government, would be returned as dividends to taxpayers. The result would be fossil fuel companies paying, and presumably passing on, a fee for the externalities caused by their product while those suffering the consequences would receive dividends. Two benefits follow: Fossil fuel corporations would pay for their carbon-polluting ways and be encouraged to promote carbon-free energy sources, and alternative noncarbon energy companies would become relatively more competitive and encouraged, through market forces, to flourish.
In the meantime, members of the public who consume less versus more fossil fuel would have lower fuel bills but would reap the same dividends and thus be rewarded for their behavior.
It's A Rogue Thing
SOCAN (http://sclimate.org) was established last September to promote awareness of and response to regional climate change. Providing area residents an opportunity to demonstrate their concern, SOCAN is collaborating with an array of local organizations to schedule "It's A Rogue Thing: Bringing Climate Concerns Home" on Sunday, Feb. 17, on the same day national climate change action will occur in Washington, D.C. The event begins at the Medford library with participants producing individual house-shaped cardboard fish scales depicting what climate change means to them. Participants will then walk to Porters restaurant's north parking lot on Front Street, where the scales will be arranged to form a 120-foot salmon, depicting our threatened Rogue environment. It should be visible from space.
Alan Journet of the Applegate Valley is a retired ecologist and co-facilitator of the Southern Oregon Climate Action Network.