OP-ED: Americans support a price on carbon


Recently, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that last month was the warmest March on record globally, and January through March of 2015 was the warmest start to any year on record. The year 2015 looks like it's on its way to toppling last year's warmest year on record globally. Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree, burning fossil fuels is the cause of our planetary warming.

Our climate is destabilizing. This past winter's extreme cold temperatures on the East Coast should have been seen up north, while the Arctic experienced unusually warm temperatures. The 2015 Iditarod dog sled race had to move its starting point 300 miles north for the second time in the race's 43-year history due to warm temperatures and lack of snow. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as anywhere else on Earth.

A growing amount of research suggests warming in the Arctic is affecting the jet stream and in turn, weather in the mid-latitudes, where we live. The jet stream is powered by the temperature contrast between the Arctic and the mid-latitudes. A rapidly warming Arctic means less of a contrast in temperatures and the result is a slowing jet stream, meaning a persistence of certain weather conditions. A slower jet stream means more intense droughts, more intense snowfalls, more intense flooding, etc.

The punishing drought continues in the West. The Sierra Nevada snowpack's water content was at its lowest late-March level since records began in 1950, at just 6 percent of the late-March average, according to the California Department of Water Resources. The winter snowpack serves as an important source of water during the hot, dry summer months. More than 98 percent of the state of California remains in some level of drought, according to the most recent U.S. Drought Monitor. The drought has been made more severe by the state's warmest winter on record. California grows more than 200 crops, some grown nowhere else in the U.S., and produces almost all of the country's almonds, apricots, dates, figs, kiwi fruit, olives, prunes, nectarines, pistachios and walnuts. Look for nationwide price increases in many fruits, nuts and vegetables as the climate change-worsened drought withers California's crops.

In March, 6,000 miles to the south in the driest place on earth, the Atacama Desert in Chile, at least nine people were killed after 14 years' worth of rain fell in one day and caused severe flooding. "The heavy rains were from a cold front that hit the Andes Mountains," according to Jeff Masters at Weather Underground. "Unusually warm ocean temperatures approximately 1.8 degrees above average off of the coast meant that high amounts of water vapor were available to fuel the storm and generate exceptionally heavy rains."

Scientists overwhelmingly agree that we need to dramatically reduce carbon emissions to slow the warming of our planet. Now that EPA regulations are being put in place to reduce emissions, the discussion is turning to alternatives to EPA regulations.

Maryland Rep. John Delaney told an audience at a conservative think tank recently that he's drafting a bill to put a fee on carbon that could lead to the repeal of President Obama's signature policy of regulating CO2 emissions at power plants. Rep. Delaney made his Earth Day announcement at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank that has been recently hosting discussions about pricing carbon. Aparna Mathur, a resident economist at AEI, described a fee on carbon emissions as arguably the most efficient way to address climate change. It could also raise an estimated $1.2 trillion over 10 years, she said, potentially creating enough revenue to pay for other tax cuts.

Stanford University and Resources for the Future commissioned the polling firm SSRS to interview 1,023 U.S. adults on climate-related issues in January. Their poll found that two-thirds of Americans support making corporations pay a price for their carbon emissions provided the revenue collected is redistributed back to consumers.

Studies show putting a fee on carbon emissions and returning all of the revenue to consumers will boost our economy, create jobs, save lives and reduce carbon pollution. There is no doubt the planet is warming, and the American public is warming to the idea of putting a price on carbon pollution.

— Jon Clark is mid-Atlantic regional coordinator for Citizens' Climate Lobby and lives in Dover.