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OP-ED: Growing support for fee on carbon pollution

THE YORK DISPATCH

Last week, I joined other Citizens' Climate Lobby (CCL) volunteers from York and around the country and traveled to Washington, D.C., to voice our concern that Congress is not acting swiftly enough to reduce carbon pollution warming the planet. This was my fifth conference and lobby event.

This year about 900 volunteers from 48 states made the trip, spending their own time and money to once again ask Congress to put a price on carbon. A good-sized contingent went from Pennsylvania. CCL chapters are working hard all across the state to create the political will for Congress to pass market-based climate legislation that will reduce carbon pollution and boost our economy.

Global warming is becoming harder to ignore. The planet continues to warm, 2014 is the warmest year on record, and the first quarter of this year is again breaking records, being the warmest first quarter on record, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA also announced that last month was the wettest month for the U.S. in 121 years of record keeping. The majority of the rain fell in Texas and Oklahoma, ending their yearslong punishing drought with one month of punishing rainfall that dumped 35 trillion gallons of water on the state, enough to cover Texas in 8 inches of water.

According to the U.S. National Climate Assessment, heavy rainfall events are becoming more frequent across the country, and the amount of rain that's falling in the heaviest events is on the rise as well. The connection of a warming world to heavy rainfall events is basic atmospheric science. As air temperatures rise, the atmosphere can hold more water vapor, meaning more water dumps all at once. Researchers at Climate Central (climatecentral.org) just announced the top 50 U.S. cities experiencing the biggest increases in heavy downpours. Philadelphia was third on the list with a 360 percent increase since 1950, Harrisburg was seventh on the list with a 283 percent increase, and Lancaster was 15th with a 112 percent increase.

The increase in heavy downpours is just one indicator of climate change on our region. To learn more about how climate change is affecting our region in other ways, visit the U.S. National Climate Assessment at: http://nca2014.globalchange.gov/.

More voices are joining in the call for Congress and world leaders to act swiftly to address global warming. Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment was released just before our conference. In his encyclical, the pope calls climate change "one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day" and talks about the "urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced." CCL volunteers took one such policy called "fee and dividend" to Washington. "Fee and dividend" places a price on carbon emissions and returns all the revenue to consumers as a way to shift behavior (and investment dollars) away from fossil fuels.

Six major energy companies have signaled they are ready to pay for their carbon pollution. CEOs from global oil and gas behemoths Shell, BP, Total, Statoil, Eni and the BG Group sent a letter to Christiana Figueres, the United Nation's climate chief as well as to Laurent Fabius, France's Foreign Affairs and International Development Minister, who will also lead the Paris climate talks later this year. The letter was sent during climate talks involving 190 nations in Bonn, Germany recently.

The letter starts:

"Climate change is a critical challenge for our world. As major companies from the oil & gas sector, we recognize both the importance of the climate challenge and the importance of energy to human life and well being. We acknowledge that the current trend of greenhouse gas emissions is in excess of what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says is needed to limit the temperature rise to no more than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels. ... We stand ready to play our part. ... For us to do more, we need governments across the world to provide us with clear, stable, long-term, ambitious policy frameworks. This would reduce uncertainty and help stimulate investments in the right low carbon technologies and the right resources at the right pace. We believe that a price on carbon should be a key element of these frameworks."

The swelling numbers of CCL volunteers traveling to Washington from around the country demonstrates growing concern for our changing climate. From the pope telling us we have an urgent need and a moral obligation to reduce greenhouse gases to the oil companies telling governments they need a price on carbon to help solve the climate crisis, it's clear that fee and dividend is the practical answer. Republicans finally have a market-based solution that will help to preserve our climate, a climate shared by all of life on earth.

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