OPED: U.S. must lead in reducing emissions

Jon Clark
Citizens' Climate Lobby

Remember this old gem of a talking point: China and India aren’t doing anything to address climate change, why should we? I’ve heard this excuse more times than I care to remember. As if the fossil fuels the United States has been burning for the last century and a half somehow didn’t add to the 410 parts per million of carbon dioxide (Co2) in our atmosphere causing our planet to warm. Carbon dioxide levels haven’t been this high for millions of years.

Jon Clark

Fossil fuels have been in use in some way or another for thousands of years, but it wasn’t until the late 1800s and early 1900s, following their discovery in large quantities, that they were consumed in large quantities. In fact, the oil industry got its start after Edwin L. Drake drilled the world’s first oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859. Historically, the U.S. has benefited greatly by consuming mass quantities of easily accessible fossil fuels to power our industries and manufacturing.

Burning these fossil fuels (and releasing massive amounts of Co2) allowed our economy to grow by leaps and bounds over other nations, making the United States a super power in the world. It wasn’t until 2005 that China took over as the world’s top emitter of greenhouse gases. According to the World Resources Institute, the largest emitters of cumulative Co2 from 1850 to 2011 were the United States (27 percent), the European Union (25 percent), China (11 percent) and Russia (8 percent).

Historical emissions are a commonly used proxy for determining how much warming each country is responsible for. The United States has been a large part of the problem to this point. We have grown our economy at the expense of a common atmosphere shared by the nearly 8 billion people of roughly 200 nations on earth. We are not solely responsible for the problem, but neither are we free from any responsibility.

Now Donald Trump has abdicated our nation’s responsibility entirely by pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord (a voluntary agreement) to get a "fair deal" for the U.S. He has made the U.S. a rogue nation joining Syria and Nicaragua as the only other countries not in the agreement.

Nicaragua would not join the agreed-upon plan as it depended on voluntary pledges and would not punish those who failed to meet them, and Syria was embroiled in a civil war at the time the accord was signed. Donald Trump has ceded the moral high ground on this issue to countries such as China, India, Russia and even North Korea that remain in the agreement.

The United States has already gotten a "better deal" than any other nation on Earth by growing our economy through burning massive quantities of fossil fuels while knowing for decades the consequences of doing so. He has failed to honor our duty as planetary citizens while simultaneously failing to honor our responsibility as guardians of our children’s futures. There can be no justification for that.

Thankfully there are signs that not everyone shares Donald Trump’s cavalier attitude toward what many consider the greatest threat to life on Earth. The fast-growing Climate Solutions Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives now has 42 members equally split between Republicans and Democrats to ensure bipartisanship. Republicans Patrick Meehan, Ryan Costello and Brian Fitzpatrick as well as Democrat Brendan Boyle are representing Pennsylvania so far on the caucus.

Members of the caucus are showing true leadership and leaving behind denial and partisan politics to look for “economically viable options to reduce climate risk and protect our nation’s economy, security, infrastructure, agriculture, water supply and public safety.”

The Climate Leadership Council “is an international policy institute founded in collaboration with a who’s who of business, opinion and environmental leaders to promote a carbon dividends framework as the most cost-effective, equitable and politically viable climate solution,” according to its website.

Its proposed policy solution to climate change is a gradually increasing carbon tax with the revenue returned to all Americans, which would reduce the need for regulations. Their founding individual members list includes Stephen Hawking, Michael Bloomberg, Stephen Chu, Rob Walton, Ted Halstead, Gregory Mankiw, George Shultz and James Baker. Corporate founding members that support carbon dividends include ExxonMobil, BP, Johnson and Johnson, Unilever, Shell, PepsiCo, GM and Santander.

John Davison Rockefeller Jr. was a philanthropist and son of John D. Rockefeller, founder of the Standard Oil Co. John D. Rockefeller Jr. believed his inherited fortune should be used for the public good. In a 1941 radio broadcast appeal on behalf of the USO and the National War Fund, he gave a statement of his principles and included this quote: “I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty.”

I believe as Americans, we had the opportunity to use fossil fuels to make the U.S. a super power, but now we have a moral obligation to lead the world in reducing the greenhouse gases warming our planet. Congress can lead by putting a price on carbon emissions and rebating the revenue back to all Americans.

— Jon Clark is the mid-Atlantic regional co-coordinator for Citizens' Climate Lobby and lives in Lancaster. He is a member of the York Dispatch Editorial Advisory Board.