David Folland: Choosing opportunity over denial

David Folland

Published: Friday, Sept. 9 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Despite ever mounting evidence to the contrary, many of our citizens and politicians continue to deny the science of climate change. Almost 98 percent of the climate scientists of the world agree that the earth is warming and human-produced greenhouse gasses are the major cause. Carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels is the biggest contributor to the increase in greenhouse gases.

Unfortunately denial of science by politicians can be dangerous, even deadly. In 2000 South African President Thabo Mbeki denied that the HIV virus caused AIDS. His administration banned the use of retroviral drugs in public state hospitals. Sadly an estimated 330,000 people died from AIDS because of his policy of denial.

How many people are going to be injured or die before our politicians respond emphatically to the science documenting climate change? Climate scientists have been saying that a warming planet will cause hurricanes to be more severe and hold more water. Indeed, Hurricane Irene was so destructive primarily because of the immense amount of water she dumped, not the storm surge or the high winds.

Fortunately some politicians are showing the courage to take a positive stand on the environment. Jon Huntsman has distinguished himself from the other Republican candidates by saying "science should be driving our discussions on climate change."

Many people and organizations are moving forward and reducing their use of fossil fuels. The LDS Church has been a leader in construction of environmentally friendly buildings. The Church History Library and many new LDS chapels carry the prestigious LEED Silver designation. The LDS Conference Center has a living roof. Salt Lake City has developed mass transit, improved energy efficiency and developed renewable energy sources. Indeed, the list of energy-saving actions by businesses, local governments, faith groups and individuals is long.

All of these developments, however, are only a trickle in what needs to become a river of change if we are to have any hope of reducing global warming.

One important initiative that would reduce fossil fuel use is for the federal government to place a fee on carbon at the source of coal, oil and natural gas. Pricing carbon was recommended in a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences, "America's Climate Choices." The fee would be increased yearly on a predictable basis. Revenue from the carbon fee would be returned to the American people as a dividend to offset the increased cost of fossil fuels. Citizens would be more motivated to use less fossil fuel. The clear and predictable price on carbon would also stimulate tremendous development in the clean economy, a sector that has far greater potential than one based on fossil fuels.

The Brookings Institute recently reported that this clean economy sector has many advantages. Among these advantages are 20 percent higher wages, more jobs for those with just a high school diploma and more exports. Brookings reports that at this time China, Germany, Great Britain and Japan are leading the United States in developing the green economy. Will the U.S. enjoy the fruits of new, clean technology as these other countries have? Or, will our economy continue to decline as we cling to last century's technology?

After Brigham Young had settled in the Salt Lake Valley he quipped, "we went West willingly — because we had to." It would be in our and future generations' best interest to support laws that motivate us to decrease fossil fuel use willingly, rather than waiting until we have to.

David Folland, MD, is a retired pediatrician and volunteer with the Salt Lake City chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby.

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