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My view: The climate change solution debate

By David Folland

Published: Friday, Aug. 24 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

A man looks at a electric car made by the Nissan company at a climate change exhibit in Durban, South Africa, Wednesday, Nov 30, 2011. The U.N.'s top climate scientist cautioned climate negotiators Wednesday global warming is leading to human dangers and soaring financial costs, but containing carbon emissions will have a host of benefits.

Schalk van Zuydam, Associated Press

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By featuring two articles on the pros and cons of a carbon tax ("Should the United States adopt a tax on carbon?" Aug. 19), the Deseret News shifted the discussion from the causes of climate change to the solutions. By focusing on solutions, they placed the discussion squarely where it should be.

The debate about whether human-caused climate change is occurring is virtually over among qualified climate scientists. Berkley physicist Richard Muller was one of the last remaining serious climate scientists who questioned the validity of human-caused climate change. His recent about-face in position probably signaled the end of serious debate as to whether humans are warming the planet.

The peer-reviewed papers by other climate scientists have evolved as well, reflecting newer data and analysis. In recent years, climate scientists generally said that the earth was warming and hence we should anticipate more severe weather events. Now they are saying that the severe weather events of the past few years can only be explained by climate change. For instance, NASA climate scientist Dr. James Hansen has demonstrated that severe weather events, such as the 2011 Texas/Oklahoma drought, now occur 20 times more frequently than they did 40 years ago. This dramatic change in a relatively short time is indeed startling.

Meanwhile we are all paying the price of climate change. For instance we pay with increased homeowner's insurance premiums. My premium jumped 50 percent this year. We will pay more for food. The Department of Agriculture has estimated that a family of four may pay $615 more for groceries next year due just to the drought. And we are also paying the costs in our own health. How many yellow and red burn days have we experienced along the Wasatch Front? Air pollution from burning fossil fuels, exacerbated by the recent fires, severely affects those with asthma and other respiratory diseases. This year's record number of West Nile virus cases has been attributed to the warm winter and drought. And the list goes on.

Considering the debate on these issues, I found Kenneth Richards' "yes" position on a carbon tax compelling and Mark J. Perry's "no" position weak. The limitations of the latter include: 1) he didn't acknowledge the importance of border adjustments, which will not only protect U.S. manufacturers, but provide an incentive for other countries to institute their own carbon tax; 2) the potent greenhouse gas methane leaks into the atmosphere with the use of natural gas, a hidden drawback that will need to be addressed; and 3) he fails to address the urgency of significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions to a safer level.

In mid-July I joined a group of 175 volunteers in Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress to put a fee on carbon and return the proceeds to the American people. Our Citizens Climate Lobby group visited with congressional representatives and/or their aides in 303 offices. While we found that many senators and representatives recognize the need to act, I was disheartened to learn that four of our five congressmen either dismissed the science outright and/or questioned the value of putting a tax on carbon.

We clearly need to elect representatives who understand the need to limit human impacts of our climate. We must ask candidates where they stand on climate change and what they plan to do about our warming planet. If we focus on solutions, like a carbon tax, we will have a chance to lead the world in the transition to clean energy. Why not insist on that?

David Folland, a retired pediatrician from Sandy, is a volunteer with Citizens Climate Lobby.

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