Extreme weather events, drought, wildfire, torrential rains, tornadoes, hurricanes, attributable to human-caused global warming, are costing society and insurers bilions of dollars worldwide. Mark Reynolds from Citizens Climate Lobby argues it is time for a carbon fee and dividend to even the market for fossil fuels and encourage clean renewable energy alternatives.
Who Pays the Price of Fossil Fuel Addiction: Drought, Wildfires, Torrential Rains, Tornadoes, Hurricanes?
In Duluth, Minn., the bar tab at Club Fossil Fuel came to $100 million.
Never heard of Club Fossil Fuel? It’s the most popular franchise on the planet, everyone’s favorite watering hole for well over a century, because the addictive libations — coal, oil and gas — are relatively cheap. Cheap, that is, until you factor in the hidden costs, like asthma and other respiratory diseases from air pollution or the military costs to secure our supplies of oil from the Middle East.
And now global warming, caused by emissions of greenhouse gases from fossil fuels, is adding to the bill in the form of floods, droughts and other extreme-weather events that are becoming more frequent and intense in a warming world.
Those warmer temperatures, scientists tell us, are “juicing” the atmosphere — literally — because warmer air holds more water. What goes up, of course, eventually comes down, and in Duluth what came down was nearly 10 inches of rain in a day and a half that caused historic flooding. Damage to roads, utilities and parks will take an estimated $100 million to repair, a hefty sum for a city of 89,000.
Floods are nothing new, of course. Just ask Noah. What is new is that climate change has loaded the dice and increased not only the odds of floods occurring, but also the severity of those floods.
And floods aren’t the only item being added to the bill at Club Fossil Fuel.
From Common Dreams: Due to extreme drought conditions and record heat waves across the country, corn yields are projected to be the lowest in nearly a decade, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The statistics have also sparked concern over food prices in the near future.
The USDA expects that this year’s corn crop will average 146 bushels an acre, a 20 bushel decrease from its last estimation.
“Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday we had 108F. It just pretty much fried the corn,” David Kellerman, a farmer in southern Illinois, told the Associated Press.
Climate change researchers have been able to attribute recent examples of extreme weather to the effects of human activity on the planet’s climate systems for the first time, marking a major step forward in climate research.
The 2011 State of the Climate report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the American Meteorological Society (AMS) found: Warm temperature trends will continue, with greenhouse gas levels climbing. The Arctic Sea ice shrank to its second smallest “summer minimum” extent on record during 2011, as older ice (four to five years old) reached a new record minimum at more than 80 percent below average. Overall, glaciers around the world continued to lose mass. Loss from Canadian Arctic glaciers and ice caps were the greatest since measurements began in 2002.
Colorado: Drought Conditions, Extreme Heat, Trees Dying from Beetles = Wildfire
In Colorado, the most destructive fire in state history has burned more than 80,000 acres, has engulfed more than 200 homes and has already cost more than $20 million to bring under control. Like floods, wildfires are nothing new, but drought conditions brought on by climate change have made forests more incendiary. Another factor that’s turned trees into kindling is the staggering infestation of pine beetles that, thanks to warmer temperatures, are reproducing twice a year instead of once.
The folks in Duluth and Colorado are not the only ones picking up the tab. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, there were 14 weather and climate disasters in 2011 each totaling more than $1 billion in damage.
Insurance companies, which have to adjust our premiums to cover those losses, are well aware of the economic impact climate change is exerting.
“From our industry’s perspective, the footprints of climate change are around us and the trend of increasing damage to property and threat to lives is clear,” said Franklin Nutter, president of the Reinsurance Association of America. “We need a national policy related to climate and weather.”
More precisely, we need a policy that will end our addiction to fossil fuels.
But how do we de-tox without administering a fatal shock to our economic system?
Carbon Fee and Dividend: Market-Based Approach for Pricing Coal and Oil
We can do that with a revenue-neutral price on fossil fuels known as carbon fee and dividend. A gradually increasing fee is placed on carbon-based fuels. The fee would increase each year, sending a price signal to private investors that wind, solar and geothermal will be more profitable than coal and oil. This market-based approach — a market in which the hidden costs of fossil fuels are accounted for — will spur a rapid transition to clean energy and energy efficiency.
Where does the dividend come in?
The money from the carbon fee is returned to the American people in per-capita shares, thereby offsetting the increased cost of energy associated with the fee. Border adjustments can be made on goods from nations that do not have equivalent carbon pricing.
Last fall, the International Energy Agency warned that we have only five years before we lock in the carbon-intensive infrastructure that will make the process of global warming irreversible. Given what’s at stake, it’s time for last call at Club Fossil Fuel.
Mark Reynolds is Executive Director of Citizens Climate Lobby
Updated 4 January 2018