Two weeks ago, the largest climate change rally in history marched through the streets of New York City. The 300,000+ protesters were lobbying against the consistent global inaction on the issue of climate change. The march preceded the United Nations summit on the topic, which took place over the course of the following week. At the summit, President Obama asserted, “For all the immediate challenges that we gather to address this week—terrorism, instability, inequality, disease—there’s one issue that will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other, and that is the urgent and growing threat of a changing climate.” It is time for us to move past the climate change debate and begin taking serious action to counteract its already alarming effects. Readopting a cap-and-trade policy is one such solution.
The debate on climate change is over, and has been, for quite some time. For the past several hundred thousand years, CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gases remained at levels of 280 parts per million (ppm). Since the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, that amount has increased at an exponential rate and, at the current rate, will soon surpass 400 ppm. The correlation between the onset of the Industrial Revolution and higher levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is clear, and the effects of this increase are deeply troubling. Many members of Congress, primarily Republicans, still discuss whether climate change is a legitimate phenomenon and, more significantly, whether the changes are a result of human behavior. Climate change is a real occurrence, supported by scientific results. We should not longer be expected to give credence and time to those who fail to accept the facts.
A few weeks ago, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology convened to discuss the Obama administration’s agenda to combat climate change. During the hearing, Congressman Larry Bucshon (R-IN) argued that the existence of climate change is in scientists’ best interest so that they may continue to publish new writing on the subject. As a result, the Congressman stated, we should ignore their evidence. This is a remarkably ignorant argument. Attempting to explain away extensive research corroborated by thousands of scientists as motivated by greed is insulting to their profession and intentionally obtuse. While it is plausible that a handful of scientists may exploit this issue for money, it is unreasonable to think that the scientific community as a whole would be behind such a conspiracy. Scientists, more than anyone, understand that climate change is in no one’s best interest.
Because those in power have yet to come to a full consensus on the scale of the problem, discussions of a solution are delayed. Fossil fuels release pollutants and higher levels of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Pollution is a cost to society that polluters often choose not to factor into their cost-benefit analysis because they are first responsible for their own bottom line. Companies need to be incentivized to decrease their pollution levels. To do so, pollution should be treated by the government as a negative externality.
Despite the fact that it was originally a Republican idea, in recent years the GOP has been dismissive of the policy known as cap-and-trade. In the late 1980s and early ’90s, sulfur dioxide from power plants had the dubious side effect of returning as acid rain, destroying vast stretches of the environment. The first Bush administration developed the concept of cap-and-trade, permitting companies to produce a fixed amount of pollution before a cap, a financial sanction, kicks in. If the company does not reach their emissions cap, then they can trade their remaining carbon allowance on the free market. Each year the company’s cap decreases, incentivizing these companies to pollute less over time. Given that cap-and-trade worked 25 years ago, there is no reason to believe that it won’t work now.
It would be naïve to think that our economy and energy industries can abandon fossil fuels overnight. But to be willfully uninformed of a phenomenon that occurs with increasing frequency and is supported by overwhelming evidence is the height of ignorance. It is time to stop demonizing facts as ideological or partisan points of view. Rapid changes in our climate are taking place and it’s our fault. We can either continue arguing over this or we can acknowledge that there is a problem and focus our energies on finding a solution.