Pay now, or pay later

The National Climate Assessment released in May tells us that climate change is happening now. Not some future time, but now.

We see examples all around us —12 inches of rain in 12 hours in Dubuque, Iowa, 22 inches of rain awash in the streets of Miami, 102 degrees in May in Kansas, our own record drought and shortage of irrigation water in Yolo County.

While record numbers of weather records are being set each year, most of these weather extremes are still within the range of historical cycles. It’s the frequency and intensity of our weather nationwide that is not normal. The pattern of more intense weather occurring more frequently shows something new is happening. It can be seen in the hard data of current measurements, not models of what someone thinks will happen in the future.

Regardless of what is causing our freaky weather, we know what we can do to prevent it from getting much, much worse. Stop putting so much greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.

It’s not a question of whether we will act; it’s become a question of when. As a kid, I learned “a stitch in time saves nine.” Taking action now and limiting world temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius (3.8 F), the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report estimates, would reduce global growth by only 0.06 percent over the next century, trimming the Earth’s annual growth rate from about 2.5 percent down to 2.44 percent.

But that is probably an overestimate, because the cost of action now does not include the billions gained each year from weather catastrophes that don’t happen — the crops not lost to drought, homes and businesses not lost to flood waters and rising tides, forests not lost to wildfire, etc. Not to mention lives not lost to heat stroke. Each year we delay action, we increase our future costs,

A reasonable assessment of the danger of doing nothing should spur both Republicans and Democrats to action for the good of the country. All three of our elected representatives, Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Rep. John Garamendi, have indicated they would support a carbon tax or fee as a way to encourage Americans to use less fossil fuel. But to earn Republican support, they’ll need to agree that the fee be revenue-neutral, meaning all revenue is returned to households with nothing held back to build government programs.

That compromise is a small price to pay for a big return on creating a livable environment for our children. Do we pay a little now, or a lot later?

Elisabeth Robbins


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