What we need to stave off the next ice age
by Allen Best
Aside from all the election hot air, it’s been another hot year for the planet. Through August, it was the warmest ever for the globe since record-keeping began in 1880, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
As of October, carbon dioxide levels in the troposphere were 401 parts per million on the Hawaiian mountain of Mauna Loa, up 3 ppm from the same month last year—and up from 280 ppm when industrialization began.
Climate scientists say we’re likely to encounter real trouble when concentrations hit 450, if not before. At our current rate of emissions, we’ll reach that point of screeching sirens by 2040.
Incredibly, almost nothing was said about this during the presidential campaigns. Donald Trump dismissed global warming as a Chinese hoax. Hillary Clinton addressed it in her policy proposals but, upon reviewing polling data, according to e-mails uncovered by Wikileaks, she refused to embrace the one policy that economists and most activists agree is vitally needed: a price on carbon emissions. Pollution cannot occur without a cost.
British Columbia already has a price of $30 per metric ton of emissions, which may be too little to effect change. Alberta has an even smaller one.
Washington state voters last week rejected such a carbon tax. Opposition came from unexpected sources. Many green activists, including those from minority and environmental justice organizations argued that impacts of the tax would fall disproportionately on those of low income, which tend to be racial minorities.
Van Jones, an African-American green activist, Princeton professor, and CNN commentator, opposed the proposed carbon tax. “I have never opposed a single climate bill proposal, but I am opposing this one, because it is that bad,” he said on a telephone press conference before the election. “It is just that bad.”
The Washington state case may provide a sneak preview of the challenge Citizens’ Climate Lobby faces in its work to create a coalition in support of a national carbon tax.
This past week, after the election, the group had a webinar featuring Katharine Hayhoe, a prominent climate scientist. Originally from Canada, she now works at Texas Tech.
In the webinar, Hayhoe was hopeful, despite the election. She pointed to her work with cities, where 70 percent of the world’s people live. Many cities are now working hard to adopt policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. States, too, are taking action. And even in China, India, and parts of Africa, there is surprising progress, she said.
Largely missing is federal action in the United States.
“We don’t need any more new studies to tell us what we need to know, which is that we need a price on carbon and we need the Paris agreement to succeed,” she said.
Without the intervention of humans, the Earth’s surface temperature would be slowly declining into another ice age, as has happened periodically for the last two million years. The energy from the sun hitting the earth has actually declined in the last four years, despite the increasing temperatures.
“If it weren’t for the human blanket of greenhouse gases that we’re wrapping around the globe, our planet would be slowly cooling,” she said. The warming now being measured is, she said, 100 percent human caused.
We might need the fossil fuels some day, she said, to stave off the next ice age.
But we don’t need the carbon dioxide now. It’s rapidly pushing us in the wrong direction.