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Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Corner: What can an individual do?

Human-caused climate change is rapping on our collective door with increasing urgency and with palpable visibility–even in the Mid-Ohio Valley. Before this summer we knew about oceans rising, warming, and becoming more acidic, disappearing glaciers (especially in the northern hemisphere), and constantly rising temperatures since the advent of the industrial revolution.

More recently, we have seen triple-digit temperatures in the Pacific northwest, uncontrolled wildfires in the west, and unprecedented floods in western Europe. Summer 2021 is on pace to be the hottest on record in North America. The impact of climate change has now become evident in the Mid-Ohio Valley. Smoke and particulates from the western fires have migrated into the Ohio Valley and have affected our air quality; The Washington County engineer has cited challenges of record rainfall in contributing to the many land slips in that county. My colleague in the Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action team, Aaron Dunbar, has described the warning signs about climate change and the tipping point we may soon be reaching after these several “once-in-a-millennium” extreme weather events.

In the face of all this discouraging news one can feel hopeless and inconsequential as a single individual. But there is an opportunity to take immediate action as a concerned and informed citizen in the current “climate” of the Congress. In the U.S. Senate within the next two weeks senators will be discussing a budget reconciliation bill. A carbon pricing feature will be incorporated into this bill if senators hear from their constituents that it is important to them. Budget reconciliation may be adopted by the Senate if 51 of its members agree to certain adjustments in spending and revenue. A price on carbon, that is, a fee assessed on the producer for oil, natural gas, or coal. These fossil fuels are what account for a large share of the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing the climate change that we are all experiencing.

Why a price on carbon, you may ask. First of all, such a move will get us to net zero emissions by 2050 with a blend of renewable fuel sources that provide clean, affordable energy. The move to carbon pricing will send a signal to the economy and to industry to attend to energy efficiency, electric energy from renewables, and carbon capture. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions will save 4.5 million lives over 50 years by decreasing premature deaths due to air pollution.

Energy companies will, of course, raise their prices for products like gasoline, but economists have shown that up to 85 percent of individual Americans can cover the increased costs by the dividend that is provided to them through the carbon pricing program. In a re-imagined Appalachia that can advance from a dependency on coal and other extractive industries, carbon pricing and increases in investment in renewable energy can bring sustainable good jobs to our region as well as cleaner air and water.

There may be concerns about the cost of carbon pricing. Consider, as the alternative to the status quo, the long-term costs of the federal government and other insurers to compensate for property and human loss in the events of extreme weather, such as increasingly violent hurricanes, wildfires, flooding, and droughts.

Other ideas for reducing greenhouse gases have been offered in the past including cap and trade, which would create another bureaucracy to administer such a policy. And instituting more environmental rules to respond to climate change would require a complex web of multiple regulations across multiple agencies.

Responding to the climate crisis is popular. Eric Engle of the MOVCA in a previous Climate Corner piece has cited the fact that fully two-thirds of Americans are concerned about climate change.

The Citizens Climate Lobby has arranged a convenient procedure to express your views on carbon pricing to your senators. Simply go to cclusa.org/senate. There you will find some advice about how to word your e-mail and phone message as well as the phone numbers for your senators (Senator Manchin — 202-224-3954 and Senator Capito — 202-224-6472). Please do what you can soon to help save our planet.

Watch for future Climate Corner articles about climate action in the infrastructure bill.

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George Banziger, Ph..D., was a faculty member at Marietta College and an academic dean at three other colleges. Now retired, he is a volunteer for Mid-Ohio Valley Interfaith, and Harvest of Hope. He is a member of the Green Sanctuary Committee of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Marietta, Citizens Climate Lobby, and of the Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action team.

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