Sun Sentinel Editorial

When climate change comes knocking at your door

Originally published October 6, 2017 | Sun Sentinel

On a picture perfect fall day, I walked from door to door in a wealthy, conservative-leaning Wisconsin suburb. Why? To find Republicans who share my concern about our shared climate. As a conversation starter, I asked a single question, “Do you think we can safely ignore climate change, or is it something that needs to be addressed?”

I realized my search might be futile. Only 13 percent of self-identified conservative Republicans think human industrial activity has caused earth’s unprecedented warming, even though climate scientists have for decades sounded the alarm. I also realized that if Republicans continue to ignore the warnings and refuse to take action, we would all suffer. I wondered, would the comfortable people in this idyllic neighborhood take a moment to talk with me?

The sun is shining. There is no hurricane damage here, residents are not breathing the smoke of record-breaking wildfires, nor are their crops failing due to intense drought. All is well. Climate crisis must be the farthest thing from their minds.

But maybe not. When folks answer my knock, most of them answer my question with a “No, we can’t ignore climate change.” I agree and explain, “I’m volunteering today in your neighborhood, because we have to solve this problem together. And I have some encouraging news.”

I show them a photo of 60 members of the U.S. House of Representatives. This is the Climate Solutions Caucus founded in January 2017 and growing rapidly. Their stated goal is to reduce climate risk and protect our nation’s economy, security, infrastructure, agriculture, water supply and public safety.

No one I talked to is aware of this bipartisan effort in Congress, but many are hopeful and curious, so I follow up with another question. “Did you know that more people were employed in solar power last year than in generating electricity through coal, gas and oil energy combined?” Then I zero in on some common ground. “A large majority of Americans support expanding both solar and wind power because we all care about jobs. The more clean energy jobs, the more we can reduce the carbon emissions that are overheating our atmosphere.”

Emphasizing the need to speed up the transition to clean energy, I explain a conservative policy that will correct a serious problem in the free market. “Right now the price of fossil fuels doesn’t reflect the damage carbon emissions cause. If we end fossil fuel subsidies and put a tax on carbon, the market will respond to the new price signal. When it costs more to pollute, we will pollute less, reward clean energy innovation and put the brakes on our carbon-fueled economy.”

Many folks are intrigued, so I give them detailed information about the policy I prefer — Carbon Fee and Dividend, an idea that is unfamiliar to most people but one that many economists favor. A carbon tax, gradually rising over time, is collected at the source of pollution. The money is then distributed as a regular dividend check, divided equally among all Americans. This policy would reduce greenhouse gas emissions 52 percent below 1990 levels and create an economic stimulus that adds 2.8 million jobs to the economy within twenty years, according to a REMI study.

After I knocked on my final door and headed home, I wondered whether I had communicated enough urgency. Would these people ask their members of Congress to join the Climate Solutions Caucus? Would Republicans and Democrats rise above politics as usual to pass a carbon tax? Or will we pay the high social and economic cost of intensifying disasters, leaving our children a less habitable world?

Amid those uncertainties, one thing is certain. Climate change is already knocking at your door. In Puerto Rico and Florida, it is knocking down doors.