Our Changing Climate: Options to Consider

Our Changing Climate: Options to Consider

·         Have you noticed that the past few “normal” Minnesota winters have not been as cold as 20 or 30 years ago? According to University of Minnesota scientists testifying to the Minnesota House of Representatives earlier this year, between 1895 and 2015, average daily low temperatures in winter have increased. In the northern part of the state, they’re up 4.8 degrees over that period and 3.4 degrees in the south. One study pointed out that between 1959 and 1978 Duluth averaged 45 days a year in which the average daily temperature did not top 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Between 1999 and 2018, there were no such days.

·         Have you noticed that the emerald ash borer territory has moved north with the borers not killed in the winter as the winters have gotten warmer, such that our state’s ash trees have been disappearing?

·         Have you noticed that the world is experiencing more frequent and more devastating storms, droughts, and wildfires caused by droughts?

·         Did you know that 2012 marked the first time any Minnesota county sought both U.S. Department of Agriculture drought assistance and Federal Emergency Management Agency flood disaster assistance in the same year, with 11 counties having floods and droughts in the same year? We are having both wetter springs and dryer Augusts and Septembers.

·         Did you know that Miami is already having sunny day floods, with water coming up the storm sewers into the streets even when it isn’t raining. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in 2017, global sea level was 3 inches (77 mm) above the 1993 average—the highest annual average in the satellite record (1993-present). Further, the pace of sea level rise is accelerating. In many locations along the U.S. coastline, nuisance flooding is now 300% to more than 900% more frequent than it was 50 years ago. Climate Change: Global Sea Level

Climate scientists attribute these phenomena to changing climate due to increasing carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, caused by the burning of fossil fuels by humans. Now, I am not a climate scientist, so I can’t analytically critique their work. But, over the course of my career, I have been trained to use others’ expertise where it exceeded mine (a common occurrence) and learned how to evaluate the credibility of witnesses and their testimony. Based on this, I have accepted the scientific evidence contained in the most recent report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, last year’s “Fourth National Climate Assessment” produced by 13 U.S. agencies under President Donald Trump, the 2019’s “Worldwide Threat Assessment” of the U.S. Intelligence Community and the “Report on Effects of a Changing Climate to the U.S.” by the Department of Defense. These reports were produced by people who had much more time, resources and expertise than I possess, so it would be very arrogant to think my research would be superior to theirs.

So, I reach the conclusion that the climate is changing, that this is caused by humans burning fossil fuels, and that it is urgent we do something to reduce the negative impacts that changing climate will cause.

I understand that you may have not yet come to the same conclusion. We all live busy lives, with working hard to earn a living, taking care of the kids, getting the necessary tasks of living done in limited time. We all have only have so much energy for our jobs, for our families, for the pressing business of now. So, I am not surprised or disappointed that you may not completely agree with me.

So, what to do about our changing climate?

·         We could do nothing. Unfortunately, the cost of that could be enormous. Just to protect Miami from the projected global mean sea level rise by 2100 could be astronomical. And, in the United States, almost 40 percent of the population lives in relatively high population-density coastal areas, where sea level plays a role in flooding, shoreline erosion, and hazards from storms. Already today, your tax money is being used for disaster relief from damage caused by the more destructive storms and wildfires and your insurance rates are going up.

Changing climate also raises the stakes when we discuss abolishing the Electoral College or a state casting its Electoral College votes based on the national vote totals for President. With increased droughts in the Southwest and population growing on both coasts, would you like the coastal states deciding that the Great Lakes is the obvious source of water to meet their needs?

·         Many of the Democratic members of Congress (and Presidential aspirants) propose the “Green New Deal”. I applaud their recognition of the problem, but can’t support their solution. Most Republicans are adamantly opposed to the Green New Deal as it contains not only environmental language, but also ideas that would dramatically change the way our economy works and how we live. But, from an economist’s point of view, it is flawed for two reasons: it relies on regulations which inhibit rational choices based on market price signals and it contains nothing that addresses the issue of what other countries will or will not do.
The regulatory approach typically relies on “renewable energy standards” (and sometimes “clean energy standards” which includes nuclear energy and technologies like carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), which are not included in the term “renewable”). These are mandates which apply to electricity suppliers to deliver the requisite percentage of renewable energy. Making this a mandate presumes that the supplier would not do so without the government invention, which implies the cost of the renewable energy is more expensive and therefore not the best choice from the profit driven corporate energy company. If so, in the regulated market where the Minnesota Public Utility Commission is mandated by law to allow the utilities to earn a reasonable return on investment, the utility is allowed to recoup its “stranded costs” or higher generation costs from its consumers. Thus this imposes an “indirect tax”.

·         The Minnesota Conservative Energy Forum, a Republican based group, supports an “all of the above” approach to energy, relying upon competition and innovation to solve the problem, with their proposed legislation any “individual customer, regardless of class, may purchase electric energy provided 100 percent from renewable energy from an owner or developer of a renewable energy facility or facilities.”

While reasonable on its face, most people who are truly concerned about our changing climate believe their proposal falls far short of enough. Nonetheless, we can celebrate Xcel Energy’s voluntary goals to reduce carbon emissions 80 percent by 2030 (from 2005 levels in the eight states it serves) and to deliver 100 percent carbon-free electricity to customers by 2050. This builds upon Xcel Energy’s strong track record of reducing carbon emissions 38 percent since 2005, far exceeding the current state’s mandate, through its investments in wind and solar energy production.

Many people are also installing solar panels on their roofs or on the ground. This July, we are having solar panels on our roof and I am projecting an IRR on our investment of 7.48% over the next 30 years, using what appear to be fairly conservative assumptions. That beats bank CD’s any day!

The community solar gardens constructed under contracts with Xcel have been successful in achieving even better economies of scale. When I was the school business manager for Foley Public Schools, we signed a contract to participate in a community solar garden that was projected to save the school district almost $4 million dollars on electricity in the next 25 years.

·         The Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) supports H.R. 763, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, currently sponsored by 51 members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Unfortunately, only one of the 51 is a Republican. CCL, however, is a bipartisan group of citizens that supports the bill because it is a conservative approach to the problem that would be effective (projected to reduce America’s emissions by at least 40% in the first 12 years, and more thereafter) and thus has the best chance of achieving and retaining bipartisan support.
  • ·         With a fee on carbon dioxide emissions at $15 per metric ton to start and which rises $10 per year, it sends clear and predictable price signals to the fossil fuel industry (and manufactures who use fossil fuels in their processes and consumers who use such products) to choose changes in their product offerings (or purchases in the case of consumers) and introduce innovations to create more efficient products. This market based solution retains individual freedom to choose, instead of having government mandates and regulations imposed. 

  • ·         With 100% of the net proceeds rebated to households in the U.S. that file tax returns, this proposal is revenue neutral and does not grow government. Federal government spending is out of control and budgeting by continuing resolutions is not “choosing what needs to be funded and what can be cut”. The proposal addresses the climate problem without making increasing the size of the federal government. We all want the federal government to work better and produce better results.The carbon dividends distributed to households are expected to be larger than the increased cost of fossil fuel products for well over half of all U.S. households, so this is not a burden on any except those who are huge fossil fuel product users, such as those who fly a lot. And, if further energy saving efforts in your homes are now more cost effective, you can reduce the net cost to you even more. It will be your choice to do so or not. No one will force you to do anything to conserve energy.
  • ·         The Border Carbon Adjustment would rebate the fee to American manufacturers who export products to countries which to not have a similar carbon fee, and importers from such countries would pay a tariff to equalize the effect of the carbon fee. The result is that American manufacturers are not put at a disadvantage to other countries manufacturers. And, this is the only proposed solution that creates an incentive for other countries to do their part in reducing carbon dioxide emissions. If the U.S. reduces its emissions, but China and India do not, we would simply put us at a disadvantage, unduly burden us, but without making any meaningful progress in reducing the impacts of changing climate. By Americans leading the world imposing a carbon fee with the border adjustment unilaterally, it induces a global solution. No other proposal does this.

 So, I see H.R. 763 as the complete conservative solution to an immense problem. I am not alone in this conclusion. The following have signed the “Economists’ Statement on Carbon Dividends”, which supports this concept:
o   3554 U.S. Economists
o   4 Former Chairs of the Federal Reserve (All)
o   27 Nobel Laureate Economists
o   15 Former Chairs of the Council of Economic Advisers
o   2 Former Secretaries of the U.S. Department of Treasury

I may be wrong. I am aware that there are some people who are skeptical about the science and the projections by the climate scientists. I, and they, may be wrong. But, if H.R. 763, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, were adopted, it is projected by credible economists to produce 2.1 million more jobs than if we do nothing. Further, the reduction in use of fossil fuels will dramatically reduce the negative health effects of pollutants emitted by the burning of fossil fuel other than carbon dioxide. We get cleaner air and water. Also, as we wean ourselves off fossil fuels and supply that which we need from American sources, we will be relieved of the burden of protecting access to Middle East oil.  So, if we are wrong about the science, and if H.R. 763 were enacted, we would still be better off. It’s good for the environment. It’s good for the economy. It’s good for national defense. And, it’s good for people. So, what’s to lose?

Human action to cure an atmospheric problem is doable. The international community united in 1987 to sign the Montreal Protocol which banned Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs - which are ozone-depleting chemicals included in aerosol sprays and air conditioning units) because they were causing a hole in the ozone layer. Since then, the concentrations of ozone in the atmosphere has rebounded. We can work together!

Smart politics. But, addressing the effects of changing climate is also smart politics for Republicans. According to a new poll from the firm Luntz Global — led by Republican consultant Frank Luntz:

·         Carbon Dividends Plan has majority support across party lines – including 4-1 support overall, 2-1 support from GOP voters and 75% support from Republicans under 40.

·         69% of GOP voters are worried that their party’s stance on climate change is hurting them with young voters.

·         4 out of 5 of voters want Congress to put politics aside and reach a bipartisan solution.

Arguably no one understands Republican voters better than famed pollster Frank Luntz. . . .  [T]he Luntz memo said “we heard real anger that leadership has ‘ceded the issue to the Dems.’” https://thehill.com/opinion/energy-environment/449262-addressing-climate-change-is-a-win-for-republicans-why-not-embrace

So, taking action on H.R. 763, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, now is a win whether we are right or wrong about the science. Even if the climate scientists are wrong, and climate change isn’t as bad as we expect, building a green energy economy will only make us more resilient and independent as well as create jobs and improve our air and water quality. 

Frank Luntz: “If we do this right, we get cleaner air, we get less dependence on foreign fuels, enhanced national security, we get more innovation in our economy, and more jobs and great new careers. And that’s if the scientists are wrong,” 
“If the scientists are right, we get all of those things and begin to solve what could be the most catastrophic environmental problem that any of us have faced.”
This is not something we, as Republicans (and Americans), need to fight about. We can join forces and when our grand kids ask us 20 years from now what we did to conserve and preserve the world for them, we will have a good answer.


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