The debate about climate change has, for too long, operated on the false premise that some scientists think one way, and some, who are equally qualified and experienced, think the opposite. This has led a large number of people, though by no means a majority, to believe climate science is pure theory. The fact is: no single issue in the history of observational science has been so widely peer-reviewed, by so many experts in so many fields, nearly all of whom concur that the actual, ongoing changes in the Earth’s climate are the direct result of the unregulated dumping of unnatural amounts of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.
That said, we need to take a hard look at what the issue means for actual human beings. There is a second layer of confused complexity, which leads many to refute the need for a response, on the premise that even if all of that were true, we will somehow limit human freedom by acting responsibly, and that continuing the status quo won’t actually impact real people in a negative way. The truth here is even simpler: by not acting to slow the pace of climate destabilization, we are adding a massive, unprecedented cost burden to our economic future.
From 2012 to 2014, the International Energy Agency calculates, the cost of adapting within the time frame required to limit out of control climate change has increased by $8 trillion across the world. That is $4 trillion per year in costs being added, because we are not transitioning efficiently to a climate-smart economy. A recent study by Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI), found that fiscally responsible action to limit carbon emissions would not only raise incomes, expand the Main Street economy and save lives, it would add $1.3 trillion to US GDP over just the first 20 years. That’s another $1.3 trillion in opportunity cost, if we do nothing.
The human food supply is also now facing unprecedented strain. Even as we continue to have record years of global harvest, our ability to continue expanding production is increasingly limited, as land and water resources become more scarce, and demand for more energy intensive food production expands at record pace, with global industrialization. Failure to mitigate climate change and implement climate-smart agricultural practices across the world could leave us with a food supply that is inadequate to the needs of the human population, sowing the seeds of geopolitical instability and increasing the baseline costs for security, basic economic output and the upkeep of advanced economies.
When an increasing share of our income must go to high-risk, high-polluting energy sources whose costs are socialized and borne by every family and small business, we limit the freedom of human individuals and put democracy itself at risk. Such a serious economic imbalance, which is pushing ever more wealth into capital-intensive businesses that hire less and pollute freely, means each individual in any given marketplace has less economic leverage, and less freedom to decide his or her own destiny.
This Fourth of July, it’s worth taking note of this dynamic, which is worsening across the world, requiring each of us to devote ever more of our personal earnings to the financing of a business model that is not efficient enough to give us more value than it gets from us, and which has the pronounced tendency to move value from where we live to places far away. We can take action to limit the power of these socialized high-cost business concerns, liberating private-sector capital to go to work on solutions, and letting entrepreneurs provide high-value products and services to our households, communities and small businesses.
A Carbon Fee and Dividend plan, according to REMI, would spark growth in the Main Street economy, incentivizing more wealth to flow to job creation than any other plan we have on the table. And it would do so in a fiscally responsible, revenue-neutral way, requiring no new public-sector spending and no burdensome regulations. As of July 4th, 2014, we know the way to expand human liberty, climate security and energy prosperity; let’s use the levers of democracy to urge our government to act in service of our future economic freedom.
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Originally published July 4, 2014, on ClimateLiberty.org