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Weathering the storms

But as they become more severe, and more frequent, members of the Citizens Climate Lobby say addressing climate change — a contentious issue that fell off the map during the presidential campaign — needs to be put on the fast track in Washington.

November 17, 2012
By Per Peterson , Marshall Independent

Group supports oft-criticized carbon tax, with revenue going back to the public, as means to support clean energy


Our climate is changing for the worse, members of a climate awareness group say, and although some of the effects of global warming are subtle here in the Upper Midwest compared to other places in the U.S., immediate changes are needed to slow down global warming.

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The Citizens Climate Lobby, a 3-year-old, non-partisan climate group with 60 offspring grassroots organizations in the U.S. (four in Minnesota) and Canada, just completed a southwest Minnesota tour to spread its message about the climate and train people to influence public opinion on climate change. And the group's answer, or at least what it considers a major step in turning things around, is implementing a carbon tax on coal, oil and natural gas companies.

Jeanne Johnson, a member of the 7th Congressional District Citizens Climate Lobby, said fossil fuel companies started spending millions of dollars in the 1980s to form think tanks designed to create doubt in the minds of the American public about climate change and global warming. Because of that, the CCL is worried climate change and global warming has become too much of a political issue, has taken on divisive slant and falls mainly on deaf ears.

"Fuel companies don't have to convince the public that climate change is real, all they have to do is create doubt," Johnson said.

In doing research and talking to various legislators, Johnson said the group is wholly convinced a carbon tax is the quickest and least invasive way to make an immediate difference and begin to change a climactic trend that it says is wreaking havoc around the world with extreme weather patterns.

"This approach would tax oil, coal and natural gas - right at the source, not downstream somewhere, not at the gas pump, but right at the source," Johnson said.

A bill (HR3242) in the U.S. House builds in an annual increase in the cost per ton of carbon dioxide emitted and would provide for the fee charge to increase every year. Also, the revenue raised in the fee could be returned to the public to offset any economic hardship (rising gas prices), which would further stimulate the economy, the CCL said.

"Our approach is: Have a tax, but give the revenue back to the American people," Johnson said.

Cap-and-trade and carbon taxes are two of the most prominent approaches that have been debated to create market incentives to cut emissions.

CCL is against cap-and-trade - an environmental policy that would put a mandatory cap on emissions - calling it "bureaucratic and cumbersome," and says it would take too much time to get it moving. A carbon tax, on the other hand, would spur investment in clean energy and would send a price signal to the energy markets and their investors who are "sitting on between $1 trillion and $2 trillion," Johnson said. "All this cash is just sitting there waiting for the next big thing, and that is clean energy."

Johnson said a carbon tax would create, not cut, millions of jobs and would all but end unemployment, "but do you think the fossil fuel companies are just going to sit there and let us do this? It's going to be a battle royal."

A carbon tax is widely considered a radical idea, and the Obama administration has no plans to push for it anytime soon, the Associated Press said this week, citing a White House official.

"If the legislators get enough feedback from the public, if we are a democracy, the public does make the decision," said CCL member Gene Rose.

Johnson said because a carbon tax would result in immediate changes, it's the best way to go. She said by waiting much longer or trying to come up with a different solution, the world will see even more drastic weather patterns in the future.

Cap-and-trade 'dead'

Democrat Congressman Collin Peterson, who represents the 7th District in Minnesota, told the Independent on Friday that cap-and-trade "is not going anyplace; it's dead and not ever coming up again."

Peterson, who three years ago voted in favor of the American Clean Energy and Security Act which proposed a cap-and-trade system, said Friday he is against the cap-and-trade idea. The 2009 Waxman-Markey bill was narrowly approved by the House of Representatives but was defeated in the Senate.

Peterson is also against a carbon tax, saying it would disproportionately hit the country's power sources, including those in rural areas.

"They (rural energy companies) have had huge increases out there already because of EPA requirements, and I'm not going to support putting more costs on my people. Plus, I'm not sure it would solve anything,"?he said.

Peterson said although there are groups out there like CCL pushing for climate legislation, he said Congress isn't "anywhere near close to doing anything" on the issue.

"Given the way this has all played out, unfortunately, I don't think people are going to talk about it," he said. In the presidential campaign "neither side wanted to talk about it."

Severe weather


"In the past 10 years, we've had the hottest 10 years on record since they started keeping records worldwide, but not always in every single spot on Earth," Johnson said, noting that some areas are actually cooler than in past years. "We're having more droughts, floods, and now we've had these hurricanes where the whole East Coast is spending billions of dollars rebuilding. Fifty billion is the estimate I saw for Hurricane Sandy."

Historical data would seem to back up what the group says. According to Bloomberg Businessweek research that tracked severe weather (hurricanes, tornadoes and drought) from 1980 to the present, there have been 90 natural disasters since 1996, compared to 46 from 1980-95. 2011 saw 14 disasters, the most in a singe year since 1980.

And Bloomberg called this summer's drought the worst in a generation - worse than the droughts of 1980 and 1988 that carried a combined economic loss of more than $133 billion, or $13 billion more than the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Citizens Climate Lobby member Judy Rose said one problem with dealing with climate change and global warming is that doubters take the science out of it and form their own opinions.

"Climate change in the media is treated as a political issue, rather than a science issue," said Rose. "You can read opinion very easily, but there's very little hard science in general. In newspapers, radio, TV, it's an opinion issue, rather than a science issue."

More subtle

effects in Minnesota

The group said although most of the weather severe enough to result in billions of dollars in damage that hits the United States typically occurs on the coasts, climate change also has played a significant, yet more subtle role in Minnesota.

"How much rain did you get out here last summer?" Gene Rose said.

The group also used the late-season tornadoes that sprung up last weekend just south of the Twin Cities metro area that knocked out power to 12,000 Xcel Energy customers. That storm came after a 69-degree day.

Soil, the group said, is another victim of severe weather patterns. They say droughts take a major toll on soils, as do flash floods that lead to soil depletion, and those conditions are becoming more frequent, whether it's a small drought or a large-scale drought like the one Minnesota experienced this summer.

"Soil scientists have talked about the effect of heat on soils," Judy Rose said. "It's not healthy.

"It's an 'extreme' situation, because you're going to have more extremes," said CCL member Patty Bracey, a Minnesota transplant from the East Coast. "When I was a kid I used to watch trees blow down in a hurricane, it was no big deal. Now, they are so devastating. We're getting the same effect with the extreme heat, the extreme cold. The seasons aren't as predictable as they used to be, rainfall is not as predictable."

The group noted that planting zones in Minnesota are also changing and that weather extremes are resulting in the infestation of insects that were once uncommon in Minnesota.

"We might be seeing rattlesnakes here," Bracey said. "That's not a joke, they already are moving north. There are changes that have been documented scientifically that have never been documented before."



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