To the editor:
This month, the world passed two milestones: First, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere became permanently above 400 micromoles per mole (parts per million), over 40 percent above the preindustrial value of 280. Second, the change in global temperature from preindustrial times reached 1°C.
All of this is due to us, the human inhabitants of Earth, burning fossil fuels, which releases carbon dioxide — and whose production releases methane, an even more powerful greenhouse gas. The effect of these releases has accelerated steadily since the end of World War II. This month the Bulletin of the American Meterological Society published a series of articles examining whether greenhouse gases have resulted in extreme weather events; about half the articles identified support for this effect, including Hurricane Sandy here at home and the Australian drought, among others.
Even more troubling, in a paper published in Nature this week (“Global non-linear effect of temperature on economic production,” by M. Burke et al.), we find: “If future adaptation mimics past adaptation, unmitigated warming is expected to reshape the global economy by reducing average global incomes roughly 23 percent by 2100 and widening global income inequality, relative to scenarios without climate change.” This is a huge economic problem, one that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. As Lord Stern’s report, “The Economics of Climate Change” from several years ago, states: “benefits of strong, early action on climate change outweigh the costs.”
At the present, the world subsidizes fossil fuel production to the tune of over $5 trillion a year, with consequent pollution that causes health problems and further economic costs. Many pollutants — but not carbon dioxide — cause heart and lung problems in people and animals. New research shows increased carbon dioxide concentrations impair peoples’ thinking: the more carbon dioxide, the greater the problem.
Much research work has suggested that something like the carbon tax and refund to all citizens already implemented in British Columbia and being pursued here in America by the nonpartisan Citizen Climate Lobby (which has a chapter here in Delaware) can help push the change to a different energy future, one that does not harm people or other inhabitants of Earth. This tax that is fully returned to us unleashes market forces that can help reduce emissions.
It is important that we humans embrace the moral imperative to preserve Earth enunciated by Pope Francis, which can be implemented by putting a price on carbon emissions. Let’s support this and other measures for energy conservation and replacement of fossil fuels by renewable energy.