Climate change and the changing political climate

Jun 22, 2019
By George Banziger, Ph.D.

Just as sea levels and global temperatures are rising, public opinion is rising in the direction of greater support for the idea of human-caused climate change. In 2016, 57% of Americans believed that climate change is real and that it is caused by human activity; this is up from 44% in 2014. By a ratio of 8:1 Americans are more worried about climate change in 2019 than they were a year ago. To add credibility to this notion, 97% of peer-reviewed scientists endorse the idea of human causation to the climate change we are witnessing, and national academies of science in every major country support this assumption. As a member of the Citizen Climate Lobby has stated when he was in Marietta, if nine out of ten car mechanics told you that you needed new brakes, what would you do?

What is even more striking than the overall support for addressing climate change is the recent change in political views on the subject. Frank Luntz, a GOP strategist and pollster, recently reported that 85% of Republican millennials are concerned that the current Republican position on climate change is hurting the party with younger voters. By a ratio of 2:1 (4:1 for all Americans), Republicans endorse the uniquely popular carbon dividend plan.

This plan has taken the form of HR 763, the Energy Innovation and Dividend Act, a bill that involves a fee not a tax and seeks no further regulation of the energy industry. This bill, if enacted, will constitute a major step toward addressing human-caused climate change. Scientists have enumerated the many effects of climate change that we are currently witnessing: glaciers and ice caps melting (e.g., the Antarctic ice cap is melting at the equivalent rate of three and half swimming pools a second), global warming of our climate, the oceans rising, getting warmer, and more acidic, and extreme weather. CO2 emissions and global temperatures have been strongly related for centuries, and the spike in global temperatures in the last 100 years is compelling. It’s not normal variation, and it’s caused mainly by emissions from the burning of fossil fuels.

HR 763 would impose a fee on carbon emissions, starting at $15/ton and growing over time. Every citizen of the U.S. would then receive a monthly dividend directly tied to this carbon fee, which would not affect revenue or expense of the federal government. It will reduce carbon emissions by 40% over 12 years and, by virtue of the dividend that it will put in the hands of every American, it will add 2.1 million jobs. Low and middle income persons, a large part of the population of the Mid-Ohio Valley, would gain the most benefit from this legislation.

Given the broad appeal of this bill, it is ripe for bipartisan support. It has been endorsed by groups such as the Presbyterian Church of the USA, the U.S. Conference of Bishops, republicEn (Republicans concerned about climate change), Young Evangelicals for Climate Change, and the American Sustainable Business Council.

Ohio and the Mid-Ohio Valley are uniquely positioned for the economic benefit to be gained from this legislation. The income from the carbon dividend, to be dispensed through the Social Security system, will stimulate spending in retail, housing, education and other areas where low and middle income people spend their money. Furthermore, the manufacturing base in this region can potentially serve to support industries related to renewable energy such as supplies and infrastructure for wind farms.

Please send a message to Congressman Bill Johnson (or to Congressman David McKinley if you live in West Virginia) and urge him to support HR 763.

George Banziger, Ph.D., was a faculty member at Marietta College and an academic dean at three other colleges. Now retired, he is a member of the Green Sanctuary Committee of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Marietta, the Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action group, and the Citizens Climate Lobby.