The Norman Transcript

December 15, 2012

Avoiding the climate cliff:lessons from films of the season

By Ola Fincke
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — In “The Dust Bowl,” Ken Burns documented the greatest man-made ecological disaster in U.S. history. The stories of those who lived through it as children lend particular poignancy to the folly of plowing under the prairie sod for unsustainable fields of wheat. Flash forward to 2012, as we witness first hand, similar devastation, but this time on a global scale. In “Chasing Ice,” James Balog captured the power of our warming planet via time lapse photography of glacial melting; entire landscapes have disappeared in as little as three years. Nova’s “Inside the Megastorm” uses the tragedy of Hurricane Sandy to illustrate how the effects of rising sea levels and temperatures intensify natural disasters.

Why should taxpayers foot the bill for environmental disasters that are increasingly exacerbated by the burning of fossil fuels? Particularly while the oil and gas industries reap huge profits and billions in government subsidies? The estimated costs of Sandy alone are in the tens of billions, a price tag that doesn’t include the human health costs and loss of life.

The World Bank’s alert, “Turn down the heat: why a 4°C warmer world must be avoided,” reports that the most pessimistic climate change models have been the most accurate in predicting recent temperature rise. We are fast approaching the tipping point, when we will not be able to control the rate of warming. Then, tropical forests, peat bogs, permafrost and the oceans will stop absorbing carbon and start to release it. To avoid this climate cliff, we must reduce global CO2 emissions by 6 percent annually (Hansen et al. 2012). We need to act now.

The science is clear. The math is simple. We know what we need to do. Economists across the political spectrum agree that the price of carbon fuels fails to reflect the real cost to taxpayers of burning these resources. Putting a price on CO2 emissions is the most efficient way to reduce warming and spur production of sustainable forms of energy. Even some energy companies (BP, Shell and Exxon Mobil) agree.

We need a national policy that will

1) put a steadily-rising, predictable fee on carbon emissions.

2) return all revenues from the fee to households, thereby offsetting the higher energy costs that will be passed on to consumers.

3) levy border tariffs to protect American business from unfair foreign competition

To accomplish this goal, we need real leadership. Perhaps the courage shown by Rep. Cole and Sen. Coburn on taxes will motivate a hard look at this issue.

Today, addressing the challenges of a warming planet is as divisive an issue as slavery was in Lincoln’s time. And like slavery in 19th century, today’s climate issue, if not tackled directly, threatens to dwarf our current fiscal and social problems. We need a historic figure to lead our country to a sustainable world for our children and future generations. President Obama must be that leader now. The earth is running out of time.

Ola Fincke is a Norman resident and member of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

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