The Norman Transcript

September 22, 2012

Climate questions needed during debates

By Kathy Rand and Mary Francis
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — This summer’s blistering heat, devastating drought, crop losses, wildfires and dwindling water sources have led to a realization that the climate crisis is a serious threat. We are experiencing effects of weather extremes that climate scientists predicted would happen as a result of fossil fuel emissions.

Many of us are still hurting. Yet there is no national political discussion. How can we make informed decisions without such dialogue? During the upcoming debates, moderators must ask President Barack Obama and former Gov. Mitt Romney about this greatest challenge of our generation. Will they commit to reverse the current rise of CO2? How? We deserve concrete answers.

The irony is that the reality of human-caused climate change is no longer debated among serious climate watchers. The American Meteorological Society weighed in with a statement on Sept. 1, 2012:

“There is unequivocal evidence that Earth’s lower atmosphere, ocean and land surface are warming; sea level is rising; and snow cover, mountain glaciers and Arctic sea ice are shrinking. The dominant cause of the warming since the 1950s is human activities. .... The observed warming will be irreversible for many years into the future, and even larger temperature increases will occur as greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere. Avoiding this future warming will require a large and rapid reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions.

“The ongoing warming will increase risks and stresses to human societies, economies, ecosystems and wildlife through the 21st century and beyond, making it imperative that society respond to a changing climate ... National and international policy discussions should include consideration of the best ways to both adapt to and mitigate climate change ... Prudence dictates extreme care in accounting for our relationship with the only planet known to be capable of sustaining human life.”

We have evidence-based estimates to create a reasonable chance of avoiding the very worst impacts of climate change.

In the landmark 2009 climate report, “The Copenhagen Diagnosis,” 26 leading worldwide scientists estimated that we must start rapidly decreasing global greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2015 to 2020.

By 2050, emissions per capita must be reduced from 17.3 metric tons to well less than 0.5 metric tons. That gives us 3 to 8 years to start rapidly reducing emissions and about 30 to 35 years to transform our energy systems to reduce CO2 emissions by more than 97 percent. And that doesn’t account for the effects of methane, another powerful greenhouse gas escaping from below melted ice. Sound like a challenge?

How do we cut greenhouse gas emissions fast enough? To facilitate a rapid shift to non-fossil fuels, there is growing support for a fee on carbon emissions with a rebate or dividend back to taxpayers. It’s time for a real debate about possible solutions.

Would the candidates support a fee and dividend for carbon emissions? What additional or alternative policies do they have in mind? Could you help us, as citizens, to contact news organizations and reporters and insist that they start asking these questions? A durable, livable future for us, our children and our grandchildren is in the balance.

Kathy Rand, Ph.D., and Mary Francis are residents of Norman and members of the Citizen’s Climate Lobby — Oklahoma.

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