Two Trillion Reasons A Carbon Tax Makes Sense

$2.4 trillion is the bill for climate change disasters from 1970-2012 according to the World Meteorological Organization.  And that bill is paid by you and me. Fossil fuel companies’ costs?  $0. Nada. Nothing. We buy their carbon-based products to power our appliances, heat our homes, fuel our cars, and manufacture the many things we love to consume. The problem is costs for carbon are external to the fossil fuel companies’ bottom line, hidden in the $2.4 trillion of damage ultimately done to the environment. Damage costs paid for through our taxes and charitable contributions. The fossil fuel industry pays not one cent for climate change destruction. In fact, they receive subsidies for their exploration and extraction costs. There’s a better way.Screen Shot 2014-09-30 at 3.27.13 PM

What if we could calculate a climate change cost (carbon tax) per fossil fuel unit used? A fee on the carbon dioxide emissions released by the fossil fuel burned? And what if that cost was paid for by the fossil fuel companies? A coal producer would sell X tons of coal and be taxed Y dollars. The more coal sold, the bigger the tax. The same applies to oil and gas companies. Every BTU of energy used to power/heat our homes or manufacture a product would have an associated carbon tax representing the carbon dioxide emissions released. Now imagine collecting all those different sources of taxes and keeping them in a special climate change adaptation and mitigation fund. When the next Hurricane Katrina rolls into town, funds from the carbon tax account would be used to cover the damage costs. And when the next extreme drought causes crop damage, carbon tax monies would support farmers. Etc…   Some monies would be used to mitigate climate change impacts, and others would pay or subsidize renewable energy incentives.

Under a carbon tax, what you and I pay for fossil fuel-powered energy and consumer products would inevitably go up, accelerating the shift to cleaner, more economical sources of energy (solar, wind, tidal…). A carbon tax fund would do so much good for the environment and the global economy. People would be more aware of the carbon costs in all products, and carbon tax monies would support mitigation and adaptation efforts as we swiftly transition to a clean energy society. Carbon tax dollars would fund new job opportunities, critical climate change research, and relocation and support for environmental refugees.

Climate change is too often looked at through a painful lens of doom and gloom when actually there are tremendous opportunities for proactively addressing the problem. A carbon tax is one wonderful way to take a genuine problem (climate change) and do something good for society (employment, environmental restoration, support for the poor and victims of climate change disasters….).

 

Two 5-Minute Climate Change Mitigation Action Item for the Week:

If you want to change the world by making a difference in the climate change battle, check out The Climate Mobilization and consider taking the pledge.

AND

Want to support renewable energy, then push divestment of fossil fuels.  Go to Fossil Free to learn what you can do.

Judas Iscariot For U.S. President?

Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus to the Romans for 30 silver pieces. Though Jesus’ message was one of love, his close disciple turned him in for cold hard coin. Such betrayal and infidelity to a holy figure may indeed occur again as top Republican Presidential hopefuls choose between fossil fuels and Pope Francis’ Encyclical. Already Catholic Republicans holding high office are distancing themselves from the Pope’s urgent message of climate change. Rather than embrace the Pope’s call for action to protect God’s creation, particularly the poor, from the ravages of climate change, our leaders and potential future presidents myopically march on with a climate change denial mindset.Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 1.11.24 PM

It’s really not so surprising considering the IPCC and 99% of climate scientists have warned global leaders to no avail for decades about the growing threats of a human-induced warmer world. Warnings have fallen on deaf ears. Hurricane Sandy, Typhoon Haiyan, floods in Texas, torrential rains in Pakistan, sinking Miami, acidified oceans, arctic ice disappearance, etc… are ignored. It’s more convenient to deny than to act. To say “I’m not a scientist”, or “Climate changes all the time”.  Sadly, a person’s mindset is not an easy thing to change.

A look at the Republican Presidential candidates shows there are a few Judas among the climate change denying mix ready to disavow Pope Francis’s urgent climate change message and pursue agendas driven by an unsustainable and insatiable fossil fuel industry. The fossil fuel era will eventually end, and most climate denying individuals will “see the light”, but by then things may have turned out very badly. Say your prayers.

 

Making Time for Climate Change

Time to fight climate change has not been at my side these past few weeks. In spite of all the excitement over the Pope’s Encyclical, I haven’t had a moment to delve deeply into any of it. Oh, I read Bill McKibben’s piece, and Rocky Montpelier did a nice summary of key points, but that was the extent of it. I’ve just been out straight. No downtime. Just one event after another. Graduations, weddings, out of town conferences, presentations, in town conferences, family responsibilities. Too much red meat. Too many miles driven in my car. Too much time contributing to, rather than fighting, the climate change problem. All in a very busy five week period. Needless to say, like our climate, I’m totally out of balance.IMG_3755

I remember seeing a 1982 movie a long, long time ago called Koyaanisqatsi. Godfrey Reggio directed it, and Philip Glass did the soundtrack. It was an unsettling look at the dizzying speed of 20th century life as people  frantically destroyed planet Earth to “progress”.  In the process, their lives were falling out of balance. And that was before the Internet and smartphones and twitter and Facebook and…. Interestingly, this morning I saw what could be considered a 21st Century Koyaanisqatsi-themed YouTube video, What is Wrong With Our Culture.

Enough of these Koyaanisqatsi moments! I don’t like them. I don’t like how they distract from life’s priorities: family, friends, wellness, and stewardship. And I don’t like knowing too many others are having their own Koyaanisqatsis, rushing from one thing to the next and not taking time for themselves, their families, their friends, and their roles in protecting the climate. I’m turning a corner on this busy period and posting my blog entry today. It’s not perfect, but it’s something. Let’s all do something now about fighting climate change. And that something doesn’t have to be perfect.

 

Talking About Climate Change

Hi, my name is Stephen Danna. I’m the SUNY Plattsburgh at Queensbury Branch Campus Dean and also a Climate Reality Leader. That’s how I introduce myself when at conferences or workshops. And I’m not sure why, but sometimes my introduction gets a few chuckles when people hear the Climate Reality Leader part. Maybe it’s because we’re only supposed to say our name and role in our organization. Or maybe it’s a person’s nervous response to climate change. Who knows. It can be awkward, but I feel compelled to utter the words climate change whenever and wherever I can.Screen Shot 2014-12-23 at 4.13.12 PM

The majority of Americans believe climate change is happening, in spite of climate denier’s best efforts to muddy the waters with misinformation, conspiracy theories, and fallacies. But a majority is not the same as 97%, the number of climate scientists who believe humans are causing climate change. What’s missing is media’s accurate representation on climate change.  What’s missing is conversation about climate change. From Yale’s Climate Change in The American Mind report, “…most Americans are simply not hearing or talking about the issue. Our survey finds, for example, that only 40% of the American public says they hear about global warming in the media at least once a month and only 19% hear about it at least once a week. Further, only 16% say that they hear people they know talk about global warming at least once a month, with only 4% reporting they hear other people talking about it at least once a week.”

If we want to minimize the damage caused by climate change, we have to talk about it. Not incessantly, but enough to change the conversation. We can’t trust the media to do it. Hi, my name is Stephen Danna. I’m the SUNY Plattsburgh at Queensbury Branch Campus Dean and also a Climate Reality Leader.

 

Reference: Climate Change in The American Mind, http://environment.yale.edu/climate-communication/article/Global-Warming-CCAM-March-2015/

Why It’s So Hard to Change Climate Deniers’ Minds

Why is it so hard to “Teach an old dog new tricks?”, and what is it about our changing brains that compromises learning new skills, understandings, or perspectives? More specifically, why is it so difficult for climate deniers to rethink their beliefs about climate change? The answer is simple: Brain plasticity.brainartifact

Brain plasticity is something I first learned about ten years ago while taking an online Brain Research in Education program through the University of Washington. However, it was a personal experience during that period of my life which really drove home the plasticity concept. My daughter and I were taking piano lessons together. She was six, and I in my mid 30’s. She happily zoomed through the lessons, and I plodded along, struggling to create anything that sounded like music (My wife would gently ask that I put the digital piano headphones on while playing so she didn’t have to hear the “music”).  It was heartening to discover that if I persisted long enough, I could play the songs. My daughter may have outpaced me, but I was making progress, albeit slow progress. Thank you, brain plasticity.

A child’s brain is much more receptive to learning than an adult brain, and the older we get, the less malleable or plastic are brains become. If you need further proof, check out this Smarter Every Day video on riding a backwards bicycle. If our beliefs, including climate change beliefs, are formed from years of experience, then discarding those beliefs is like learning to ride a backwards bicycle–not very simple. Once again, It comes down to brain plasticity. When we get really good at something, or believe something very passionately, or know something extremely well, our brains develop pathways so deep and wide that we form a rut. And the older we get, the deeper the rut. The good news is a discrepant event can shock the brain into reevaluating age old beliefs. For climate change deniers, living through a horrific climate-change induced weather or flooding event can be the discrepancy necessary to think anew the pervasive and damaging beliefs of climate change denial. The sad news is the “discrepant climate change” events will become more and more common in the years to come.

Mad Men and Ralph Nader

I watched the wonderful Mad Men series finale last night.  Maybe it’s all those Disney movies as a child in the 60’s, but I love it when everyone (Betty the exception) lives happily ever after. Don didn’t jump off a building, and the main characters seem to have either found their true love or true self along the way. I’m praying we’ll have a similarly happy disney-esque ending with climate change, humanity’s most pressing problem ever, and my hopes were buoyed yesterday with Ralph Nader’s Pledge to Mobilize.IMG_1844

In case you’re unfamiliar with The Climate Mobilization (TCM), it is a grassroots volunteer organization created nearly a year ago around the time of the People’s Climate March. From the TCM website: “The Climate Mobilization is a new, all-volunteer organization. Our mission is to save civilization and the natural world from catastrophic climate disruption. We are dedicated to living in climate truth, and believe that working to solve the climate crisis is everyone’s responsibility.”  There’s more to learn by visiting our webpage: http://www.theclimatemobilization.org/home

So Ralph Nader has signed the pledge to mobilize against climate change! That is a happy ever after chapter ending in a complex, epic climate change story. We have many chapters yet to write as we attempt to stave off the worst case scenarios predicted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the National Climate Assessment, and the myriad of peer-reviewed reports by scientists world-wide. If we want the climate change story to end well, we need you. If you want to feel you’re making a difference, join us. Simple as that. Ralph Nader and 1,000 other concerned citizens have already taken the pledge to mobilize. Here’s your chance.

Click here to sign the pledge.

An Unbalanced Bottle Earth

We live in a bottle called planet Earth. A big, big bottle that cycles water, nutrients, carbon, oxygen, and all else necessary for life over and over again. It’s a closed system, meaning everything we need comes from within the bottle. When balanced, our closed system can sustain life for eons. But when put out of balance, say by an asteroid strike or a change in Earth’s orbit, things get messy as equilibrium reestablishes itself. Life generally suffers when something within the bottle, planet Earth, is disrupted.

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 7.17.27 AMOne particularly disruptive event 250 million years ago killed off 90% of marine organisms and 65% of land dwelling creatures within the bottle. The culprit was tremendous volcanism that spewed huge quantities of carbon dioxide over 60,000 years into the bottle’s atmosphere, altering ocean acidity and causing mass extinctions. Unfortunately for us, researchers believe today’s carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels match those which occurred during the massive Permian-Triassic extinction described above. Not good news.

We live in a self-contained bottle, and whatever we put in the bottle impacts us. If we continue to dig up and burn old carbon that’s been locked in the ground for millions of years, our closed system will be out of balance. The impacts are already evident, though they can certainly become more severe as shown by the massive Permian-Triassic extinction 250 million years ago. We can and must do more to and protect our planet.

 

Two 5-Minute Climate Change Mitigation Action Item for the Week:

If you want to change the world by making a difference in the climate change battle, check out The Climate Mobilization and consider taking the pledge.

AND

Want to support renewable energy, then push divestment of fossil fuels.  Go to Fossil Free to learn what you can do.

Technology and the Pied Piper of Climate Change

“What is technology?” I’d ask my middle school science students each year during the first week of school. After some tween hesitancy, they’d start calling out things like CD Players, computers, cars, televisions, and VCRs (it’s been a while since I taught middle school science). Probing a little deeper, I’d ask for the common theme in all their examples. Ultimately we’d get to the textbook definition: Technology is the application of science to meet the needs of society.
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There’s an omnipotence to technology, as if it carries great powers to remedy our needs and cure all ills. Omnipotent for good reason. Technology has been the solution to every challenge humanity has faced for millenia. Want to plow that field faster than old Nellie can? Here’s a gas-powered tractor. Want to cure polio? Try this vaccine out. Want to watch the Brooklyn Dodgers take on Philadelphia at Ebbet’s Field but don’t have tickets? No worries. Here’s a television set. Want to cool that house down during those hot summer days? How about air conditioning? Want to store and play 1,000 of your favorite songs anytime or anywhere you like? How about an iPod? Want to tour Europe and see the Roman Coliseum, Eiffel Tower, or Big Ben? Welcome aboard Pan Am Airlines. Technology has earned its text-book definition of using science to meet our wants and needs. And that’s a good thing and a bad thing.

Technology has allowed humanity to thrive and flourish, as evidenced by our numbers fast approaching eight billion, with 10 billion projected by 2050. We’ve used technology to cure diseases, dam rivers, reshape harbors, create a virtual universe, and make our species masters of the planet. The bad part is our belief that technology can solve any problem, including climate change. We forget the side effects, byproducts, and unexpected surprises technology creates. Most worrisome is the technology of geoengineering which would “fix” climate change by removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and reducing solar radiation. Just imagine a fleet of high altitude jets spewing sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere to “dim” sunlight hitting the Earth, or artificial polymer trees that pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. There are better, safer solutions that don’t require opening Pandora’s Box.

We are discovering the pied piper side of technology as environmental costs of air conditioning, motorized transportation, high-tech farm machinery, fast computers, etc., come home to roost. Those costs include rising sea levels, ocean acidification, and all the other climate change nasties of 21st century civilization. We’ll need to change the proverbial paradigm that technology can fix anything and be vigilant against geoengineering quackery. Technology will have a role in solving the climate change problem through renewable energies, energy conservation, water management, and sustainable agriculture, but the biggest factor will be our resilience and collective efforts to redefine how humans live on this fragile planet.

 

5-Minute Climate Change Mitigation Action Item for the Week:

Check out Prince Ea’s Sorry video and then help get some of those carbon dioxide molecules out of the atmosphere by planting a tree.  No room to plant trees?  No problem. Check out standfortrees.org for other ways to protect our forests.

 

Adirondack Climate Reality 2015 Conference Reflections

Two weeks ago 160 people showed up for an Adirondack Climate Reality Conference on the SUNY Plattsburgh at Queensbury Branch Campus. The entire event was free thanks to the generosity of Glens Falls-based Apex Solar, Healthy Living Market and Cafe, and The Adirondack Mountain Club. SUNY Plattsburgh also kicked in money to help pay for the event. It was a full 9:00-5:00 day, and many folks hung in there for the last and, what turned out to be, most meaningful session–brainstorming actions to address climate change.302

Don’t get me wrong. Our presenters were unbelievable (bios here). Adirondack expert, author, and wildlife biologist Jerry Jenkins wowed the crowd as our first plenary speaker, and Poet Alison Hawthorne Deming wrapped up formal presentations as the second plenary with a powerful talk on the arts and climate change. In between we had authentic research sessions on the psychology of climate change denial and conservation by Dr. Jeremy Grabbe, Dr. Edward Sturman, and Dr. Michelle McCauley. Jeremy and Eddy work at our Branch Campus, and Michelle travelled over from Middlebury College.  We also had a poignant talk by Jeanine Pfeifer on the impact climate change is having on indigenous cultures. Jeanine hails from San Jose State University, and being cognizant of her carbon footprint, elected to present virtually from her computer terminal in San Jose, California. And SUNY Adirondack’s very own Tim Scherbatskoy spoke about new strategies for agriculture under climate change.

Immediately before lunch, conference co-director Michelle Howland with fellow members of Juxtapoze, Vinnie Leddick and Tim Ellifritz, sang three environmental songs for the audience–one of which was written for the event and featured the Adirondack photography of artist-photographer Carl Heilman playing in the background. The music brought tears to many in the audience as the acoustic music and climate change themed lyrics played in synchrony with breathtaking photos. After lunch, Stephen Danna presented a session on Climate Reality.

Getting people hopeful, action-oriented, and resilient in the face of climate change were the goals of this conference, and 90 minutes during the afternoon (which were not enough time) were dedicated to brainstorming solutions in small groups to climate change mitigation and adaptation. Each team had a facilitator and all ideas were recorded and later shared on chart paper. The room was abuzz with strategies and solutions shared throughout the session (Click here to see those results).

It was a good day. So good that we will hold our second annual Adirondack Climate Reality Conference on June 17, 2016. Put it in your calendar.  Peace.

 

Solar Energy Costs Less Than Fossil Fuels

Imagine you could put solar panels on your home, pay nothing for materials or installation, and cut your electricity costs by 30-40% for the next twenty years! Five years ago that would have been a pipe dream, but today it’s reality thanks to a drop in solar panel prices, efficient rooftop installation, and renewable energy incentives. Solar is at or below grid parity in large swaths of the world, and will continue to become less expensive than dirty fossil fuels (And we’re not even including the external climate change costs of fossil fuel emissions).Screen Shot 2014-09-20 at 8.52.01 AM

Forget the whole climate change problem. People are going solar because it’s cheap, and that is a wonderful thing for the economy and our planet. The environmentalists among us go solar, wind, geothermal…not necessarily to save money, but to do what’s right given the state of our climate. Unfortunately, climate change science is not yet clearly understood in the public’s eye. Oh, we’ve made huge gains in the awareness and concern for climate change, but there’s still a significant and vocal group of deniers and skeptics clouding the issue.

So let’s forget the climate change concerns and stick to the bottom line: Solar energy is cheaper than fossil fuels. More specifically, electricity generated by solar energy costs less than electricity derived from fossil fuels. Discussion over. To hell with the climate. Go out there and get those solar panels on the roof and start saving money. Encourage your town board to put up a few of those fancy wind turbines for good measure, and feel good about yourself. In the process, you’ll join the majority of Americans interested in renewable energies over more traditional fossil or nuclear energies.

 

5-Minute Climate Change Mitigation Action Item for the Week:

Save yourself money and divest from fossil fuels. Seriously. Investing in a deadly energy source is risky business. Check out gofossilfree.org for more info.

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