EDITORIAL: What’s so funny about it?

YOU DON’T HEAR so many tired jokes about the polar vortex and climate change this year, although the president tweeted about that. So there’s still an audience for misleading reassurances that we’re not making the world get warmer. It’s just that fewer people are laughing.

What can you do about it, right? It’s a big planet and plenty of other countries are big polluters and aren’t doing their part, either. Why should we change our ways? We have a nice place to live and we take pretty good care of it.

Good questions. But let’s start with that last thought. It turns out that, as a county, we aren’t quite as neat and tidy as we’d like to think. Do you know which types of plastic packaging can be easily recycled and which can’t? Now and then do you slip a food container with some food on it into your recycling?

Maybe not you. But some of us have broken recycling rules now and then. It’s a bigger problem than it used to be because most local recycling is now collected as what’s called “single stream”–putting all the recyclable stuff together. If any part of a load is “contaminated” with non-recyclable garbage (think about diapers… ugh) the whole load could be trash.

We can all improve our recycling skills quickly. Helping to slow the warming of our planet enough so that the next few generations can live here and thrive will take a little longer. With recyclables you start by learning to tell the difference between plastic number 1 and number 2. But where do you start if your goal is to undo the forces that industrial societies have unleashed on our atmosphere and oceans?

In both cases you start small. One group taking this approach is the Columbia County Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. They are pressing federal lawmakers for a carbon fee and dividend law. There’s a bipartisan bill in the House of Representatives (HR 763). The goal is to reduce emissions from the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide by 40% over 12 years.

Keep in mind: This won’t be enough to stop climate change. But so far nobody has come up with a better federal plan to slow it. Not one, anyway, that has a chance of passing.

While a carbon fee and dividend law has support from progressives and conservatives as well as centrists, it’s a little spooky because even Exxon backs it. There are potential benefits for the energy industry, like a promise of no regulation of CO2 for 10 years. It’s called a compromise.

The proposed carbon fee would be tacked onto fossil fuels (natural gas, oil and coal), which emit CO2. The fee would start small and increase yearly. The theory is that the increasing fee gives the companies and consumers incentives to reduce their use of these fuels.

The fees collected would be distributed equally to every household in the U.S. in the form of monthly checks. That’s the dividend. The federal government would administer the program but would not keep any of the fees. All that money would go to U.S. residents. By the group’s reckoning a family of four could receive over $3,400 a year during the program. At least some of that money would help people pay for higher energy prices.

Right now about seven billion tons of CO2 are emitted into the atmosphere by companies in the U.S. If the fees start at $15 per ton, that’s enough to bankroll this program.

The Columbia County Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby has been working on this plan for years. Even with the recent wildfire infernos in California, the increasing frequency of powerful hurricanes, species extinctions and unwelcome visits from the polar vortex there is little possibility that this proposal will become law this year.

But it is true that each year through the persistence of the lobby and its supporters, the plan gains greater visibility and the odds of carbon fee and dividend becoming law improve. This effort is helped by its openness and bipartisan approach, and because it’s a thoughtful plan that might work. You don’t have to go to Washington, D.C., to support it. You can join and help out here. Not a joiner? Then contribute to it. Or just mention it to social media friends and humanoid acquaintances.

Climate change is not a punch line. We live in its time and can neither ignore nor escape it. But we don’t have to face it alone. We have neighbors leading the way. https://citizensclimatelobby.org .

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