OpEd: For climate skeptics, an opportunity to act

20131101-170737.jpgConservatives can rescue Shore from climate fallout

There is deep and lasting trauma, reasonably rooted in lived experience along the coastal areas of our region, from the impact of superstorm Sandy. Some towns worry they need to be integrated into neighboring municipalities if they cannot rebuild or attract new investment. Homeowners and business owners are determined to rebuild, but face daunting obstacles.

Congress has not been eager to provide the disaster relief funding promised. Leaders focused on solving problems have found fissures that run along party lines can be a great obstacle to progress for real people.

There are a number of seasoned, rational, service-oriented conservatives in New Jersey, who are in a unique position to open a new way through the ideological divisions holding us back. For a long time, conservatives have been pressured to refuse to respond to the need for climate change mitigation policy (like a price on carbon emissions or a cap on overall emissions). Sandy made that position all but untenable for anyone representing real people facing real and unprecedented problems. Those conservatives who understand the problem, and who are willing to lead, can now do so in a new context.

The fifth consensus report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — a strict, detailed and conclusive examination of scientific evidence endorsed even by oil-dependent nations like Saudi Arabia and Iran — has answered many of the most pressing questions posed by climate policy skeptics. The science is now settled, the evidence is clear and the report shows we have already burned through half of global civilization’s lifetime carbon fuel budget.

In the weeks before the release of the IPCC report, interested parties opposing a response to the climate crisis spread the myth that there is a “plateau” or a “pause” in the observable warming of the global climate. The same science that already informs military planning and emergency preparedness clearly shows the excess energy absorbed by the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere continues to steadily increase, raising sea level and threatening vital life-support systems. Warming in the oceans is potentially more dangerous than in the air, and the overall trend is unabated. Coastal communities must begin to adapt, in case the world cannot act fast enough to find a solution to rampant carbon pollution. The destabilization of the climate system is the worst market failure in the history of economics — an externalized cost of burning carbon-heavy fuels.

So, the IPCC’s fifth report provides a unique opportunity for climate skeptics who want a say in crafting viable solutions to join with other responsible leaders to take action to secure a future of resilient democracy and prosperity for the people of New Jersey.

To carry out the comprehensive transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, we do not need to spend more money than would be spent to build new infrastructure for hard-to-recover experimental fossil fuel resources. We just need to spend it differently, more intelligently. Delaying action will cost us more, burdening businesses, families and taxpayers, first with the cost of new fossil fuel infrastructure, and then with the cost of an emergency transition, driven by intensifying Sandy-like climate fallout.

It is in this context that major reinsurance companies and institutional investors are now demanding answers from companies they invest in that carry significant “carbon asset risk.” They are asking: What is your plan for fiscal solvency and business-model resiliency in a low-carbon marketplace fraught with climate instability?

Conservatives can answer the needs of coastal Monmouth County, and build a strong future for the Jersey Shore, by supporting a revenue-neutral price on carbon-emitting fuels. By rebating 100 percent of the revenues to households, in equal monthly shares, they can ensure the solution spans the entire marketplace and that none of the revenue goes to expanding the size of government or budget deficits. By rebating the funds to families and Main Street businesses, the fee and dividend plan achieves maximum economic efficiency, as consumers — who make up 70 percent of U.S. economic activity — will be able to drive solutions directly.

Confronting the climate crisis is not an ideological undertaking. The climate is our living space, the fabric of natural life supports and energy transfers on which all our economic activity depends. Securing a climate that is healthy for sustaining life, democracy and prosperity actually does align with conservative principles.

In Monmouth County, we are counting on responsible leaders to step forward and choose action.

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Joseph Robertson, of Fair Haven, is a volunteer for Citizens Climate Lobby, founder and president of Geoversiv Envisioning and a member of Villanova University’s Environmental Sustainability Committee.

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Originally published Nov. 1, 2013, on page A19 of the Asbury Park Press

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