Get Invoved with WCTM:
Iowa Presidential Primary

Iowa Presidential Primary

Environmental issues were largely omitted from the debates and campaigning which ended in yesterday’s Republican presidential caucuses in Iowa. Most of the candidates dismissed talk of human-caused global warming with pejoratives. Texas Governor Rick Perry stated that global warming science is “one contrived phony mess that is falling apart under its own weight.” Newt Gingrich said that cap and trade proposals to limit CO2 emissions were “an effort by the left to use the environment as an excuse to get total control over the American economy.”

Only Jon Huntsman among the candidates suggested that human activity is creating climate change, and he got less than 1% of yesterday’s vote. Gingrich and Perry got 13% and 10%, respectively. Huntsman suggested that a gallon of gasoline actually costs the country about $13 when the costs of military action to secure Mideast oil and related expenses are considered. Huntsman’s $13 per gallon figure is roughly in line with Lester Brown’s calculations in his rather dark book, World on the Edge.

I disagree with Governor Perry that the science in global warming is weak and contrived (see my 12/25/11 post “Politics Trumps Science, But Not Really”). We’ve seen about a one degree centigrade rise in average global temperatures in the past century, and there are consequences already (melting glaciers and polar ice cap and so on). Long term warming has momentum behind it, as CO2 levels are now about 390 parts per million in our air as opposed to the 280 parts per million typical during the 10,000 years since agriculture began. The science shouts that we need to slow and then reverse rises in greenhouse gases, and some respond. Bill McKibben founded an organization,, whose goal is to do just that – bring CO2 back down to 350 parts per million soon, the maximum number McKibben says is safe for civilization.

I acknowledge Gingrich’s implication that reversing greenhouse gas emissions would require strong government action. My basic recipe is a carbon tax that would make burning hydrocarbons much more expensive – political action that Gingrich and his colleagues vehemently reject.

Creating and implementing a high tax on greenhouse gas emissions is a political problem, and the outlook for political action is not good. For now, we can encourage good conservation while building a constituency for a comprehensive solution – a system where we all act responsibly, even if convinced that human-caused climate change is a fairy tale.

Could ethical and religious appeals encouraging us to be better stewards of creation be enough? Private actions to limit environmental footprints (see my 12/15/11 post on Colin Beavan’s book, “No Impact Man”) are certainly necessary and laudable. Long term, we need to reinforce voluntary conservation efforts with strong public policies. A high tax on carbon is the cleanest, most effective way I see to encourage people to consume less and, by doing so, create less climate-altering greenhouse gases.

The planet will, I’m afraid, give us increasingly clear signals that climate change and deterioration of natural systems is accelerating, despite any denials we may make of “inconvenient truths.” Waiting passively for those signals is not right for us, or for our children.


No comments yet.

Add a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Subscribe to Newsletter