If you think summer is unbearable now, just wait until the end of the century. According to “Risky Business,” a report released on Tuesday by a bipartisan group of scientists and officials that included former Treasury secretary Hank Paulson and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, global warming is going to make it so hot and so humid over the next 80-plus years that going outside in the summer will be pretty much impossible.
In fact, it will be downright deadly. Climatologist Robert Kopp, the lead scientist behind the report, told Reuters that, “As temperatures rise, toward the end of the century, less than an hour of activity outdoors in the shade could cause a moderately fit individual to suffer heat stroke.” In other words, if you try to take a run on a hot day in the year 2085, there’s a good chance that it will kill you.
But if we don’t do something now to stop global warming, heat stroke will be the least of our worries. That’s because according to Michael Mann, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, we only have until 2036 - 22 years - to prevent the Earth’s temperature from rising 2 degrees Celsius.
After that, global warming will lock in with devastating consequences for every single living thing on this planet. Serious scientific bodies are even debating whether or not industrial civilization can survive such a drastic temperature increase and the type of crazy weather, wildfires, and drought that will come with it.
Other scientists, like James Hansen, have an even gloomier view of how much more warming the planet can take. Hansen now argues that we need to lower the limit of “acceptable” warming by a whole degree to 1 single degree Celsius - a number we’re already eight-tenths of the way to reaching. At this point, there is really only one thing we can do to prevent a total climate catastrophe along the lines of what James Hansen and Michael Mann are predicting: we need to keep carbon in the ground. And the best way to keep carbon in the ground is to put a price on it.
Right now, the fossil fuel industry is the only industry in the world that doesn’t have to pay to clean up its own waste. Instead, it passes on the costs of that waste (carbon pollution) to everyone else in the form of what economists call "negative externalities," which include things like the costs of cleaning up from climate-change driven severe weather events, and the costs of pollution-related health problems.
Because the fossil fuel industry can dump its waste on the rest of the world without ever having to pay a dime, its businesses costs are artificially low. This creates a vicious cycle in which the fossil fuel industry has absolutely zero incentive to change its ways because doing so would cut into its profits margins.
A national tax carbon would flip the script. By actually putting a price on carbon, it would create an incentive for Big Oil, Coal and Gas to keep carbon in the ground. It really is that simple. Even a small carbon tax of around $10 per metric ton of carbon emitted would have big results.
According to a report put out by the Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL), a $10 carbon tax would cut greenhouse gas emissions by around 28 percent of 2005 levels. That’s 11 percent more than the cut proposed by the EPA in the Clean Power Plan it announced earlier this month. But that’s not all. The CCL’s report also found that if the money collected from a $10 carbon tax were given back to the American people in the form of a tax credit sort of like Alaska’s Permanent Fund, it would give a jump start to the economy that would, in the long run, lead to more jobs at every income level.
And at the same time, a $10 carbon tax would also save hundreds of thousands of lives over the next few decades by keep toxic carbon pollution out of our atmosphere. By 2036, it would result in around 14,000 fewer premature deaths every year. Remember: all this is from a very small carbon tax of $10 per metric ton. A higher carbon tax would have even better results, and would more accurately reflect the actual costs of carbon pollution.
Whatever the amount, a carbon tax is the single best way to both crack down on the fossil fuel industry freeloaders and save our planet from total climate devastation. As former Bush administration Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson - yes, that Hank Paulson - put it in a recent editorial for the New York Times, “We can debate the appropriate pricing and policy design and how to use the money generated. But a price on carbon would change the behavior of both individuals and businesses.”
Time is running out. If we don’t stop the fossil fuel industry from pumping toxic greenhouses into the atmosphere, planet Earth - the one planet we can call home - will become unrecognizable by the end of the century, if not mid-century. It’s time to make the fossil fuel industry pay for the destruction it’s doing to our planet and our society. It’s time to keep the carbon in the ground.
It’s time for a national carbon tax.