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Lynate Pettengill: A tragic climate milestone

  • Published Tuesday, June 4, 2013, at 12 a.m.

We reached a tragic milestone last month: Carbon-dioxide levels hit 400 parts per million in our atmosphere.

The 350 ppm level, which a number of scientists regard as the safe limit, is growing smaller and smaller in our rearview mirror. How high will we allow this number to go before we decide to take significant action to curb greenhouse gases?

We know that higher carbon-dioxide levels result in higher temperatures and, not surprisingly, our global average temperature rose by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the past century. If we do nothing to reduce carbon emissions, scientists predict that global temperatures will increase by 7 degrees by the end of the century.

If many Americans fail to hear alarm bells, it may be because a well-orchestrated campaign has been waged to create the illusion that there is significant disagreement in the scientific community about climate change. A recent survey of more than 12,000 peer-reviewed articles on climate change, however, shows such disagreement is virtually nonexistent. Published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, the survey found this consensus among climate scientists: 97 percent agree that global warming is happening because of human activities.

If the science is settled, what does this mean for us in Kansas?

In their 2008 report, “Climate Change Hits Home, The Risks to Kansas,” Nathaniel Brunsell and Johannes Feddema predicted that Kansas’ average temperature will increase 2 to 4 degrees by the end of the century and that southwest Kansas will face an average increase of 8 degrees. We also will experience fewer frost days, more heat waves, more intense storm cycles.

This does not have to be our future. We can take action.

One solution, championed by Republican and former Secretary of State George Shultz, is a revenue-neutral carbon tax. In a commentary in the Wall Street Journal, Shultz wrote: “Clearly, a revenue-neutral carbon tax would benefit all Americans by eliminating the need for costly energy subsidies while promoting a level playing field for energy producers.”

Citizens Climate Lobby, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization also working to pass a revenue-neutral carbon tax, recommends returning the revenue to all households on an equal basis, which would offset increased energy costs arising from the carbon tax.

I hope Kansas Sens. Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts and Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Wichita, will join Shultz and support this innovative solution. In lieu of congressional action, President Obama will turn to Environmental Protection Agency regulation to curb greenhouse gases. Which would our Republican members of Congress prefer: The regulatory approach or the free-market approach?

The carbon-dioxide level of 400 parts per million is our wake-up call on climate change. It’s time to choose the path of heat resistance.

Lynate Pettengill of Lawrence is the director of field development for Citizens Climate Lobby.

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