Time For Honesty On Climate

Daily News-Record, June 4, 2016
H. Bishop Dansby, Opinion (Open Forum)

Climate change continues to be the greatest challenge of our era and probably in all of human history. At first, our government tried to address the issue with comprehensive energy and greenhouse emissions legislation. Lack of Republican support caused the legislative approach to fail, but in the meantime the Supreme Court made it clear that climate change could be addressed under the existing Clean Air Act, and the Obama administration took a number of strong regulatory actions to address climate change through the Environmental Protection Agency, giving the U.S. the credibility to sign the Paris climate accord. Meanwhile, Republicans, including Donald Trump, are doing all they can to roll back these gains.

There has been relatively little debate in the scientific community on the basics of climate change and our need to reduce the use of fossil fuels for a couple of decades. However, among politicians and the public, there has been continual debate, denial and partisan divide. While Democrats have generally accepted the conclusions of the scientific community, Republicans have vigorously denied them. The position of Republicans has gone from (1) there is no climate change, to (2) there may be climate change, but it is not manmade, to (3) there is climate change and man may be contributing to it, but there is nothing we can do about it. They have never quite gotten to: There is climate change, man is the cause of it, and we can avoid its catastrophic effects if we take adequate action.

Polls show that Republican voters are more progressive on climate change than Republican politicians, with Republican political leadership being the least progressive of all.

Shenandoah Valley representatives and residents are reflective of the national picture. With the action taking place in the EPA and other regulatory agencies, the only legitimate role of state and federal legislators is to stand aside and let the regulatory process go forward. Instead, elected officials such as Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Ronaoke, and Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, are doing all they can to frustrate the regulation of greenhouse emissions, whether by litigation, defunding or legislation to stop the EPA and Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality.

Climate change is an undeniably formidable challenge. Energy is the foundation of our modern economy. The discovery and development of abundant coal, oil and natural gas has made possible the modern standard of living we take for granted. Nevertheless, there is good reason to believe that as the problem of climate change forces us to develop renewable sources of energy and more energy efficient buildings and vehicles, we will emerge with an even higher standard of living. While we would not have voluntarily chosen to transition off of fossil fuels, the doing so will usher in a new era of cheaper, cleaner energy.

It should be said in no uncertain terms that political leaders such as Goodlatte and Obenshain, who are ignoring the climate-change challenge, are failing us at an historic dimension. Further, the well-educated Shenandoah Valley physician, lawyer and businessman who brushes off the climate-change problem is failing us and his descendants. This is a failure of ethics, morality and imagination, and it is a failure that will have enormous practical economic consequences. These politicians and citizens may deprive us of the next and necessary era of human prosperity, not to mention depriving our descendants a livable planet.

Possibly, the world will stumble forward to address climate change without the help of Republicans. Renewable energy is competitive with fossil fuels, so the market can help solve the problem. Thankfully, most of the other major nations do not deny climate change and are moving forward with policies to address it. Even if this happens, what does this failure by a large part of our government and citizenry say about the quality of the contemporary American culture? Republican politicians and voters need to show some integrity and join the effort to legitimately and honestly address the issues of climate change, renewable energy, and energy efficiency.

Mr. Dansby lives in Keezletown.

I Am One Of The Alarmed

Daily News-Record (Harrisonburg, VA); March 3, 2015
Open Forum
Leslie Grady, Jr.

fuelalarmAmericans can be divided into six groups, depending on their concern about climate change, ranging from the Alarmed to the Dismissive. I belong to The Alarmed.

I am an engineer. For more than 40 years I taught, conducted research, and published in engineering and science journals. I also was a consultant to major chemical companies and was employed by a large environmental engineering consulting firm. So how can I be among the Alarmed?

The birth of our granddaughter in 2005 focused my attention on global warming because I realized that if the scientists were right, she would experience significant human-caused climate change during her lifetime. To educate myself I first read two books, both written by scientists, that summarized the state of climate science. Then I began to read papers from the scientific literature, as well as additional books and documents prepared by expert groups convened by the National Academy of Sciences and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

I have a sound layman’s understanding of climate science. That understanding convinces me that humanity faces dire problems if we do not move rapidly and efficiently to limit atmospheric emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels. Since we are currently doing little, yes, I am alarmed.

An important finding in the latest IPCC report is that Earth’s warming is directly proportional to the total amount of fossil fuel-derived CO2 put into the atmosphere. This sets an upper limit on the CO2 we can emit while staying within a given degree of warming, i.e., it sets a CO2 budget. Governments worldwide have agreed to limit global warming to 3.6 degrees. At the current rate of CO2 emissions, the budget associated with that limit will be reached in around 25 years, a very short time within which to make major changes in our energy economy. This is another cause for my alarm.

If we immediately start significantly reducing our emission rate we extend the time before the limit is reached. PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that if we cut our emissions per unit of GDP by 6.2 percent a year we can achieve zero emissions by 2100 while staying within the 3.6-degree limit. Although this is a steep cut, it still gives me hope.

I love modern society and all the benefits that readily available and “inexpensive” fossil fuels have brought us. However, fossil fuels have only been inexpensive because their users don’t pay their full costs. Rather, they are borne indirectly by society through the impacts of climate change. The artificially low price of fossil fuels makes it difficult for alternative energy sources, such as renewable and nuclear energy, to compete in the market place. Consequently, innovation is stifled and it becomes more difficult to move ideas from the laboratory into practice.

In spite of that, many innovative things are being done that can revolutionize our energy systems if given a level playing field to compete on. These include more efficient solar cells, better energy storage devices, wireless battery charging technology, and even carbon nanotubes capable of absorbing the sun’s radiation and storing it in chemical form. Technical advances like these give me hope.

People worldwide aspire to a standard of living like ours and have every right to pursue it. However, if they do so with fossil fuels, we face disaster. Thus, we must put fossil fuels aside. This will be an enormous task, but we can accomplish it if we begin now. We must put a price on carbon. If done through a revenue-neutral fee and dividend approach, warming can be kept within 3.6 degrees and our economy can be strengthened. This also gives me hope.

Although I am willing to be called alarmed, it is time to quit the finger pointing and name-calling. It does no good to dismiss climate change as if it doesn’t exist or to rail against nonexistent conspiracies, as this newspaper does. Neither does it do any good to think the problem can be solved easily. Rather, we need to put the past behind us and create an environment where innovation can flourish.

Dr. Grady lives in Harrisonburg.

Find a link to I Am One Of The Alarmed here. A printable pdf version is here.

Les Grady is an active member of the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley Steering Committee. He currently heads up the organization’s Speakers Bureau. He served as Steering Committee Chairman from 2012 through 2014.