Position Statement: Heed Scientific Consensus, Decarbonize Economy, Pair Policy Innovations with Technological Breakthroughs

By Walter Borden

Science and Sustainability

We at Fund Balance are concerned that the only mention of climate change in President Barack Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address was “The differences in this chamber may be too deep right now to pass a comprehensive plan to fight climate change.”

President Obama, State of the Union address 2012.

The U.S. National Academy of Sciences states, “The world is heating up and humans are primarily responsible. Impacts are already apparent and will increase.” Greenhouse gas (GHG) induced climate change is a clear and present threat to our civilization and way of life. Its continued politicization is dangerous. We accept the consensus of the world’s scientific community which is summarized well by the American Chemical Society:

Careful and comprehensive scientific assessments have clearly demonstrated that the Earth’s climate system is changing in response to growing atmospheric burdens of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and absorbing aerosol particles. (IPCC, 2007) Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for—and in many cases is already affecting—a broad range of human and natural systems. (NRC, 2010a) The potential threats are serious and actions are required to mitigate climate change risks and to adapt to deleterious climate change impacts that probably cannot be avoided. (NRC, 2010b, c).

We further acknowledge and accept the conclusions of our medical community. The American Medical Association (AMA) urges that we as a society confront the health issues of climate change now.

Scientific evidence shows that the world’s climate is changing and that the results have public health consequences. The AMA is working to ensure that physicians and others in health care understand the rise in climate-related illnesses and injuries so they can prepare and respond to them. The Association also is promoting environmentally responsible practices that would reduce waste and energy consumption.

We see that escalating carbon emissions are seriously damaging our oceans depleting them of oxygen and acidification. Carbon dioxide emissions caused by human activities over the last century have increased the acidity of the world’s oceans far beyond the range of natural variations, which may significantly impair the ability of marine organisms to live. We realize that rapid deforestation increasingly impedes nature’s ability to buffer carbon dioxide concentrations in our atmosphere and thus keep our air suitable for breathing.

The time is now for President Obama and Congress to heed science and pursue evidence based policy formation in addressing the real and gathering dangers of Climate Change. Putting a price on carbon is a critical first step.

Economics and Energy
We concur that our nation must responsibly transition away from fossil fuels. We reject the notion that all forms of potential energy are equal in a world confronted with destabilizing weather patterns driven in many instances by atmospheric warming from accumulated GHGs. Oil supply likely has peaked at 75 million barrels per day in spite of price increases of 15 percent each year. The externalities, or outside costs, of coal are a major problem with this energy source and they are not reflected in its market price. While we seemingly purchase and burn coal cheaply, in reality society pays a much higher cost from the perspective of the present and the next generation. Those who benefit from this relatively lower costs of electricity don’t pay for these externalities directly, but the public eventually has to pay in the form of medical bills, real estate depreciation, as well as water and soil detoxification. We call on the President to commission a full cost accounting assessment for the life cycle of coal and all energy sources that incorporates these externalities.

With these principles in mind, we also challenge the conventional wisdom that Natural Gas is a cheaper and cleaner alternative to coal given its requirements for large amounts of fresh water and currently dangerous engineering requirements for extraction from U.S. shale formations. We challenge industry to meet head on the impacts of existing hydroelectric and nuclear baseload sources on fresh water and food supplies.  Safe nuclear still requires a massive uptake of fresh water and the limits of hydroelectric are evident in an overtaxed watershed. Solar technologies must reduce the toxicity of manufacturing and waste, and wind sources must be continually improved. Energy requirements underpin every of sector the economy that sustains our civilization. Only technological breakthroughs combined with carbon pricing can deliver the advances required for our common good.

We see that choosing strategic renewable energy development does not mean impeding job formation or damaging labor markets. We subscribe to the conclusions of Google.org in its report utilizing the McKinsey & Company’s US Low Carbon Economics Tool:

1. Renewable Energy Innovation Benefits Jobs, GDP, Emissions, and Security
2. Delaying Innovation = Delaying Benefits
3. Innovation and Policy Enhance Each Other

Breakthroughs in clean energy technology will reduce the cost associated with clean energy policies implementation, effectively growing the economy while decarbonizing our energy use. These challenges can be met by our public and private sectors. Such efforts will doubtless yield additional benefits just as the internet emerged from the space age.

Policy Making
We further acknowledge the world’s policy making community as codified by the Kyoto Protocol and the United States Department of Defense that has concluded that Climate Change should be elevated to a U.S. national security concern. We contend that since the United States only has ~2% of the world’s oil reserves that pursuing policies of further subsidizing their extraction is a waste of resources.

With this in mind we call on the President and our elected representatives to address the real and gathering threats posed by the climate change with the same sense of urgency as the national debt. Climate change equally threatens the safety and security of our grandchildren and future generations. The world’s food supply and its stability is how we generate and create capital in the first place. And it is thus a moral responsibility of our leadership to take action to address climate change.

To this end we call for all elected officials to cease the politicization of the consensus of the world’s scientific community. In 2007 senators for both major parities in the United States were working together to implement policy to address the dangers posed by man made climate change and the coming Storm Age. Since that time Scientists have re-confirmed the IPCC’s assessment and moved on beyond the basic result that GHGs are warming Earth rapidly. The Republican Party however, once the party of Theodore Roosevelt, a party of Richard Nixon that ushered in the EPA, has moved in the opposite direction. As the scientific evidence has mounted and been re-confirmed by major studies such as BEST the contemporary leadership of this important American political institution has moved away from it.

Lastly, we at Fund Balance acknowledge that philosophical differences about the appropriate response exist. We are committed to rejecting ad hominem in dialogue with those we seek to convince. Some question if anything can be done. Others argue that warming will be better for human civilization. Still others say whatever the consequences, the world’s economic stability is too dependent on carbon emissions so transition away from fossil fuels can only bring wide scale food insecurity and disaster. We peacefully disagree and seek to forge a way forward utilizing a blend of measured transition to renewable energy sources, with research and development of clean alternatives, in concert with sustainable policy innovation. Such approaches do not hold a priori that economic growth in any form constitutes an overall good for humanity.