Sunrise from Otay Mountain
Sunrise from Otay Mountain during a Santa Ana event. Photo courtesy UCSD HPWREN network

By Sarah Mosko

We have only 12 years left to make unprecedented cuts in greenhouse gas emissions if we want to stave off unimaginably catastrophic effects of runaway global warming. This is the warning detailed in October’s report from the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the recognized global climate authority which represents the investigations of hundreds of climate scientists.

A 2.0 degree Celsius global temperature rise above pre-industrial levels was previously viewed as the tipping point beyond which global warming would spiral out of control. The United Nations panel’s revised projection is that the worst effects will emerge with a rise of just 1.5 degrees Celsius. Preventing this necessitates, by 2030, a 45 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to 2010 levels, with “net zero emissions by 2050.”

At the current emissions rate, we’ll reach the 1.5 degree mark in 2040, producing environmental havoc ending civilization as we know it. Picture a future defined by food shortages, coastal flooding, mass migrations, ferocious storms, bigger wildfires, plus more unlivably hot parts of the world.

Americans should be outraged, demanding to know how our government will prevent this existential threat.

Infuriatingly, there are no signs that President Trump intends to do anything. He’s pledged to increase the burning of coal and withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris Climate Accord. He’s also unashamedly issued executive orders to roll back Obama-era climate measures, including those reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and limiting drilling off America’s coastlines.

No one should be fooled into thinking Trump’s administration is ignoring climate change out of a belief that climate change isn’t happening. The U.S. Department of Transportation was tasked with assessing how Trump’s proposed rollbacks in vehicle fuel efficiency standards would further worsen global warming and air quality. The resulting environmental impact statement projects a whopping rise of 3.5 degrees Celsius by 2100 without any rollback in fuel efficiency standards.

Though it’s maddening to think Trump could continue to undo more climate regulations, it’s imperative that the public understand that only Congress can trigger the sweeping transformation of the world energy economy that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to meet the 12-year deadline.

There’s agreement among economists (conservatives and liberals) that the only realistic solution is a market-based one that puts a gradually rising fee on carbon emissions worldwide to effect the transition from a fossil fuel-based to a renewable energy global economy. Congress needs only to pass a revenue-neutral price on carbon as it enters the economy (at the well, mine or port) along with a border tariff on imports from countries that fail to follow to suit.

Revenue neutrality means that the money collected is returned to American households in the form of a monthly dividend.

It’s the size of the U.S. economy that empowers us to lead the world to a green energy future, but nothing will happen without Congress stepping up.

It’s hope inspiring that a bipartisan House caucus committed to addressing climate change has grown to 90 members (evenly split Republican and Democrat). That’s one-fifth of the House.

Also, a House carbon tax bill was recently introduced by a Republican, Carlos Curbelo of Florida. Maybe the bill will pick up momentum if the people of Washington State vote “yes” on Nov. 6 on a ballot initiative establishing a statewide carbon tax.

As frightening as the predictions of the United Nations are, we’re not yet cooked. We can direct Congress to fulfill this most fundamental obligation to the public — protect us from the clear and present danger of climate change while there’s still time. Nothing short of the planet’s livability is at stake.

Sarah “Steve” Mosko is a licensed psychologist, sleep disorders specialist, and freelance environmental writer who grew up in San Diego but currently lives in Orange County.