Susan Davis marches in a Memorial Day parade
Susan Davis marches in a Memorial Day parade. Photo courtesy of her office

Rep. Susan Davis surprised and mollified a restive crowd of environmentalists Saturday when she announced that when she returns to Washington for Tuesday’s congressional session she will “be signing onto the Green New Deal.”

Her announcement was greeted with 16 seconds of applause, which might have gone on longer if Davis hadn’t interrupted it.  “If I may,” the San Diego Democrat said, “let me ask you for something on your part as well … As we are looking at specific pieces of legislation that have consequences and have the importance of people understanding why we are moving forward with this piece of legislation, why it is going to make a difference for the future, I hope you will all be there for that.”

Davis’s announcement came at the conclusion of a mid-morning panel presentation on climate change that she had arranged with scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, San Diego State University, UC San Diego, and the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. The panel was held in the Florence Grand Theater of San Diego’s High School of Creative and Performing Arts.

After brief words welcoming the panel, Davis went off stage to take a seat in the audience. The job of moderator was assigned to Clarissa Anderson, executive director of the Southern California Coastal Observing System at Scripps.

Perhaps not realizing that Davis had remained in the theater, one questioner jumped to the wrong conclusion. “I will address this question to the panel since Congressman Davis doesn’t have the courage to answer these questions herself,” said one young man. “What my question is, it’s a critical problem, do you support the Green New Deal so we put all our resources to solving the climate crisis?”

The accusation of political cowardice against Davis was greeted with cries of shock from some other members of the audience.

Another questioner asked, “Can you say unequivocally that the greatest contributor to anthropogenic (human-caused)  climate change is the burning of fossil fuels… and if so, what action do you recommend?”

Another said that she wanted Davis and the panelists to state that they support the Green New Deal, adding: “We need to enact this as fast as we can.  I don’t want to talk about what we do to adapt to rising waters, I want to stop it while we still can.

Panelists tried to answer as many questions as they could in a short time. They included Dr. Mark Merrifield, director of the Center for Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation at Scripps; Dr. Walter Oechel, Distinguished Professor in the Department of Biology at San Diego State University; Retired Navy Commander David Slayton, a research fellow at Hoover Institution; and Dr. Kate Ricke, an assistant professor at UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy.

When they finished answering, Davis stepped to the microphone and told the audience of several hundred, “I want you to know that I hear your passion, absolutely, and I have that too. I have grandchildren and I hope that they are going to have children some day and I hope they are not going to suffer from the effects of that (climate change) any more than any of you feels.”

She said that she has supported legislation in the past to enact a carbon tax, which had been urged by several members of the panel as well as audience members.  Furthermore, she said, she was a supporter of the Paris Agreement that committed signatory countries to take action to combat climate warming, and hopes that President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from that agreement will be reversed.

Turning to the Green New Deal, which proposes a high urgency program to totally switch the United States to the use of renewable energy sources by 2030 — as proposed by Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York — Davis said that she did not immediately sign onto the broad-stroke legislation “partly because of who I am, and the sort of deliberateness with which I look at many issues.”

“We don’t have time,” interrupted a voice from the audience.

“What I am about to say is that it lays out an all encompassing plan,” Davis continued. “That is important, just like the whole of government is important, to do that. But we also have to focus on the specifics and have the analysis in front of us. So, in the spirit that we really all have to have our hands on deck; we all have to be engaged; we need to have the energy that is coming from the community around the Green New Deal and everything else that is being proposed now that has merit – merit-based good science that is going to lead us, I hope, into a future that is [good] for all of us — I will tell you that as I go back to Washington after this very short break, I will be signing onto the Green New Deal.”

In her presentation, Ricke said that every ton of carbon dioxide that is emitted into the atmosphere results in $400 damage to the global economy. However, this economic damage is not felt on a proportional basis.  While causing $400 damage per ton, the United States only feels $40, or 10 percent, of the economic damage. On the other hand, many countries produce less carbon dioxide, but suffer far more damage than they cause.  India, for example, causes only 10 percent of global emissions but suffers 25 percent the cost, according to Ricke. The upshot of this is that some countries like the United States and China have less economic incentives to end destructive practices than countries like India, who suffer far more.

Oechel said that scientists have known and understood the impact of global warming for many years. It’s not lack of knowledge, but a “dedicated opposition” that blocks action to reverse the trend of climate change. These opponents, he said, are a “well-funded, significant group who support fossil fuel.” He estimated that the United States emits between 7 billion and 9 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year. Some of that COz  is utilized in photosynthesis by plants, and far more could be utilized if there were greater efforts to optimize the growth of vegetation both on land and at sea.  He said not only can the rate of carbon dioxide emissions be slowed, but actual emissions could be reduced.

Slayton said nations around the world recognize that by bringing electricity to rural populations, they can upgrade standards of living in those areas.  He said it will require “smart, innovative thinkers” to accommodate this trend, while at the same time reducing reliance on fossil fuels.

Merrifield said Scripps has been going through a metamorphosis. Now it not only studies what is happening, but is trying to prescribe solutions to problems like global warming.

Riche said one helpful way to ameliorate global warming would be to enact a carbon tax. Not only would it raise money to study the problem, but it would incentivize consumers to become more involved in finding solutions.

Oechel agreed a carbon tax is necessary, and said people who say the economic costs would be too great are similar to those who argued years ago that a 25-cent tax on gasoline would have a terrible impact on the economy. Yet, the same industry that argued against government increases — the oil industry — has increased the price of gasoline by over $2 per gallon. He also said that tax breaks for oil companies and other carbon subsidies ought to be eliminated.

Slater endorsed a carbon tax, saying that 40 percent of carbon dioxide in the United States comes from personal vehicles, 40 percent from industries, including commercial transportation, and 20 percent from various products.

Merrifield said he is “on board” for the Green New Deal, which envisions a tax on carbon dioxide producers.  However, he warned, “We still have to remove carbon for the atmosphere” and currently, “there is not technology to do it.”

Donald H. Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World.  He may be contacted via