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The Big Question in U.S.; Does Stopping Global Warming Mean Wrecking The Economy?

Nine U.S. states price carbon through a cap-and-trade system, a market-based approach in which polluters buy permits for each ton of carbon dioxide they emit. California has its own program.

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Students hold banners and posters during a demonstration against climate change in New York, March 15, 2019. VOA

When Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey introduced their Green New Deal resolution, Markey said it would be “the greatest blue-collar job creation program in a generation.”

President Donald Trump, on the other hand, said it would “put millions of Americans out of work.”

Battle lines have been drawn with the first major U.S. proposal to tackle climate change in nearly a decade: Does stopping global warming mean wrecking the economy? Or is failing to act worse?

In the coming months, Voice of America will explore the prospects for salvaging the environment without killing off jobs.

We will meet winners and losers in the energy transition. Our first stop will be in Markey’s home state of Massachusetts, where an energy transition is well underway. We will visit a town where one of the state’s last coal-fired power plants closed, shedding coal jobs but gaining a cutting-edge solar farm. We will see how Massachusetts’ investments in the green economy are paying dividends in jobs and economic growth.

FILE - U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) hold a news conference for their proposed Green New Deal to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in 10 years, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Feb. 7, 2019.
U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) hold a news conference for their proposed Green New Deal to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in 10 years, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Feb. 7, 2019. VOA

Though the Senate has voted down Markey and Ocasio-Cortez’s nonbinding Green New Deal resolution, the proposal has put climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions back on the agenda on Capitol HIll. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a steadfast opponent of measures to reduce carbon emissions, now acknowledges global warming is a real and human-induced threat.

Trump, by contrast, has called climate change a hoax and sees unfettered production of coal, oil and natural gas as the path to economic expansion.

Graph Showing rate of prevention. VOA
Graph Showing rate of prevention. VOA

Hotter, drier, wetter

Pressure is growing on elected officials to do something. The impacts of climate change are increasingly obvious.

Eight of the 10 hottest years on record have piled up in just the last decade.

Hotter and drier conditions in California helped spread the wildfires that caused $24 billion in damage and claimed 106 lives last year. Those fires broke the record for area burned, a record that was set just the year before.

A warmer atmosphere holds more water, making epic soakers like last year’s Hurricane Florence more likely. That $24 billion disaster followed 2017’s Hurricane Harvey, which did $127.5 billion in damage to Houston and the surrounding areas.

And this is just the beginning. Scientists from 13 government agencies estimated that if emissions remain high, extreme heat would slice $155 billion annually from labor productivity by 2090 as more days are too hot to work. Dwindling water supplies for cities and industries would take a $316 billion toll each year. Annual health care costs for West Nile Virus, just one of several diseases expected to rise with warming temperatures, would be $3 billion higher.

Polls show Americans feel the threat of a changing climate more strongly than ever. Seventy-three percent say global warming is happening, and 62 percent say it is mostly human-caused. Both figures are the highest since the Yale Program on Climate Communication started polling in 2008.

Two-thirds say they are “worried” or “very worried” about global warming. For the first time, that includes a third of conservative Republicans.

The graph showing voters concern.
The graph showing voters concern. VOA

Meanwhile, the federal government is moving in the opposite direction. Trump has moved to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate treaty. His administration is working to loosen Obama administration regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and vehicles.

That has left states, local governments and businesses to fill in the gap. But it will not be easy or cheap.

Pricing pollution

One possible tool: Put a price on the carbon pollution that is causing global warming in the first place.

Raising the price reduces demand for more-polluting fuels and encourages companies and consumers to find cheaper, cleaner alternatives, economists say.

Pricing carbon would also raise revenue that can be returned to taxpayers or invested in reducing emissions.

Participants walk past the main entrance of the One Planet Summit, in Boulogne-Billancourt near Paris, France, Dec. 12, 2017.
Participants walk past the main entrance of the One Planet Summit, in Boulogne-Billancourt near Paris, France, Dec. 12, 2017. VOA
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Nine U.S. states price carbon through a cap-and-trade system, a market-based approach in which polluters buy permits for each ton of carbon dioxide they emit. California has its own program.

And economic growth in these states has continued as greenhouse gas emissions have declined.

“There’s a lot of rhetoric about how a carbon tax or a greenhouse gas tax would wreck the economy,” said Brookings Institution economist Adele Morris. “There’s absolutely no peer-reviewed evidence that supports that assertion.”

But these policies are not politically popular. A national cap-and-trade proposal died in Congress in 2010. Last November, Washington state voters rejected a carbon tax.

And they would not solve the problem on their own. Pledges the United States and others made in Paris will not achieve the ultimate goal of the accord: Keep global warming to “well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.”

That would take a carbon price of at least $40 to $80 per ton, rising to $50 to $100 by 2030, according to a World Bank-backed commission. It’s only about $15 per ton in California, and $5 in the nine-state market.

“There’s an open question whether politically, it’s achievable to hit some of the temperature targets that scientists have recommended,” Morris said. “That’s the conundrum. What’s the willingness to pay (in carbon taxes) of the American electorate? How far can we go before we hit a wall?”

FILE - Kristin Cook, right, of Potomac, Md., joins a rally outside the White House in Washington.
Kristin Cook, right, of Potomac, Md., joins a rally outside the White House in Washington. VOA

Filling the federal vacuum

As Trump moves to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate treaty, many states are moving forward on their own.

Most require power providers to source a percentage of their energy from renewable or zero-carbon sources. Several have recently increased these requirements. New Mexico recently joined California in aiming to be 100 percent renewable by mid-century.

And the private sector is stepping up, as well.

After Trump announced the United States would withdraw from the Paris agreement, more than 2,000 businesses and investors declared that they continue to support the climate accord.

Also Read: Here Is A Wellness Guide For You To Quit Smoking And Drinking!

 

For investors, Lubber says, the economic risk comes not from fighting climate change.

“If we don’t stop global warming, we wreck the economy,” she said. (VOA)

Next Story

Conflict and Climate Change Largely Responsible for Rising Global Hunger, Finds Study

Climate change it says is worsening the ability of people to get enough to eat

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global hunger
Somalis fleeing hunger in their drought-stricken nation walk along the main road leading from the Somalian border to the refugee camps around Dadaab, Kenya. VOA

A new report by SIPRI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, finds conflict and climate change are largely responsible for rising global hunger.

More than 800 million people around the world are going hungry. SIPRI reports 60% are in conflict-affected countries. It says political instability and conflict-related displacement generate food crises.

The Stockholm research institute says food is often inaccessible to people caught in conflict. It says limited supplies of these commodities cause prices to spiral, making food largely unaffordable.

hunger, climate change
The report finds nearly 11 million people, or more than 43 percent of the population, are undernourished and in a perpetual state of hunger. Pixabay

Climate change it says is worsening the ability of people to get enough to eat. It says hunger is growing as crops and livelihoods in impoverished countries are wiped out by extreme flooding and drought.

The U.N.’s World Food Program reports Yemen suffered the worst food crisis last year, followed in order of severity by DR Congo, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Syria, Sudan, South Sudan and northern Nigeria. WFP spokesman, Herve Verhoosel says these eight countries account for two-thirds of all people facing acute hunger.

“Even in conflict-affected areas with limited access such as South Sudan and Yemen, when we can do our job safely and have consistent access to people in need, we can prevent the worst forms of hunger,” he said. “We only see famine now when our staff are not able to reach the food-insecure people due to insecurity or where our access is blocked.”

climate change, hunger
Climate change it says is worsening the ability of people to get enough to eat. Pixabay

ALSO READ: Washington Gives 1,000 Free Trees to Residential Customers With a Goal of Saving Energy

Verhoosel says more than 113 million people in 53 countries suffer from acute hunger and are in urgent need of food, nutrition and livelihood assistance. He notes conflict and insecurity are the main drivers of hunger in 21 of these countries.

WFP is the largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger. Each year it provides food assistance to nearly 90 million people in areas affected by conflict and natural disasters. (VOA)