Commentary - Earth in the balance: What will you do?You’ve heard it all before. The last 10 years the hottest since mankind started keeping records – about the time the Industrial Revolution gathered speed. Record floods displacing millions, droughts with thousands of cattle dead, fires destroying millions of acres of valuable forest and farmlands. The Amazon rainforest burned off by cattle ranchers responding to record beef prices.
By Jeanne Johnson, 7th Congressional District Citizens Climate Lobby, Alexandria, MN
You’ve heard it all before. The last 10 years the hottest since mankind started keeping records – about the time the Industrial Revolution gathered speed. Record floods displacing millions, droughts with thousands of cattle dead, fires destroying millions of acres of valuable forest and farmlands. The Amazon rainforest burned off by cattle ranchers responding to record beef prices. More than 17,000 temperature records broken in March alone. The insurance companies raising premiums because of losing billions in weather-related losses. Americans are starting to feel the early warning system of an Earth out of balance.
My own understanding of Earth in the balance grew out of an early appreciation for the wonder of nature. As a child I wandered my Iowa farm, learned the language of pasture and field, grew to know the scent of the walnut trees perfuming the summer air, gloried in fields bright with butterflies. I breathed it in. And the weather. It was always on the mind of a farmer. It brought joy or despair. But even the disappointments had a certain regularity. A balance.
Now we have lost that balance. In the era of human-caused climate change, I have come to realize that when we interfere with the balance of nature, all of us will suffer. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. We live here. There’s nowhere else to go.
A Depression child, I watched as others suffered the inevitable pain that life can bring. But this change in the weather is not the pre-ordained working of nature. We did this, are doing it every day. We can’t help it. Our economy runs on oil and coal and to a lesser extent, natural gas. We have benefitted greatly from this free energy, built the most powerful nation in history. Take away these fossil fuels, created out of ancient bacteria millions of years ago, and we would suffer total economic collapse. Yet these resources are limited. What do we do when they run out?
A tax on oil, coal and natural gas looks like the best approach. Small increases in the price of the dirty fuels would create an investment boom in clean energy – wind, solar, biomass – creating millions more jobs. Consumers would buy fuel-efficient cars and retro-fit their houses. Industry would seek ways to reduce energy use. Ask 3M and Dow about the billions saved in smart factories. And, yes, coal-fired utilities would have to either find ways to clean up coal or switch to natural gas.
Contrary to popular wisdom, Americans do care deeply about the Earth and its people. Witness the recent attendance at the Alexandria Eco Fair, the number listening to Don Shelby’s nature talk, the urgent questions at Senior College following Dr. John Abraham’s lecture on climate change. National surveys show that Americans care, wish to reduce our use of fossil fuels, and would support a tax on them even if it meant higher utility bills. Yet few of our leaders dare take a stand. They cower in their offices warmed by fossil fuel campaign donations, terrified of fuel industry retaliation in the next election, and lip syncing industry talking points.
A daring legislator has introduced a bill (HR3242 – Save Our Climate Act) that would enact a tax on oil, coal and natural gas. The bill returns the tax revenue to the American people with an annual check. Just like they do in other countries. Citizens Climate Lobby analysis indicates that almost 70 percent of Americans would be made whole by the rebate. Many low users would get back more than any increase in prices.
Only the individual action of committed citizens can overcome the hundreds of Big Oil lobbyists. In this, the Week of the Earth, are you one of those who will take this small step, a brief moment of your time to witness your commitment? Time is running out. Lester Brown has warned, “Nature is the timekeeper, but we cannot see the clock.”