Another Point of View: A Day Late and a Dollar Short

James W. Rhoades
Guest Columnist

With the election of President Biden there is finally at least some lip service being paid to climate change.  After four years of a president who neither understood nor cared about science, it is refreshing to have one who realizes the depth of the problem.  Whether or not this will result in any action though remains to be seen.  When I hear politicians talk about climate change and suggested solutions, I am reminded of my father’s oft used expression: “A day late and a dollar short.”  Politicians are expert at proposing solutions while at the same time claiming no-one will be inconvenienced and the changes will somehow pay for themselves.  This is rarely the case and certainly not with climate change.  If the Trump Party won’t even consider raising taxes on billionaires for projects like repairing and improving infrastructure, how will they ever agree to a carbon tax or other climate remedies?

Most of the things being proposed today (more wind and solar generating capacity, more electric cars, reduced subsidies to oil and gas companies, an updated and improved electric grid) would have been great ideas if they had been initiated 50 years ago when we recognized we had a serious problem with greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  Unfortunately, like the tobacco producers before them, the fossil fuel industry was very adept at first denying the problem existed, then claiming the science was uncertain, and finally, after admitting the problem exists, claiming that fixing it will be too expensive. But no solution will be as expensive as doing nothing!  Moving our coastal cities inland, and finding other food sources as western states become ever more arid will be astronomically expensive.

Unfortunately, many people may believe if we simply reduce our carbon footprint we can return to the past.  We can’t.  The world we have created is the one we must live in, and no matter what we do it won’t get better in our lifetimes.  The only question is how much worse it will get, and how fast.  Our current problems are not due to the amount of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases we are putting into the atmosphere today; they are due to the amount of these gasses we have ALREADY put into the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial revolution.  If we could stop polluting the atmosphere tomorrow, the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere would still be above 400 ppm (compared with 280 ppm before we started burning fossil fuels).

The question we must address now is how much worse are we willing to let things become.  Will we and our descendants be satisfied with three times as many forest fires, hurricanes, and droughts as we have today, or are we willing to pay to keep it down to twice as many?  Will we be happy with the complete disappearance of major wildlife, or should we pay to harbor a few specimens of our old world in zoos, botanical gardens and nature preserves?  Will a billion people in the tropics migrating toward the poles be acceptable, or should we aim for just a few hundred million?

On this last question, being a “Christian nation” that embraces Jesus’ commandment to welcome the stranger, I’m sure we will open our borders to the environmental refugees we in the industrialized west have created.

James W. Rhoades