In a capitalist society money is the score card. It serves as both the carrot and the cattle prod for the things we should and shouldn’t do. In the US, energy has been plentiful, and so the forces of supply and demand have made it relatively cheap for us to consume. Compared to other countries, we’ve taxed energy very little, further dangling the consumption carrot. As a result, cheap energy has fueled our economy, advanced technology, elevated our standard of living, and propelled our lives. It’s generally been good for us, or has it?
The undervaluation of energy has also discouraged frugality. The motivation to conserve, the financial cattle prod, if you will, wasn’t turned on. During times of plenty, the wine glass overflowed, and we partied on. We lined our roads with miles of inefficient lighting, where simply better reflective striping would do. We produced inefficient cars and trucks, while better technologies were shelved. Our natural gas lines leaked and continue to, while utilities turn a blind eye. At home we’ve left the lights on, the car idling, the heat turned up, or the AC down, all the while keeping everything plugged in. Without a financial score card, we only thought we had to pay the cover charge to dance in this party of energy indulgence. Little did we know that an obscure account was accruing our bar tab – and the bouncer coming to collect on that tab is Climate Change.
Since we’ve started burning fossil fuels, the planet has been accruing, with interest, the cost of squandering energy. Not in the form of dollars, but rather in the form of heat trapped in our oceans and atmosphere. This heat has intensified the extremes of our weather. Payments on the account are now maleficently coming due. NOAA reported that in 1980 the U.S. experienced 3 weather related disasters that individually exceeded 1 Billion dollars in damages. Flooding, drought and a tropical cyclone in 1980 ran up a collective tab, in today’s dollars, of $35.9 Billion. Since then, the annual average number of events has quadrupled! As of 2010, we now average 13 of these annual disasters. 2017 was a banner year, topping 16 events, totaling $306.2 Billion – nearly 10 times that of 1980.
So, who is picking up the tab? Well, we are. Don’t believe that while your home here in New England was spared, and far-away places like south Florida, Houston and Puerto Rico were devastated, and parts of California dried, burned, flooded and then slid away, that you are excluded from paying for those disasters. The cost of Insurance losses alone will seep into every homeowner’s, car, health and life insurance policy that is being sold, including yours. The cost of the Federal Government’s response will be heaped upon our national deficit; concerns about which affect the funding of other federal programs that might be important to you. The other costs I haven’t touched upon, like human deaths, suffering, refugees, disease, and economic losses compound the interest being paid; further stressing our society and economy. The IV supply shortage that coincided with this winter’s flu season is one small example; as hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico (which is still without power) was a major supplier.
So, what can we do? It’s easy to feel small and helpless in the face of a global problem that even our own federal government fails to acknowledge, let alone tackle. Fortunately, we live in Massachusetts and the state is thinking differently about the problem. Legislation is being considered to steer society away from the carbon-based fuels that drive Climate Change. It would essentially assign a cost, or tax, to consuming carbon-based energy – that’s the cattle prod. The carrot comes in the form of a dividend derived from that tax to be paid directly back to residents, households, businesses, municipalities or some combination thereof. Those details still need to be worked out. The point is, we have an opportunity to employ a mechanism that assigns climate related costs to the use of fossil fuels, and then returns those moneys to us – not the State’s general fund. The dollars can then be used to further our adaptation efforts, or our transition to renewable technologies, or it can be saved or simply used to buy groceries. If you think this is a good idea, Google “Find My Legislator Mass” and let your representative know you support such an effort.
Our carbon-based energy gala is nearing its end, the hangover is setting in, and the bouncer is looking to settle the account. We think Massachusetts needs to set an example, as it did with healthcare, and be a leader in the battle against Climate Change. We hope you might agree.