Despite heated debate over climate change, we can build trust and find common ground. Many see a choice between environmental quality and greater monetary wealth. But climate change brings economic risk, and not only for coastal or vulnerable communities. Analysis by Power Consulting predicts Montana will lose about 67,000 jobs in recreation, tourism, and agriculture due to warmer temperatures, drought, wildfire, and other consequences by mid-century. These losses would cost us $1.8 billion in lost income. With such figures, environmentalists no longer are the only ones concerned.
But there’s reason for optimism. We’re already reducing emissions largely responsible for global warming. We’re shifting from coal-fired electricity to cheaper and less polluting natural gas and renewable sources. Gasoline consumption for transportation has also grown slower than forecast (3.5 percent rather than 15 percent since 2006). So despite adding 20 million people, along with millions of buildings and vehicles, U.S. emissions were 14 percent below 2005 levels in 2016.
These shifts reflect a changing economy and will continue despite the Trump administration's deregulatory fervor. As the federal government steps away, local governments, states and businesses are reducing their fossil fuel consumption, reflecting citizens’ changing will.
The Clean Power Plan was a top-down approach developed by the Obama administration to reduce global warming emissions from electricity generation. It was vulnerable to legal delay and has been nullified readily by Trump’s political appointees. Ironically, eliminating the Clean Power Plan (a primary focus of federal deregulation) may do more harm than good for coal workers. We’ll wave goodbye to job training and economic assistance for coal communities without necessarily easing economic pressures.
More effective approaches include congressional action, such as proposed by the Citizens' Climate Lobby: Energy would be taxed in proportion to the pollution it generates. That revenue would return to households in equal monthly dividends, increasing income and purchasing power for two-thirds of Americans, which would grow the economy, and create 2.8 million jobs.
Regional Economic Models, Inc. predicts emissions will be 52 percent below 1990 levels in 20 years, meeting international targets for avoiding the worst effects of global warming. Most economists support taxing carbon as practical and transparent policy, as do many small business advocates. Jeff Milchen of the American Independent Business Alliance says a carbon tax would be a boon to their constituents. “The price of goods transported across the country or planet should reflect the costs of pollution instead of pushing these costs onto citizens. If we stop subsidizing transportation costs, more local economies and community-serving businesses will flourish.”
In a time where bi-partisanship feels like an empty slogan, the House Climate Solutions Caucus (CSC) is showing promise. Founded in 2016, the group of 31 Republican and 31 Democratic representatives meet regularly "to educate members on economically-viable options to reduce climate risk and to explore bipartisan policy options that address the impacts, causes, and challenges of our changing climate."
A month after founding the CSC, Republican co-chair Carlos Curbelo of Florida hitched a ride on Air Force One, visiting the Everglades with then-President Obama to call attention to climate change. “I share the president’s concerns about sea-level rise, and its effects on our drinking supplies, our economy, and our way of life,” said Curbello. “I am committed to finding common ground to mitigate the effects of climate change.”
In July 2017, 46 Republicans (mostly CSC members) joined Democrats to defeat a bill that would have ended military recognition and research of climate change impacts on national security. This was a great start to rebuilding trust across political divisions and constructively working to solve this and other pressing problems.