Good planets are hard to find - let’s take care of this one | GUEST COLUMN

Dr. Michael Soman -
Dr. Michael Soman
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It’s time for America to take the lead in leaving the planet in good shape for our children. A phased in, revenue-neutral carbon tax that returns all revenue to families, and a border tariff to protect American businesses are in our best interest. These are concrete policy choices we can make as responsible stewards of our planet. I have to speak up, and now is the time.

I recently retired after 40 years in medicine. I loved my work, but was tempted to change careers when I took an environmental science course 20 years ago. I became deeply aware of the impact of “man’s footprint” on our planet. I had two young children, and for their sake, felt a strong pull to work full-time on environmental issues. Ultimately, I remained in medicine, which was a great vantage point from which to see the relationship between the health of our planet and health of the people on it.

In retirement I will keep pursuing change that matters. I joined Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a volunteer group dedicated to slowing climate change. I’ve been educating myself, and attended a lobbying session of legislators in Washington, D.C. The data collected by thousands of climate scientists from around the globe can’t be ignored: Global climate change is real, it’s happening now, the escalating pace over the past decades is from human activity, and we must act quickly to alter the course.

The devastation of unmitigated global warming will include real human tragedy. Both the fires currently raging in Washington and the ravages of Hurricane Sandy offer glimpses of what will persist if we don’t act:  social upheaval, compromised food and water supplies, loss of coastal communities, new waves of heat-related and infectious human illnesses — all with crippling human and economic ramifications. We cannot afford political “business as usual.” The recent “Risky Business” report, co-chaired by three-time New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, and Tom Steyer, clearly makes these points.

The facts: Evidence from thousands of credible scientists is indisputable, we have specific steps we can take now to mitigate damage, and we have the technological and financial resources to act. What we lack is the will to overcome political gridlock. In part this has been because of the absence of a broad economic study supporting action.

The good news: A recent model completed by Regional Economic Modeling, Inc. projects the impact of a phased in Fee and Dividend combined with a border tariff. A key principle is that 100 percent of revenue collected from “taxing” carbon is returned to families. This monthly dividend, estimated at $288 for a family of four in 2025, would likely come through an existing process so administrative costs would be very low. Highlights of the model include (all compared to a baseline of no action):

• CO2 emissions decline 33 percent after 10 years;

• Overall employment increases over 2 million jobs after 10 years;

• Estimated 13,000 lives saved annually after 10 years;

• $70 billion-$85 billion increase in GDP from 2020 on;

• Real income increases of over $500 per person in 2025;

• Coal phased out for electricity generation by 2025; and

• Regional Gross Product steady or increased in 8 of the 9 US census regions.

(Note: REMI,  a highly respected organization which uses computer generated economic modeling, has been around since the 1970s.)

As the saying goes, “Good planets are hard to find.” We still have a chance to leave a planet where people have a chance to live in good health and make a good living. It’s the only home we’ve got in this universe, so we can’t wait.

Dr. Jonas Salk, who did so much to eradicate polio as a scourge on human beings, said “Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors.”  Let’s do this.

Dr. Michael Soman has lived on Bainbridge Island for 27 years and recently retired after spending 40 years in medicine.  He practiced family medicine for 30 years and for the past six years was the President of Group Health Physicians.


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