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Close to Home: Facing the hopeful reality of a changing climate

We'd like to bring another view to the continuing climate denial debate appearing on your opinion pages over the past few weeks.

No one argues that weather affects how we live — even whether we can live — in our chosen place on Earth. And Americans are willing to live by established scientific consensus on such things as seat belts and cigarettes. But we find it difficult to accept the overwhelming evidence that humans are changing global weather patterns at incalculable costs to families, our nation and all of creation.

James Powell holds a doctorate in geophysics from MIT and was appointed by past presidents to the National Science Board. He has evaluated the published and peer-reviewed scientific articles on global climate change. Of 25,182 articles, 26 rejected human-induced global warming. That's 0.1 percent. Yet polls show that roughly one in three Americans disagree with 99.9 percent of the scientific findings.

Why is this, and what can be done about it? A recent study analyzed how humans filter climate reality through their core value system. People don't want to believe the science because it conflicts with strongly held views about the free market or the fundamental justice of the world. When facing a dire threat without an acceptable solution, people shut themselves off to it. Or they grasp at any shred of contrary evidence, regardless of how incredible its source. This is denial, one alternative to despair. We all do it to some degree.

But denial won't protect us from the reality of rising tides and parched reservoirs. And there is a healthy alternative to numb or dumb. The same study confirmed through controlled trials what climate advocates have learned through experience. Presenting people with realistic solutions significantly increases their ability to accept reality, opening the door to action to help solve the problem.

Two beliefs hold us back. First, that reducing greenhouse gas pollution threatens jobs, our way of life and the strength of our great nation. Second, that we lack the political power to challenge the dominance of fossil fuels.

These are illusions. We already possess the technology to dramatically improve energy efficiency and meet demand from low- or zero-emission sources. This strategy creates and supports from two to five times more jobs per unit of output than fossil fuels.

Americans have the talent to be the global leaders in clean energy, just as we are with information technology.

For the political dimension, we call upon Harvard Economist Greg Mankiw, an adviser to George W. Bush and Mitt Romney. He recommended "putting a price on carbon emissions" as the most efficient way to shift from fossil fuels. He cited a Chicago Business School poll of 41 prominent economists, 90 percent of whom shared his view. "Among economists," Mankiw wrote last year in the New York Times, "the issue is largely a no-brainer." Our challenge, he says, is "persuading the public and the politicians."

We support national legislation for a carbon pricing plan called fee and dividend. Fossil- fuel companies would pay a gradually increasing fee based on the carbon dioxide potential of the fuel they extract. Every month, 100 percent of the fee revenues would be paid out to American households in equal dividend checks.


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