The following is the letter we will send to your Congressional representatives:
As the 112th Congress draws to a close, we write to urge your attention to a real and urgent crisis: the climate cliff. The warming observed over the past 30 years is on an unsafe trajectory. Our global economy and livelihood depend on a stable weather system, safe habitation, and productive agriculture. The costs of continued fossil fuel combustion to society over the next several decades will reach into the trillions of dollars in economic terms, and mass suffering in human terms.
In light of the precipitous climate cliff, the current focus of this Congress on a manufactured and vastly less significant “fiscal cliff” is disconcerting. If greenhouse pollution is not curbed considerably, we will fall over the “climate cliff,” with organized society plunging into damage of unknowable depths. A plan that takes the climate cliff seriously should be the starting point for discussions on the present fiscal debate.
2012 has shown that climate change is not a future problem, but one that is affecting Americans today. Superstorm Sandy, a freakish storm exacerbated by sea level rise, killed dozens of Americans and caused at least $60 billion in damage. Sandy came on the heels of a summer that was the warmest on record, with unrelenting heat wave after heat wave. A massive Midwestern drought prompted the Department of Agriculture to declare the largest federal disaster area in history. In August, the National Snow and Ice Data Center announced that Arctic sea ice extent had shattered the previous record low a full two weeks before the end of melting season, an ominous sign of rapidly-accelerating climate change.
Five prominent think tanks across the political spectrum — the Brookings Institution, Center for American Progress, American Enterprise Institute, and the Economic Policy Institute — have introduced budget plans which include a price on carbon emissions that would help the United States address its fiscal and climate challenges simultaneously. If just one-fifth of the estimated cost to society of burning fossil fuels was internalized through a $20-per-ton carbon tax, revenues of $150 billion a year would be generated for this generation’s greatest challenge — ending our headlong acceleration off the climate cliff.
Policymakers cannot credibly claim to care about our long-term economic well-being without acting now to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The United States can prosper, create jobs, and bolster economic growth by redirecting the hazardous investment in fossil fuels into greater energy efficiency, increased use of renewable energy, and resilience against climate disasters.