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Opinion: Carbon pricing isn't perfect, but it's better than inaction on climate change
A wind turbine is silhouetted against the setting sun near King City, Mo. - photo by Associated Press

Starting in 1845, U.S. consumers could buy Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, a concoction ostensibly brewed by the maternal Mrs. Winslow and marketed in newspapers, cookbooks and calendars. According to its advertisements, it would soothe any human or animal and help quiet restless children and teething infants.

In 1911, the American Medical Association published, “Nostrums and Quackeries,” which contained a section titled “Baby Killers.” Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup was contained therein. Despite the AMA’s warning, the product remained available until 1930 when the federal government banned it. The syrup’s active ingredient? Morphine.

One could argue that the government has no right to tell citizens what they may put in their bodies, and no doubt the syrup helped untold numbers of Americans get a good night’s rest before an honest day’s work. Yet, I don’t think anyone could defend foisting the syrup onto innocent babies.

Today’s civilization has unquestionably benefited from fossil fuel energy. But now that science has warned us of the dangers that come with this product when used as intended, and now that we have access to alternative sources of energy with far fewer risks, one can’t help but wonder how a reasonable person could object to phasing out fossil fuels, especially since their harm will be visited upon today’s children as well as the unborn.

The controversy over climate change exists because the solution to the problem implies a need for coordinated government intervention on a global scale. Those who deny the seriousness of climate change do so for political, not scientific, reasons. It is taken as an article of faith among the free market crowd that any government intervention in the economy is bad because it leads to socialism, and socialism will make you a slave of the state. This is like arguing that all medical intervention is bad because medical intervention leads to drugs and drugs will make you a slave to addiction.

Switching from fossil energy to renewable energy is not a panacea for human suffering, but neither is it the road to economic ruin. It will, however, begin to address the problems caused by a warming planet. The least onerous, most effective path to renewable energy is through carbon pricing. Put an escalating fee on fossil fuel so that its price reflects its true cost to human health and well-being. Distribute that fee to all U.S. citizens to offset the certain rise in the price of products derived from fossil fuel. As prices increase, we can gradually transition to green energy. It’s not a perfect plan, but it’s a lot better than inaction.

Just as Americans learned to get by without Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, so too can we learn to get by without fossil energy. Let’s not foist today’s problems onto tomorrow’s children.

Brian E. Moss