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Letter: Skeptics can’t change fact that climate keeps getting warmer
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Dr. Mark Farmer, a professor at the University of Georgia, speaks during the “Climate Change: A Common Sense Approach and Free Market Solution,” forum and panel discussion at Brenau's Hosch Theatre in Gainesville, on Thursday, April 12, 2018. - photo by David Barnes

I would like to thank all who attended the recent climate town hall organized by Citizens Climate Lobby. The program addressed climate science, the moral imperative to action and a market-based approach to dealing with the challenges of human-influenced global climate change. Despite the efforts of the presenters, there remain some misconceptions about the causes of recent climate change and the solutions to it.

Reliable temperature data dates back only to 1880. Before then there were too few land- and ocean-based measurements to accurately calculate the average temperature on Earth. Scientists agree that global temperature is determined by the amount of sunlight striking the Earth and the amount of that resultant heat that is retained by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  

Until the 1970s, it was still possible to attribute the planet’s overall temperature to natural events, but starting in the early 1980s that became inconceivable. Since 1980 solar output has been declining, with the most recent solar cycle being the weakest in over 100 years. Things should be cooling off, but instead they are getting warmer.

That is because the other part of the equation, the amount of greenhouse gases, has been increasing rapidly, effectively swamping out the expected cooling effects of reduced sunshine. In the past 140 years the last four (2014-2017) have been the warmest with the top 20 warmest years all occurring since 1997.  

The primary culprit is carbon dioxide, a molecule that is produced from the burning of fossil fuels and which is legally defined by the U.S. Supreme Court as an air pollutant. Since 1958, CO2 levels have been increasing 1,000 times faster than that of the natural rate of change. It is now clear that the only plausible explanation for a warming planet since 1980 is the increase in atmospheric CO2. 

Ironically some climate skeptics, who accuse climate scientists of being hysterical with their predictions, do exactly the same thing when they predict ruinous economic outcomes for dealing with CO2 emissions. The market-based approach advocated by the Citizen’s Climate Lobby would place a modest fee on the CO2 emissions of fossil fuels and return those collected monies to taxpayers to spur economic growth. By paying a fair fee for the waste one produces (think trash or sewage), we would create a level playing field for all sources of energy instead of giving away a hidden subsidy to the fossil fuel industry, which gets to dump its waste into the atmosphere for free.

In this economically competitive environment, alternative sources of energy such as wind, solar and hydro power would already be cost-competitive with most traditional sources. Not only that, but the impoverished of the developing world would have access to distributed energy sources that are not dependent on the building of an extensive utility grid or controlled by government monopolies. 

Our shared interests in the well-being of unborn generations of Americans compels us to act. Science, free-market economics and a moral imperative show us the way forward.

Mark Farmer


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