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Global Warming Must be Addressed

There are two enormous myths about global warming. One is that dealing with it is optional. The other is that the measures needed to slow the process will devastate the economy. Neither is true.

On the first point, we are already seeing major changes in weather that are almost certainly related to global warming, both in the United States and around the world. In the United States, we are seeing rising water levels eroding beachfront property all along our coast lines.

We are also seeing extraordinary conditions like the multi-year drought that until recently had much of California rationing water.

In addition, we have seen extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy, which destroyed hundreds of homes in New Jersey and New York and made many areas uninhabitable.

The story is much worse elsewhere in the world. The Sahara Desert is rapidly moving southward in Africa, depriving millions of people of the means to support themselves.

Hundreds of millions of people in low lying areas of Bangladesh and elsewhere in East Asia face far greater risk from storms and flooding due to rising oceans.

Global warming is a reality; we can’t solve the problem by looking away any more than we can deal with a weight problem by throwing out our scale and continuing to eat unhealthy foods.

Further, the idea that addressing the problem will devastate the economy is nonsense.

The price of solar energy and wind energy has plunged in the last two decades. Both are already competitive with fossil fuel energy in many parts of the country, even without subsidies.

Modest subsidies, coupled with modest fossil fuel taxes, would go far toward reducing our emissions of greenhouse gases. And these would hardly bankrupt the economy.

Most analysts believe that a $40 per ton tax on carbon would be sufficient to allow the United States to meet the commitments it made in the Paris agreement negotiated under President Obama. A tax of this size would raise the price of a gallon of gas by roughly 40 cents, not a negligible amount but hardly one that would devastate our economy.

And there’s a big upside to clean energy. The solar industry already employs four times as many people as the coal industry.

We need to both manufacture the solar panels and have people install them on the roofs of houses and businesses. This industry can be the source of hundreds of thousands more jobs as the industry grows and the technology improves.

The same story applies to electric cars. It’s great that we still have many good-paying jobs in the auto industry, but there is no reason that we can’t employ as many people – or even more – producing electric cars. Here, technology is also improving rapidly so these cars can be more competitive.

Addressing climate change should not be a tough choice. We can both sustain a strong economy and sharply curtail our greenhouse gas emissions. There is no excuse for President Trump’s environment-threatening executive order.

This column originally appeared in the Sacramento Bee.

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Dean Baker is the senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. 

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