Instead of adapting to climate change, let's prevent it

What can be done to prevent flooding in Ellicott City the next time a torrential downpour occurs (“Climate change lessons — town by town,” May 23)? Congress came to Ellicott City on Aug. 20 seeking answers at a "field hearing" of the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee. Sen. Ben Cardin chaired the hearing, and Sen. Chris Van Hollen and Rep. Elijah Cummings joined him in listening to and questioning expert panelists (“Maryland lawmakers advocate more funding to help flood-proof Ellicott City,” Aug. 20). I thank them all for coming. Ellicott City needs their support.

A total watershed study was proposed. "Flood-proofing" and "structural" projects were discussed. The price tag was high — at least $80 million. Even if the projects were implemented, they would probably not prevent flooding in similar rainfalls, only reduce the severity. And what if even more rain falls the next time? These are the dilemmas we confront when we try to adapt to a changing climate. Adaptation is expensive and often ineffective in the long run. Congress may find money to help Ellicott City cope with extreme rainfall events for now, and I hope it does. But Congressman Cummings reminded us that other communities across our land will need help too, not only his constituents. In the end, there will never be enough money to fix all the damage that climate change will cause.

Consider the old proverb, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” It's time to prevent further climate change! That means reducing greenhouse gas emissions that warm our planet excessively. And that means transitioning away from burning fossil fuels. Fossil fuels enabled our current civilization, but now they are hurting it, too. We fail to change this at our peril. Ironically, legislation that would decrease reliance on fossil fuels needn't increase taxes. Make it revenue-neutral or, in other words, no net cost to taxpayers. Charge a fee to fossil fuel extractors and importers based on the carbon dioxide content of the fuel when burned, increase the fee steadily and predictably, and return all net revenue to households equitably. Also, apply a "border adjustment" to prevent off-shoring. It's a simple proposal but powerful.

Various versions of this plan have been proposed. Citizens' Climate Lobby's version, "Carbon Fee and Dividend," has been modeled and predicted to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions while growing the economy, creating jobs and preventing deaths from air pollution. Although taxes don't rise under this plan, prices of some things will rise if fossil fuel companies pass on the cost of the fee to consumers. But many families will make money under this plan, especially low and moderate income families. Every family will be incentivized to use less fossil fuel if prices rise.

If you think that climate change poses a dire threat, please ask your elected representatives to do something about it. If you think a revenue-neutral carbon fee is the best legislative solution, tell them. But whatever your opinion, I hope you'll voice it through your vote.

Cheryl Arney, Ellicott City

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