The questions about global warming keep evolving. In the Bush years, we were stuck on "Is it real?" (yes). The Obama Administration has moved the question to "What are we going to do about it?" which has all but been answered (a cap-and-trade regulation on major polluters). So, recently, the question has become: "How much will it cost?"
This debate has sprung largely from a Republican misreading (why not be generous?) of an MIT study that led pundits and politicians to cry about the perils of a new "energy tax" that might cost American households $3,100 every year. (Though that claim has been thoroughly debunked, I seem to hear it every other Saturday in the Republican response to President Obama's weekly address.) The author of the MIT study puts the cost at $800, while the conservative Heritage Foundation estimated the annual cost at $1,500 and the Environmental Protection Agency estimated the cost at just $140 or lower.
Hence, the debate.
Politics being what it is, don't expect the debate to stop just because a nonpartisan, highly trusted organization has released the definitive study. But it has.
The Congressional Budget Office has examined the costs -- and rebates -- being engineered into the Congressional climate solution. The result: The average household will pay about $175 a year. The richest among us will pay more, about $245, and the poorest will get rebates enough to make $40 in the bargain.
As the Washington Post puts it: "The costs would result from higher prices for carbon-based fuels, offset by a complex series of tax breaks and free allowances, new technologies and behavioral changes, and impacts on corporations and their profits."
Soon enough the question being asked should change again: "Are you willing to pay $175 to preserve the climate?"
It might mean you pay a little more for a car or a refrigerator, for instance -- as a new report makes plain the recognition that carbon dioxide and other well-known greenhouse gases aren't the only problem. Refrigerants known as HFCs -- the hydrofluorocarbons that replaced the CFCs we banned to save the ozone layer -- are a growing concern.
It might mean your electricity bill is higher (which may or may not prompt you to conserve more energy to keep your monthly costs flat). It might mean that consumer goods in general cost a little more, as the cost of doing business increases. If you work in some industries, it might mean a threat to your job; if you work in others, it might mean a hiring bonanza.
So the question is: Is that level of sacrifice worth it in order to preserve a climate that has supported life as we know it? Already, the rate of warming is speeding up beyond earlier predictions (by 2100, it will be twice as warm, globally, as previously predicted, according to one well-regarded analysis). Already, the Arctic is melting, threatening the lives of wildlife like polar bears and walruses. Already, glaciers are melting. These are remote, leading edge indicators of the changes that are in store in real time, and in moderate latitudes. Drought, floods, strong storms, heat waves, new diseases (both for humans, and for animals and crops), increased wildfire intensity and frequency, and a host of other ills are already showing up in the U.S. and will only grow more intense with time.
So is it worth $175 a year to avert the worst?
Enter your city or zip code to get your local temperature and air quality and find local green food and recycling resources near you.