Many Americans worry about the changing climate, but what adds to those worries is a sense of helplessness.
What specifically, can any person — or group — do to slow or stop the changing climate?
From the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., to the state capitols in Olympia and Salem, politicians are wrestling with that question and the issues it presents.
In Oregon, state lawmakers are writing legislation that would create a cap and trade program that would cover some carbon emissions. Though all of the details have not yet been determined, the program would focus on the 100 utilities and other companies that produce the most carbon emissions, usually in the form of carbon dioxide. As currently envisioned, these companies would pay money to a new state agency, which in turn would spend that money on eco-friendly projects aimed at reducing carbon emissions.
The exact impact of that setup on climate change is unknown, although it is estimated it would reduce the overall global emissions of carbon by something on the order of 0.12 percent.
A much more likely outcome is any of those companies that can leave Oregon will, and take the jobs they provide with them. It’s also been estimated that the prices of natural gas, gasoline and diesel fuel will increase, in some cases dramatically. Gas and diesel prices would go up 15-16 cents a gallon and natural gas prices would increase 13 percent within two years and keep going until they increase 60 percent by 2040.
All of which would work a tremendous hardship on rural Oregon and the nursery operators, farmers and ranchers who live and work there.
Greenhouses and food processing plants — many in rural parts of the state — use large amounts of natural gas to heat and fuel their operations. Many also have similar operations in other states. As the carbon cap goes down and the fee goes up, economics will dictate that those companies move elsewhere, costing jobs in rural Oregon, where they are needed most.
It should be noted that many of these companies purchase crops and livestock from Oregon farmers and ranchers. If the companies leave, so do the markets for those crops and livestock, which would then have to be shipped longer distances for processing, burning more diesel fuel.
Farmers and ranchers use lots of diesel fuel for their trucks and heavy equipment and gasoline for their cars. They also use large amounts of electricity and natural gas to power irrigation pumps. What Oregon legislators have not included in their calculations is there are no alternatives for those uses.
A farmer needing to drive 50 miles to town to buy a new part for his combine cannot take the bus or the Max trolley instead. A farmer paying more for diesel fuel for his tractor cannot simply switch to an all-electric or hybrid model. A farmer paying 60 percent more for natural gas or propane to run pumps or to heat his house has only a limited number of even more expensive alternatives.
Legislators say they hope to take the money the state receives and spend it on projects such as insulating homes and building solar and wind projects.
None of those will reduce the price of fuel or electricity, which nursery operators, farmers, ranchers and food processors need to remain in business.
Oregon legislators would do well to go back to the drawing board with their plans for cap and trade.
We need a plan that has a significant and affordable impact on the changing climate. A feel-good, ineffective and expensive plan that would victimize rural Oregon is unacceptable.