Climate change hurts coastal Oregon, and we are already seeing the impacts, from warming oceans to sea level rise to increasing ocean acidification. The warming ocean is detrimental to many Northwest fish species, particularly anadromous fish, such as salmon and steelhead, and increases the likelihood of algal blooms and shellfish poisoning.
Sea level rise generates conditions that promote far greater ocean storm damage and flooding, increasing erosion and compromising coastal tidal flats, estuaries and marshes. Ocean acidification harms carbon-based shelled marine organisms, such as clams and oysters.
These hardships are tiny compared to the challenges our children and grandchildren face if we fail to act on climate change. Every reputable authority — from the Pentagon to the United Nations — warns that our current trajectory will result will lead to unprecedented social, economic and military crises. If we cannot secure a transition from fossil fuels before the end of the decade, it will not be possible for future generations to adapt.
Fortunately, the solution is in sight. Oregon has the rare opportunity to lead our country and the world with the policy economists and climatologists say we need. We can hold out-of-state polluters accountable for climate change with a price on carbon, either by charging them a fee or by requiring them to buy permits before they burn fossil fuels.
Last month, the Northwest Economic Research Center at Portland State University presented to the legislature their long-awaited study on the impacts of a carbon pollution fee in Oregon. It showed a significant reduction in carbon pollution and a negligible effect on the coastal economy.
Our problem is not a shortage of solar panels or ethanol or hybrid cars, nor is it an abundance of gas and oil pipelines. Our problem is underpriced fossil fuels. We do not pay their hidden costs when we fill our tanks — that comes later, in the form of emergency drought relief, hurricane cleanup and forest fires. If polluters were accountable for these costs, a price signal would reverberate throughout our economy. It would reward smart decisions and punish wasteful ones. Both proven and novel energy alternatives would attract new capital. Nothing but a price on carbon can spark the systemic transformation we need, and that’s because it targets the problem at its source.
The Oregon Legislature should hold polluters accountable for the damage they do to Coastal Oregon by making them pay to pollute. And 100 percent of the revenue should be distributed evenly among all Oregonians, because the natural beneficiaries are the victims of climate change — all of us.
Editor’s note: Camila Thorndike is the executive director, and Dan Golden is the policy director, at Oregon Climate (www.oregonclimate.org).