John D. Kelley
Editor’s note: John D. Kelley leads the Santa Barbara Chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby.
About three and a half years ago, our region experienced a pair of climate-related disasters.
The Thomas Fire originated on Dec. 4, 2017, near Santa Paula, 44 miles east of Santa Barbara. It quickly exploded westward toward our coastal communities.
Beyond the devastation of wilderness habitat, destruction of structures and alarming evacuations, the Thomas Fire significantly disrupted the functioning of our communities. Due to extremely unhealthy air quality, schools and businesses closed, and many meetings and events were canceled. Also periodic power outages affected many homes and businesses.
The Thomas Fire’s extreme intensity and size demonstrated the increasingly dangerous effects of climate change.
At its peak the fire burned at the unbelievable rate of one acre per minute. At 281,893 acres it was one the largest wildfires in California history at the time. On Friday January 12, 2018, it was officially declared 100% contained.
Tragically, the Thomas Fire also created unprecedented mudslide potential. The fire had denuded and destabilized 17 major canyons above Montecito and Carpinteria. Emergency officials warned that the potential for flash floods in the burn area was 10 times greater than normal.
A major rainstorm began the evening of Jan. 8. The storm delivered epic amounts of rain. Early Tuesday morning at around 3 a.m., the rain peaked. In the mountains nearly an inch of rain fell within 15 minutes.
Liquefied mud, boulders and debris raced down slopes and blasted through creek beds all the way to Highway 101. In some places debris even reached the beaches.
Twenty-three people were killed, hundreds of homes were destroyed or damaged, and a total area of about 30 square miles was affected. In the affected communities mud, debris and boulders blocked many streets. Power lines and water and sewer mains were damaged. Gas service was shut off due to hazardous conditions. There was no landline, internet or cable service.
Regional transportation was severely impacted. Amtrak service and Highway 101 from the south were closed. The closure of our main south highway prevented more than 20,000 workers from commuting to their jobs, mail and goods from being delivered, and tourists from visiting us.
Climate-related disasters are increasing. This summer the West has roasted, and torrential rainfall has unleashed deadly and destructive floods in the eastern U.S. and western Europe.
“These extremes are something we knew were coming,” climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe recently told the Washington Post. “The suffering that is here and now is because we have not heeded the warnings sufficiently.”
The latest IPCC climate science assessment confirms that these events are only a mild preview of the decades ahead unless the world takes decisive action to drastically reduce the greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change. The message is clear: Time is up to address climate change.
Now the budget reconciliation process in Congress offers us a chance for meaningful action to calm our climate. The reconciliation menu now includes a carbon fee-and-dividend provision. Our leading economists recommend this policy approach. It would significantly reduce carbon emissions, create jobs, grow the economy, save lives and protect households from higher energy prices.
A fee would be placed on fossil fuels at the point of production or import. The initial fee per ton of C02 equivalent emissions would be increased annually thereafter. Net fees would be returned to American households on a per-capita basis as a dividend. Finally, a border adjustment would assess a fee or rebate on goods traded with countries without a comparable carbon price.
Enacting such a policy would send a clear price signal to entrepreneurs and existing businesses to invest in a clean-energy economy and protect lower and middle-income households through the distribution of net dividends. It would also create jobs, as the dividend puts money back into local economies, and would discourage domestic businesses from relocating where they can emit more C02.
The U.S. and nations around the world must go big on solutions, or we will all suffer unimaginable climate consequences. Urge your senators to support carbon pricing. Let’s calm our climate now!
John D. Kelley leads the Santa Barbara Chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby.