Opinion: New Hampshire’s climate challenges go beyond skiing

Published: 5/6/2023 7:00:17 AM

Wharton Sinkler of Sandwich leads the NH Lakes Region Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

Skiiers and ski resorts in New Hampshire are facing challenges as winters here get warmer and snow cover gets less reliable. While the climate impact on winter recreation is a serious loss for New Hampshire, there are other more alarming types of climate disruption that are occurring or looming in New Hampshire.

One major issue is rapid and accelerating sea level rise. Regional sea level has gone up seven inches since 1950 and is expected to rise between two and seven feet by 2100, according to a recent NOAA report. This will impose severe costs on coastal communities already struggling with high-tide flooding.

New Hampshire’s coastline is short, and much of our state won’t face a direct threat from even a few feet of sea level rise. However, we will inevitably share the burdens of coastal regions up and down the Eastern seaboard and will need to accommodate people displaced from coastal regions devastated by sea level rise.

Increasing summer heat waves is another serious climate impact in New Hampshire. This is already occurring, with broken heat records, particularly in regard to high overnight low temperatures. Extreme heat events pose a serious health risk, especially for children and the elderly, and for those who can’t afford to own and run air conditioners.

While sea level rise and heat waves directly threaten our citizens, New Hampshire’s natural environment is also facing changes. Cold-weather species like moose and Canada lynx are dwindling within our borders, while species like opossums, and numerous invasive plants, are moving in from the south. By acting quickly to reduce our greenhouse emissions, we may still limit changes to the plant and wildlife species that frequent our state. We should ask ourselves whether or not we could accept losing many cherished and unique native animals in exchange for our failure to curtail our fossil fuel use.

While this all sounds pretty grim, both for us and for the natural environment, we can still contain the severity of climate impacts. That will require decisive action to reduce our greenhouse emissions, primarily by transitioning away from fossil fuels. The passage of the Inflation Reduction Act in 2022 was a good start, but it’s not enough, and we need a broader approach than tax credits which reward specific technologies within narrow fields.

Putting a price or fee on the carbon in fossil fuels, paid by the producer, would create an economy-wide incentive to reduce fossil fuel use. Such a carbon fee would inevitably be passed along the value chain, raising prices of fuels and goods or services that rely heavily on fossil fuels in their production. That would create an incentive to replace fossil fuels wherever possible, since doing so avoids the increasing cost.

The carbon fee would start low and increase steadily over time, avoiding a jarring economic dislocation at the outset of the policy. Importantly, all Americans would participate in this policy, since by the time goods come to market, the added fossil carbon fee would be embedded in their price: you’ll be avoiding fossil fuels simply by shopping where you see better value for your money. Contrast that with the tax credits of the IRA, which affect only certain areas, and are used only by those savvy enough with the tax code to claim them.

Innovations that allow a good to be produced with less fossil fuel would become highly sought after, since they lower production costs and make the provider more price-competitive. Put that all together and it’s a free-market recipe for rapidly bringing down fossil fuel use, with a minimum of government meddling.

A carbon fee alone would however be a regressive policy, falling heaviest on low-income Americans for whom energy-related costs are a bigger percent of their budget. That’s why the carbon fee needs to be combined with a rebate of the revenue to households as a monthly payment or “dividend.” The dividend would be direct deposited to all American households, each adult getting the same amount, with a half share going to children.

The combined policy of Carbon Fee & Dividend makes financial winners of all Americans who use less than the average amount of fossil-fuel carbon in their total consumer behavior (directly in purchases of fuel, and indirectly in goods and services). Since low-income Americans overwhelmingly have smaller carbon footprints by this measure, they come out ahead.

The Carbon Fee & Dividend policy will put us on a sound path toward rooting out fossil fuel emissions in every corner of our economy. It is a fair, responsible, and economically sound policy that will pay handsome rewards in reducing the future costs of climate change. This basic policy design has been adopted in Canada, which in April paid out its first national Carbon Dividend.

It has had bipartisan support in Congress since 2018, in a bill co-sponsored by Representative Annie Kuster. It has also been endorsed by many New Hampshire towns at Town Meetings over the last few years, through the efforts of the Carbon Cash-Back Coalition. The effort to enact this fair and effective policy will be worth the benefits it will bring for our climate and for future generations.

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