What Conger and Wehby Need to Learn About Climate Change

Evan Manvel

Refusing to tackle the climate crisis head-on is another way of saying: screw the poor.

Oregon is blessed to have climate champion Jeff Merkley as its junior Senator. Here’s how Merkley leans into the issue:

Our nation is addicted to fossil fuels. This addiction is bad for our economy, our national security, and our climate, and it’s one we need to end. The carbon pollution in our atmosphere from burning fossil fuels like oil and coal is waging a direct and unchecked assault on our farming, fishing and forests – the cornerstones of Oregon’s rural economy.

Unfortunately, two candidates with stone-age approaches are competing to take him out.

In his Willamette Week endorsement interview – see 1:08, Rep. Jason Conger frames his opposition to action on climate change as two things: first, skepticism about the computer models (though climate is one of the most extensively studied issues in history, there is scientific consensus, and Conger incorrectly equates weather with climate), and second, as concern about the impacts of taking action on the poor. Conger gives the example of carbon taxes.

Perhaps the best example of a carbon tax for Oregon is what British Columbia has done – to great success. And British Columbia included a Low Income Tax Credit – something Oregon could easily do, while adjusting for the experience of five years of BC's work. Sightline Institute reports in “All You Need to Know About BC’s Carbon Tax Shift in Five Charts”:

BC’s carbon tax shift made low-income families whole in its early years, it has since become mildly regressive. An expansion of tax credits for working families would make them whole again.

We can design a carbon tax system so it doesn't hurt the poor. But it is the impacts of climate change, rather than taking action, that will have a disproportionate impact on the world's poor. From The Guardian:

"People who were already disadvantaged, more of them are going to be suffering from malnutrition”... climate change would also make it harder for developing countries to climb out of poverty, and would create "poverty pockets" in rich and poor countries. It already has. Maarten van Aalst, director of the Red Cross climate centre... said the agency was already seeing evidence that the poor were being hit hardest in weather-related disasters.

Refusing to tackle the climate crisis head-on is another way of saying: screw the poor.

Monica Wehby is also wrong on the issue. She’s worried action on climate would “Devastate industry and cause ridiculous increases in prices.” While certain polluting industries could be forced to change, it is inaction on climate that is predicted to cause major damage to the economy. Sir Nicholas Stern, former World Bank Chief Economist now at the London School of Economics, found the world’s GDP could drop from 5 to 20% if climate change continues unabated, while taking action would cost a tiny fraction of that.

It’s also notable Wehby’s not concerned about impacts on the timber industry that she is, well, close to. The just-released National Climate Assessment notes likely impacts on the Northwest:

Changes in the timing of streamflow will reduce water supplies for competing demands. Sea level rise, erosion, inundation, risks to infrastructure, and increasing ocean acidity post major threats. Increasing wildfire, insect outbreaks, and tree diseases are causing widespread tree die-off.

It is inexcusable for a doctor to be opposed to addressing climate change, as its health impacts are broad and devastating. According to the World Health Organization, climate change is leading to 140,000 extra deaths a year, while boosting rates of asthma and cardiovascular and respiratory disease and threatening to help dengue and malaria spread.

Republicans are stuck in a hard place: between reality and their fossil-fuel polluting backers, with the anti-science base thrown in. They could, of course, go to where the majority of the voters including independents are, and demand action - or they could pander to the few who are stalling action on the greatest challenge of our generation. Conger and Wehby are choosing the latter course.

Luckily Oregonians have another choice: Jeff Merkley.

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