Carbon dioxide is essential to life, but human beings have drastically increased the amount of carbon cycling through the atmosphere. When carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are emitted, they trap heat inside the atmosphere and warm the planet. The warmer the planet becomes, the more humanity’s delicate relationship with the natural world is thrown off kilter. This is why a carbon emissions plan is so vital.
While temperature and climate fluctuations are common over millions of years, the rate of this recent warming is unprecedented. We have already raised Earth’s average global temperature roughly 1 degree Celsius since pre-industrial levels. If that doesn’t sound like a lot to you, imagine how you feel with a 100.4 degree fever. That is a 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) increase from your normal body temperature. Just like our body’s internal temperature, a relatively small global temperature increase has a major impact on our planet. We have built a fragile, interconnected global system which hinges on a predictable climate to run properly. The margin for error is very small. These unnatural warming patterns are causing people and other species suffer.
On paper, stopping climate change is simple. For years, scientists have urgently been warning us to clean up our act, but they have been largely ignored due to misinformed and deceptive politicians and a disinformation campaign funded by the fossil fuel industry. But then, the realities of climate change became harder and harder to ignore. In 2015, the world came together at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris and agreed to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius as a planet. Unfortunately, the agreement was not binding and many countries completely neglected their obligations. The following year was the hottest ever recorded. Natural disasters continued to skyrocket. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC) released a report in 2018 warning that we were on track for warming much greater that 2 degrees and that we only had until 2030 to avoid irreversible catastrophic effects. But the scariest part of their report was their illustration of what a world of 2 degrees warming will look like.
As it turns out, even if we followed the Paris goals and limited warming to 2 degrees, it would not be a world we want to live in. Instead, the authors of the 2018 IPCC report suggest limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius relative to pre-industrial levels. There would still be plenty of climate-induced human suffering in a 1.5 degree world, but significantly less relative to a 2 degree world. According to the report, the sea level would rise 10 fewer centimeters, causing millions fewer forced migrants, and several hundred million less people would be exposed to poverty. But the most critical reason why we cannot let temperatures rise above 1.5 degrees is because warming is not linear. Once certain positive feedback cycles are initiated, we can reach climate tipping points that rapidly speed up warming. For example, trees are a carbon sink, meaning they absorb carbon out of the atmosphere. But warmer, drier conditions increase the risk of fires, causing trees to burn and release carbon, turning them from a carbon sink to a carbon source. The carbon they release causes more warming, which causes more trees to burn, and so on. Even more frightening is the positive feedback cycle which involves methane, a potent greenhouse gas 84 times stronger than carbon dioxide within the first two decades after its release. Methane is stored in permafrost and released to the atmosphere when the permafrost melts. This released methane will cause additional warming, and more melting of permafrost. Limiting warming to 1.5 degrees is vital to avoid these absolutely catastrophic consequences. In order to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, scientists agree that global emissions need to be cut in half by 2030. We now have a timeline. This is our final warning.
According to a 2015 study by Nature, an estimated third of oil reserves, half of gas reserves, and more than 80% of known coal reserves must remain unused in order to meet the 2 degree Celsius threshold. These cuts will need to be far more extreme to limit warming to 1.5 degrees. Our current carbon budget is dwindling. The most recent IPCC report estimates we can only release somewhere between 580 and 770 gigatons of carbon to have a 50% probability of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees. If there was a 50% chance your plane would crash, you wouldn’t board that plane, so the real number needs to be far less than that. But the math gets even scarier when you realize how much fossil fuel is left to burn if we continue business as usual. Our best estimates of the known fossil fuel reserves on the planet would emit over 2,700 gigatons of carbon if burned. That is roughly 3.5-4.5 times the amount of carbon we can emit to have a 50% chance of avoiding disastrous levels of warming. These reserves are currently on the books of fossil fuel companies and inflating the stock prices of these companies. Convincing these fossil fuel giants to keep these reserves in the ground will not be easy. This is why public policy is so important. Changing the incentive structure to reduce consumption and decarbonize the economy is the only way out of this crisis. If we want a livable future for today’s young people, we need to take action…now.
Fossil Fuel Subsidies
Basic economics tells us we should tax things we want less of and subsidize things we want more of. Too often, the opposite is true. A 2019 working paper by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) found that “...coal and petroleum together account for 85 percent of global subsidies. Efficient fossil fuel pricing in 2015 would have lowered global carbon emissions by 28 percent and fossil fuel air pollution deaths by 46 percent, and increased government revenue by 3.8 percent of GDP.” The data proves that providing a single dollar in federal subsidies to the industry that is driving the climate crisis and creating disinformation campaigns to cover it up is fiscally irresponsible and morally bankrupt. So why do we keep doing it? Because the influence of corporate lobbyists has over-run Washington.
The oil and gas industry spent $124.5 million on lobbying in 2018. In return they received $26 billion in direct subsidies and much more in indirect subsidies. Not a bad return on investment! It makes perfect economic sense for them to keep doing it, year after year, as long as Washington politicians remain complicit in their scheme.
Chris Janicek will never take a dollar from a fossil fuel company, and he will make sure your taxes aren’t going to them either. A campaign driven by the will of the people doesn’t have to take dirty money and bribes from fossil fuel companies to succeed. Already, in this election alone, Ben Sasse has taken $76,900 from oil and gas companies, adding to the hundreds of thousands of dollars he has enjoyed from them in his political career. Nebraskans are being deceived when they continue to elect politicians that claim to serve them, but instead are chained to the special interests of corrupt fossil fuel companies. Not Chris Janicek. Free to make decisions for the betterment of Nebraska, he will vote to end fossil fuel subsidies and promote economic growth in clean energy.
The removal of these subsidies will incentivize global energy markets to shift towards renewable energy. In fact, Forbes found that renewable energy has already become cheaper than fossil fuels, even without subsidies. As technological advances continue to drive renewable energy prices to plummet, these trends will only continue. We can build a more sustainable society, but we need leaders to stand for Nebraskan values, not big-money interests, in order to do so. Chris Janicek is that leader.
Removing fossil fuel subsidies only solves half of the problem. The other half is that the market does not account for the social cost of carbon. Excessive carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is what economists call a “negative externality.” Although emissions lead to negative societal problems like air pollution and global climate change, that cost is spread widely and thinly across society, rather than being internalized by the polluter. We need to change the incentive structure by pricing carbon so that excessive pollution does not destroy our environment and economy.
The two primary carbon pricing proposals are a cap-and-trade system and a carbon tax. Cap-and-trade caps the total amount of emissions a certain region can produce and allocates a certain amount to each entity. If one organization does not use up all of their allocated emissions, they can trade these emissions with organizations that want more. This creates a market for carbon and allows carbon credits to be bought and sold.
Carbon pricing, on the other hand, puts a certain dollar value on each metric ton of carbon emissions up-front to account for the negative social cost of carbon. Setting the price higher will further incentivize companies and consumers to become less reliant on the least efficient and dirtiest fossil fuels and spur the decarbonization of the economy. This is not controversial amongst economists. A letter in the Wall Street Journal signed by forty-five top economists from across the political spectrum, including nearly every Republican and Democratic chair of the Council of Economic Advisers since the 1970s, strongly urged the United States to implement a carbon tax as a cost-effective means to address climate change. The sticking point on this issue comes when deciding what to do with the revenue generated from the tax. Some want the government to invest the money in clean energy projects (or other federal programs), while others would rather give the money back to people in the form of a dividend.
While all of these strategies are commendable, this campaign advocates most strongly for a revenue-neutral carbon fee and dividend system. A consistent, monthly dividend turns a regressive carbon tax into a progressive, positive economic stimulus for local economies. A bill advocating for this proposal, The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2019 (H.R. 763), has already been introduced to Congress, achieving bi-partisan support. Chris Janicek will help get this bill passed, but he will also go a step further by advocating for a similar proposal here in Nebraska. Extra money in peoples’ pockets means job growth in our state will go hand-in-hand with cleaner air and water. Nebraskans will be able to breathe easier with Chris Janicek in office.
We need to do more than just emitting less carbon into the atmosphere; we also must remove it. Carbon sequestration can be divided into two main subcategories: biological and geological.
Biological sequestration refers to natural carbon storage in plants and soils. In Nebraska, the clearing of land for agriculture and industrialized monocropping has created many soil erosion and soil health issues. By investing in regenerative agriculture, cover-cropping, conservation tillage, and crop rotation, we can improve agricultural yields and create a sustainable farming system that will feed the country for generations to come. Our state universities need more funding for extension programs so that they can collaborate with Nebraskan farmers. With livestock as the largest segment of the agricultural industry in Nebraska, we need to incentivize sustainable ranching practices by providing tax credits to ranchers that utilize rotational, rather than continuous, grazing. Further, we need to promote the health and environmental benefits of grass-fed animal production. 36% of the US corn crop goes to feeding animals and the rest is exported or used in biofuels like ethanol, with only a tiny percentage actually being used in food products for Americans. The corn industry is heavily subsidized, a large cost to tax-payers, and highly inefficient. Moving away from corn-fed livestock will significantly reduce carbon emissions, be less water intensive, and result in a more sustainable product that Nebraskans can be proud of.
On the national level, we need to revolutionize how we think about climate change by creating federal job opportunities in ecosystem restoration. We also need to rejuvenate high-carbon ecosystems like peatlands, wetlands, mangroves, and grasslands. These ecosystems, especially coastal habitats, are more efficient absorbing carbon than wooded forests, and we are currently running against the clock. We need to utilize the wide breadth of scientific literature to make data-driven decisions and allocate resources in the most efficient way possible.
The second type of carbon sequestration is geological. This means injecting the carbon dioxide from industrial operations into deep-subsurface rock formations for long-term storage. This technology, by no means, is an excuse to not reduce emissions, but it does have incredible potential. We need to attack the mindset of scarcity that solutions to climate change are “either/or” and prove that they are “both/and.” In a crisis, nothing can be ruled out. The federal government needs to heavily invest in research and development in carbon capture & storage technology to keep greenhouse gases permanently underground.
Commitment to international climate agreements
The US proposed withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement is a national embarrassment. Historically, we are the number one contributor to climate change, and yet the current administration seems content to sit on the sideline and watch as the world burns. These are not the values the Founding Fathers bestowed upon our great nation. Enough! Chris Janicek will help return the US to its role as a world leader and frontrunner in the fight against climate change. Other countries are watching to see how we respond.
We must set an example to protect our common home, but we also must use our weight as the foremost global power to punish countries which do not comply to the Paris standards. Asia’s rapid industrialization and the rise of China means the United States only accounts for roughly 15% of annual emissions. This is a global problem that deserves global solutions. Rebates on countries that are climate leaders and tariffs on those who lag behind are a good first step. We can form alliances with high-performing nations like the United Kingdom, who have already decreased their emissions to 1888 levels, to pressure other countries to cooperate. This strategy can also help to incentivize the world to adopt a global carbon tax, so that private enterprises are met with the same consistent standards and cannot move their headquarters if taxes become too high.
Keystone XL Pipeline
The Keystone XL Pipeline is an abomination to our state and the world. A foreign company is attempting to abuse the rights of Nebraskan landowners to ship dirty crude oil through our state despite environmental studies and previous spills which have proven the pipeline unsafe. Nebraskans will not see the benefit from this oil and will only suffer the costs, yet Ben Sasse and other politicians bought and paid for by the oil industry don’t seem to care as long as their pockets are fat with cash. On a global scale, emissions from burning tar sands oil and clearing the thousands of acres of native boreal necessary to access the tar sands would have catastrophic environmental impacts. According to the world-leading climate scientist James Hansen, “If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.” All of this for the 35 temporary jobs the pipeline will create. Doesn’t seem worth it. Chris Janicek will not sacrifice the rights of Nebraskan tribal communities, ranchers, and farmers by selling his soul to a foreign company that has no regard for Nebraskan values. You can count on him to stand up to TransCanada and stop this monstrosity from scarring our state.
While the mitigation strategies listed above will be instrumental in limiting the global damage caused by climate change, the Earth will still continue to warm. Much of the carbon dioxide we emit today will remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years and contribute to the long-term warming trend. Additionally, the 2018 IPCC report found that even if we limit warming to 1.5 degrees, sea level rise will still continue beyond 2100. This is no short-term battle. We will be fighting this existential threat for generations, but if there is one thing worth fighting for, it is a livable planet.
Because of this reality, adaptation strategies must be included in any serious climate change plan. In the United States, almost 40 percent the population lives in relatively high-population-density coastal areas. It makes good economic sense to adapt. During Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans lost $161 billion in a few days. It is simply more rational to invest in sea walls, rejuvenate natural coastline protection like beaches, and upgrade sewer systems before the disaster hits. We will pay far less, and suffer the loss of far fewer human lives, if we plan ahead. After bring slammed by superstorm Sandy, Hoboken, New Jersey is now spending $140 million, with an additional $230 million in federal aid, so they don’t lose billions more in future disasters. Abroad, the Netherlands spent $500 million over 6 years to build flood gates that protect all homes below sea level. These are the type of pro-active investments we need to be making at home to protect our coastlines.
As Nebraskans know all too well, middle-Americans are not immune from the dangers of climate change either. The bomb cyclone which hit the Midwest in the spring of last year inflicted an estimated $10.8 billion in damages, including $2.6 billion sustained in Nebraska. As the climate continues to warm, unprecedented billion-dollar disasters such as this one will become more common. We need to invest in water management infrastructure, but we also need to incentivize farmers to build riparian buffers to both mitigate damage from floodwaters and reduce runoff of chemicals into our state’s lakes and rivers. Expanding the Nebraska Buffer Strip Program and making it more accessible to the entire state is a great first step. As time goes on, we must continue rationally analyzing the effects of climate change and finding creative and evidence-based ways to adapt.
Adaptation is not just about physical adaption…it is about adapting our mindsets and how we view this problem. Climate change is the one issue that affects every human being living on this planet, though unequally. It is a challenge that we can overcome only if we are able to work together and harness the creative potential of humanity. It can be either be a force that further divides us or the ultimate unifier. We get to decide.
Human civilization evolved in a relatively constant global climate. We built an interconnected global economy, industrialized, and exponentially improved the average standard of living with fossil fuels. But now we know that, in excess, they have been gradually contributing to our own destruction. It is time to re-build our economy with sustainable energy without sacrificing the great benefits fossil fuels have brought to our society. That will be a challenge, but humans are the ultimate adaptation machines. Will we learn to adapt quickly or knowingly contribute to our own self-destruction? Our ancestors are watching. Future generations will judge our next step. We’ve seen enough suffering. It is time to build a more sustainable, just, and compassionate world. It’s time to re-discover what it means to be human.
 https://www.theguardian.com/environment/keep-it-in-the-ground-blog/2015/mar/25/what-numbers-tell-about-how-much- fossil-fuel-reserves-cant-burn