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In our opinion: Stewardship and innovation should fight off climate change effects

A firefighter keeps an eye on a controlled fire as they work at building a containment line at a wildfire near Bodalla, Australia, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020. Authorities are using relatively benign conditions forecast in southeast Australia for a week or more to consolidate containment lines around scores of fires that are likely to burn for weeks without heavy rainfall.
Rick Rycroft, Associated Press

Scientists say 2019 was the second-hottest year on record for the surface of planet Earth, dating at least to when modern record-keeping began in 1880.

But the hottest year on record was 2016, and the past five years have been the warmest of the last 140.

Two independent analyses, by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, reached this conclusion, with a NASA official noting, “Every decade since the 1960s clearly has been warmer than the one before.” Given variations in measuring capabilities through the years, NASA said its data is accurate to within 0.1 degrees Fahrenheit, or a 95% level of certainty.

The warming trend is hard to deny, and this change has manifested itself in various ways, from prolonged droughts in the interior Western United States to intensified storms and catastrophic fires in various places. These studies were released about the same time the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences was publishing a study that compared the amount of heat placed into the oceans by human activity since 1950 to the equivalent of more than 3 billion atomic bombs.

And yet it makes little sense to attack this problem with government-imposed restrictions that harm economic activity and stifle innovation. Spurring innovation in the private sector would do more, quicker, than anything else.

Nearly two years ago, CEOs representing 13 U.S. and global Fortune 500 companies or their subsidiaries, and four environmental groups, joined in calling for a carbon pricing policy of some sort to reduce emissions as cheaply as possible.

As reported by the World Resources Institute, their statement urged Congress to find solutions that support the economy’s competitiveness and that could be applied fairly.

A carbon tax would be applied to the act of burning carbon-based fuels such as oil, coal or gas. Under some plans, the government could issue a permit or certificate allowing a company to burn a certain amount, and these could be bought or sold on the open market. Buyers and sellers could form an exchange for this purpose. Companies with such permits would have an economic incentive to emit less and to profit from the sale of their certificates, which would, in turn, give them an incentive to be more innovative.

The United States, according to a report from the global risk-assessment and consulting firm Verisk Maplecroft, has 4% of the world’s population, yet generates 12% of the planet’s garbage. Trash ends up decomposing, creating methane gas and carbon dioxide. Clearly, there is much room for improvement.

We know “global climate change” — the words themselves — have been used as political weapons. Enough of that. It’s time for both the public and private sector to work together to find solutions born from proper land stewardship and innovation. Those are two principles long associated with the ability of Utahns to draw water from a desert and build one of the nation’s great economies through hard work and innovation.