President Reagan’s “Insurance Policy”

November 14, 2016

You may remember the big environmental issue of the 1980s, namely ozone depletion in the

upper atmosphere – the famous “ozone hole”. If Earth had lost its ozone layer, all life outside of

caves would have been zapped and obliterated by UV rays. This was a very serious threat to life

on Earth, and involved chemicals, chlorofluorocarbons, that until then were considered harmless.

That situation is in many ways similar to the present environmental concern, namely climate

change caused mostly by an excess of carbon dioxide, a harmless gas that plants use and we

breathe out every day. The truth is that the excess of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, now 46%

above pre-industrial levels, has come almost entirely from burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, and

natural gas) as well as other land-use changes including deforestation. Now, our entire economy

has come to depend on fossil fuels for power.

Climate change and global warming are already upon us, melting ice from Greenland and

Antarctica, and warming the oceans. As predicted, sea levels are rising worldwide. Climate

models predict a more significant rise in sea levels of several feet by the end of this century.

Given that most of the world’s largest cities are coastal, such a rise will inevitably result in a

flood of refugees.

President Reagan saw the need for what he called “an insurance policy” to deal with the ozone

hole. It became the Montreal Protocol. This is what he said when he signed it in 1988.

“I am pleased to sign the instrument of ratification for the Montreal protocol on

substances that deplete the ozone layer. The protocol marks an important milestone for

the future quality of the global environment and for the health and well-being of all

peoples of the world.

Unanimous approval of the protocol by the Senate demonstrated to the world community

this country's willingness to act promptly and decisively in carrying out its commitments

to protect the stratospheric ozone layer from the damaging effects of

chlorofluorocarbons… Our immediate challenge, having come this far, is to promote

prompt ratification by every signatory nation.

The Montreal protocol, negotiated under the auspices of the United Nations Environment

Programme…requires countries that are parties to reduce production and consumption of

major ozone-depleting chemicals by 50 percent by 1999. It creates incentives for new

technologies…and establishes an ongoing process for review of new scientific data and of

technical and economic developments… The United States will give the highest priority

to analyzing and assessing the latest research findings.”

Reagan summarized as follows: “The Montreal protocol is a model of cooperation. It is a product

of the recognition and international consensus that ozone depletion is a global problem, both in

terms of its causes and its effects. The protocol is the result of an extraordinary process of

scientific study, negotiations among representatives of the business and environmental

communities, and international diplomacy. It is a monumental achievement.”

More recently, George Shultz, an economist and President Reagan’s Secretary of the Treasury

and then Secretary of State, co-wrote the proposal known as Carbon Fee & Dividend as a

market-based mechanism for dealing with climate change.

It’s relatively simple to understand. It’s basically a tax-based incentive program to get us to do

the right thing, namely to reduce our “carbon footprint.” In other words, to reduce the carbon

dioxide emissions that come from our lifestyle choices.

Just as our current tax system incentivizes home ownership by giving a tax deduction on home

mortgages, CF&D puts a steadily rising price on all fossil fuels, based upon their CO2 emissions.

The Fee would be imposed as close to the source as possible, and rebated back to everyone

equally so as to cover the increased costs of fossil fuels.

CF&D is a “revenue neutral” proposal and won’t increase the size of government. Instead it has

the potential to build a scientific, technical and industrial revolution by switching to new sources

of energy to power our lifestyles. As such it would build the economy and add new jobs and

would make America great again.

At the very least our new President and government should follow Pres. Reagan’s thinking that

we need an “insurance policy” to deal with climate change, which is arguably the environmental

issue of our time as the ozone hole was in his.

Peter Garrett, PhD in Earth science, is on the Sustain Mid Maine Coalition’s Board of Directors

and serves on its Energy and Public Policy Teams. He is also statewide coordinator for Citizens’

Climate Lobby, which advocates for passage of Carbon Fee & Dividend by Congress.

Last modified: March 7, 2017

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