A little over 100 years ago, two primary energy sources were horses for private transportation and coal for industrial use and heating. At that time, the only cost associated with cleaning up after burning coal came mainly from laborers disposing of coal ash and slag. The costs of cleaning up after the horses included street cleaning laborers and wagons. There were also indirect costs of health concerns when dealing with the stench, flies and associated diseases.
When the horses were replaced by internal combustion engines, the only residue was a bit of blue smoke and a lot of invisible gases. We assumed there were no cleanup costs.
The occurrence of smog (a term coined in 1905) indicated that the gases from the engines and the coal plants were not benign and needed consideration. In 1975, it was also determined that sulfur dioxide in the coal plant emissions was largely responsible for acid rain. There was skepticism about the causes and proposed solutions to each of these problems. Catalytic converters added to vehicles and scrubbers installed in smoke stacks were needed to address the environmental concerns. Some people felt that these remedies were unnecessary or too expensive, yet level heads prevailed, the measures were taken, and air quality improved.
In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson’s Science Advisory Committee warned that an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide could act as a greenhouse gas and raise the temperature of the atmosphere. For the next 35 years the problem was investigated by scientists from all over the world including geologists, environmentalists, oceanographers, meteorologists, atmospheric chemists and physicists. According to NASA, 97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate warming trends are extremely likely to be due to human activities. Most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position. Even so, there are still people who feel the problem is either nonexistent, not impacted by humans, or too costly to be addressed.
It is time to realize there is always a cost associated with cleaning up after ourselves. In the case of fossil fuels, this means we must deal with the carbon dioxide which is produced as a byproduct and which we have long ignored. One proposed method, which I support for doing this, is the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. We have the ability and responsibility to once again clean up after ourselves.