By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Beyond that mention at the Republican Convention when Mitt Romney won a laugh quipping that President Obama had promised to keep the oceans from rising, it’s impossible to name one time when climate change dominated even 15 minutes of election news coverage this past year.

Climate silence image by

The topic of climate change has become so toxic, so controversial, that our elected leaders dare not even mention it. Like quaking students at Hogwarts, they fear to name You-Know-What, lest it come back to suck out their soul. (Oh, wait, that might not be possible.)

As a consequence, several environmental groups collected some 160,000 signatures on a petition asking Jim Lehrer to ask Romney and President Obama, during the presidential debate in Denver on Wednesday, how they plan to address the climate crisis. (Read more here.)

It’s all part of a movement to break the silence on climate change. And it is a long story how climate change evolved from an accepted, if alarming, phenomenon into a lightning rod for controversy. Read Climate Cover Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming if you want to understand how that happened. But I think we can all agree, the topic’s become taboo. You can talk about clean energy, energy security and cutting dependence on oil, but in the context of a warring planet, not a warming one.

Warming Glacier National Park, Lake McDonald (Photo: NPS).

Mention climate change, and our politicians brush it off like radioactive particles, or ignore the subject altogether.

We’ve had plenty of discussions about female anatomy this election year. But climate change? That’s politically dicey. Why, it may not even exist! What, you say the U.S. is experiencing what will likely be the hottest year in modern times, after recording its third hottest summer, which was preceded by an off-the-charts warm spring?

Thousands of farmers are grappling with career-ending droughts and our cities face killing heatwaves almost every summer. Wildfires jump from state to state. But it’s not part of any holistic change created by shield of carbon dioxide pollution that’s trapping the sun’s heat, because that would be…too scary? improbable? something scientists said?

I don’t get it.

Yes, Obama defended himself against Romney’s pandering to the convention crowd, retorting that climate change is no joke.

But then what? Nothing. Crickets. The story vanished, like those glaciers in Glacier National Park. And has anyone bothered to come up with creative climate solutions? Maybe even something that could also help us dig out of the deficit trench we’re stuck in?

Actually, someone has, not the presidential candidates or anyone elected to Congress, but three analysts at the Congressional Research Service in D.C..

They have calculated that a tax on carbon dioxide emissions of $20 per metric ton could cut the federal deficit in half in 10 years. (Or using the least optimistic model, it could cut the deficit by 12 percent.)

This carbon tax would greatly reduce greenhouse gas pollution, and to offset the costs to the end users of a tax on polluting fossil fuels, the plan could be crafted to return a portion of the proceeds to U.S. taxpayers directly.

How’s that for change we could believe in? Or as I like to say, change we can breathe in.

We could douse that deficit fire AND begin cooling the planet’s fever. That would please the conservative deficit hawks who worry that the rising U.S. debt will sink all boats and doom our kids to a lifetime of paying off excess federal spending, and it would thrill environmentalists who’ve been so frequently frustrated in their efforts to drive down greenhouse gases.

There’s one hang up with this scenario. Politicians will have to utter the word “tax” and also the words “climate change,” and they’ll have to fundamentally buy in to the idea that big polluters should pay for the license they take with the common goods, and further, be able to explain that to their constituents. That may be a stretch in the current acid bath of political discourse.

It may help that a carbon tax is not a new idea. It’s been raised before, and there are plenty of experts, politicians, economists and scientists, who could be called upon to help get the details right. The time seems right. A carbon tax, or call it carbon revenue, could unite those who are concerned about one or the other of two slow-moving, manmade potential catastrophes, the financial cliff of mounting debt and the climate precipice, which could end everything.

We should at least talk about it.

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