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On the heels of urgent climate change report, Washington scientists urge passage of carbon fee

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More than 60 leading climate scientists and health experts, most of them from Washington state, are urging support for a carbon fee on the November ballot.

In their support of Initiative 1631, the group released an open letter today, stating in part:

Global temperatures are higher than ever in human history, the consequences of which we already see in increased flooding, more frequent heat waves, and melting glaciers. If we continue emitting heat-trapping pollution, our climate will soon be far outside the range of human experience. Today’s actions can protect our children for generations to come.

As we outlined last week, the initiative would put a fee on carbon starting in 2020 at $15 per metric ton, and is expected to collect $2.3 billion in its first five years, according to the state Office of Financial Management.

It would be a first-in-the-nation fee on carbon pollution if voters pass it, and the money collected would go to pay for a variety of projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution, make investments in the state's natural resources to help them be more resilient to the effects of climate change and provide assistance to communities, both helping low-income households with energy-related upgrades and transitioning workers away from fossil fuel jobs.

Their letter comes on the heels of a United Nations climate report that informed the world this week there is far less time (like, just a little more than a decade) to seriously address global warming if humans are going to keep negative impacts to a reasonable level.

Opponents to the fee include most major fossil fuel companies, who have pitched more than $21.3 million into the fight to stop the measure, which they argue wouldn't necessarily reduce pollution, exempts some of the larger polluters in the state and would cost families an extra $10 to $20 per month in higher gasoline and home heating prices.

The U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report notes there would be drastic differences if the world manages to hold warming to only 1.5 degrees celsius instead of 2 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels. We’ve already hit 1 degree celsius above those levels.

Some of the impacts will still be severe regardless, but some plant and animal life can actually stand a chance of survival with a lower level of warming, according to examples in the report.

“The likelihood of an Arctic Ocean free of sea ice in summer would be once per century with global warming of 1.5 degrees celsius, compared with at least once per decade with 2 degrees celsius," the report says. "Coral reefs would decline by 70-90 percent with global warming of 1.5 degrees celsius, whereas virtually all (more than 99 percent) would be lost with 2 degrees celsius.”

Some of the measures needed to prevent warming of more than 1.5 degrees celsius include immediate cutbacks on carbon pollution, which supporters of I-1631 say would be helped by the carbon fee.

In their letter, the scientists in support of I-1631, say:

The need to protect our environment is urgent.

​I-1631 will accelerate Washington’s transition to a clean energy economy and set an example for the nation.