Earth's climate will soon be much less hospitable for life as we know it with temperatures rising from 3 to 5 degrees Celsius by 2100 unless action is taken to significantly reduce heat-trapping carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
The current level of CO2 in the atmosphere is 394 parts per million (ppm), which is higher than any time during the past 800 million years. Scientists predict 656 billion tons of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere will bring atmospheric CO2 to 450 ppm.
That would result in increasing temperatures and a risk of large-scale and possibly irreversible changes to the climate system. With 32 billion tons of CO2 emitted in 2011 and the current rate of emissions increasing 3 percent per year, that would be in about 16 years.
The world is awash with inexpensive fossil fuels and oil companies and countries currently have reserves above and below ground that when burned would add 2,795 billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
No one knows what kind of hellish world burning all that carbon would produce, but it would certainly be more devastating and deadly than the onslaught of freakish Frankenstorms, hurricanes, tornadoes, torrential rainstorms, floods, fires, heat waves and draughts happening around the world now.
Scientists have calculated that 350 ppm would be a safe level of CO2 in the atmosphere. To reduce CO2 concentrations to that level and to keep global temperatures from increasing more than 2 degrees Celsius; emissions need to peak at 44 billion tons of CO2 in 2020 and decline to 37 billion tons by 2030 and 21 billion tons by 2050 or 40 percent below 1990 levels.
The United States would lead the world in reducing emissions to that level by implementing a "fees and dividends" system that places gradually increasing fees on oil, natural gas and coal where they are extracted from the ground or imported and returning the total sum of the fees collected to everyone in equal, regularly scheduled payments.
The fees would make alternative energy technologies a better investment and the marketplace would react by transferring trillions of dollars from the $27 trillion net worth of fossil fuels; to wind, solar, geothermal, water and energy efficiency technologies and hybrid or electric transportation options.
Returning the fees to everyone would keep energy affordable while stimulating development of less expensive alternative energy technologies and increasing spending and economic growth.
To protect American businesses, tariffs would be applied to imports from countries that do not have equivalent carbon pricing.
President Barack Obama should develop a market-driven energy policy that makes clean alternative energy a better investment than fossil fuels by raising the price of carbon with refundable fees.
He should then lead in building massive wind, solar and hydroelectricity farms connected to cities with smart-grids and billion-watt transmission cables. It is a much better alternative to building the Keystone XL Canadian tar sands pipeline.
That former would create jobs of the future from the emerging green revolution and provide global leadership in fulfilling the moral responsibility to leave future generations with a clean and sustainable environment.
The U.S. mobilized to build 229,600 aircraft, 5,000 ships and all of the armaments, ammunition and accessories for World War II in 1942.
The United States needs to begin building a renewable energy infrastructure and restoring the global environment by reversing rising temperatures, melting global ice and ocean acidification with the same urgency in 2013.
Mark Altgelt is a resident of Vallejo.