The Price of Carbon

FILE - In this Dec. 16, 2009 file photo, steam and smoke rise from a coal burning power plant in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. A Un
FILE - In this Dec. 16, 2009 file photo, steam and smoke rise from a coal burning power plant in Gelsenkirchen, Germany. A United Nations report on rising greenhouse gas emissions reminded world governments Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2012 that their efforts to fight climate change are far from enough to meet their stated goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees C (3.6 F). (AP Photo/Martin Meissner, File)

It's past time for a real conversation about carbon pollution, and how much we are already paying.

The science is settled: We know that carbon pollution from dirty energy is disrupting our climate. We know that as a result, we have greatly increased our risk of disastrous dirty weather events like superstorms on the East Coast, droughts in the Midwest, record heat in Australia, and rising sea levels swallowing islands in the Bay of Bengal.

We know what's happening, and we know why. But when talk finally turns to solutions, we always hear the same refrain: We can't afford to do anything about climate change.

Here's the reality, however: What we really can't afford to do is nothing.

Amid the partisan fights in Washington, D.C. over the budget and our weak economy, what gets lost is the fact that each year, climate change already costs U.S. taxpayers billions of dollars. In 2012, the combined bill for Superstorm Sandy and the droughts stretching across the Midwest reached nearly $100 billion. The costs of climate change are many -- from the cost of disaster cleanups, to rising insurance rates, to infrastructure damage, to harmful effects on our health. These numbers don't even begin to account for the human costs for homeowners left to pick through the splintered remains of their homes, or farmers forced to watch their crops slowly fail and their way of life slip away.

We simply can't afford to watch the cost of carbon pollution continue to spiral out of control. We have to start talking about solutions, and the conversation has to begin with the source: the dirty energy industry. For more than a century, fossil fuel companies have been freely polluting the atmosphere with 90 million tons of carbon every day while the rest of us have paid the costs.

After years of paying the price of carbon, it's time to put a price on carbon.

The basic idea of a price on carbon is simple: Dirty energy companies must pay for the carbon pollution that costs the rest of us so much. A price on carbon establishes, at the most basic level, an economic disincentive to pollute, and uses market forces to encourage innovation and development of clean energy solutions.

The call for a price on carbon is gaining momentum around the world. China has announced plans to introduce a tax on carbon pollution, and South Africa will follow suit in 2015. Australia -- just emerging from an "angry summer" of record-breaking heat -- implemented its own price on carbon last year, and in the first six months saw an 8.6 percent drop in carbon pollution in its electricity sector and growth in renewable energy use. Here in the United States, California this year launched what is known as a "cap-and-trade" program to establish a carbon price and give industry a flexible way to comply.

These examples are only a taste of what's happening around the world. Now, we need to jump-start the conversation about the cost of carbon and the clean energy solutions that are at hand in the U.S.

So talk to your family and friends. Reach out to your social networks. Share our video. It's time to talk about the true cost of carbon pollution, in order to fast-track the solutions.