Editorial: Earth Day reflections

From a distance, they looked like gigantic Easter eggs. Oval and colored bright orange, these “eggs” dotted the shoulders of a short section of South Poes Road, at intervals of every 100 feet or so. But as the distance decreased, their true identity became clear:

Trash bags! Huge plastic trash bags, tied at the top, bulging with cans, bottles and other debris, picked up and collected off the side of the road by a good neighbor and caring Rappahannock resident. Next stop for the bags’ contents would be, appropriately, the county dump.

Presumably, other county residents or visitors should be held accountable for causing the litter in the first place. I say “presumably” because it cannot be proved, with 100 percent certainty, that humans are indeed the cause of litter. All that can be said beyond a shadow of a doubt is that there existed no roadside litter before there were roads and cars and the humans who drove and built them.

So it is with those who like to believe that humans have nothing to do with climate change. All that can be determined with absolute certainty is that since the industrial revolution, with the concomitant burning of ever more fossil fuels, the carbon (CO2) in the earth’s atmosphere has doubled to 400 parts per million. And there is no dispute that carbon in the atmosphere, a so-called “greenhouse gas,” is the primary culprit in global warming, with what may well be calamitous consequences.

While the benefits of burning fossil fuels are direct and obvious — power for our cars, heat for our houses, etc. — the environmental costs are indirect and have been, over many, many generations, far from obvious. These costs are what economists call “externalities,” social costs that eventually affect everyone but are actually paid for by no one, neither producer nor consumer.

To balance this cost/benefit ratio could be a carbon tax, which last week’s editorial suggested as part of comprehensive tax reform. The new revenue thus generated would allow for reducing corporate and individual tax rates, not to mention simplifying the tax code. With Earth Day celebrations this past Tuesday, the message seems worth repeating.

Walter Nicklin