Tax. It's a small word that nobody likes. Taxes may not work smoothly, but tax revenues run the country.

Carbon. It's the basis of all life, so why would anybody want to tax it? Let's see.

Your home thermostat is centrally located. When it goes on or off, based on ambient temperature, there's a lag before room temperatures throughout the house adjust.

In the northern hemisphere the longest day of the year, the summer solstice, occurs around June 20, but the warmest days occur from July into early September, depending on region. This is the lag of the seasons.

Carbon, carbon dioxide specifically, is that stuff we exhale and which plants happily "breathe in." The "exhaling" of our industrial society has put more CO2 into the atmosphere, more than plants can absorb to moderate Earth's climate, and we've been doing it since before our nation was born.

Excess CO2 and similar carbon-based gases have created an atmospheric "blanket" of greenhouse gases that continue to warm our planet. It's called anthropogenic global warming, and it drives our changing climate.

Anthropogenic global warming provides a more ominous example of lag. In an ideal world, a CO2 thermostat would magically turn off carbon emissions when CO2 levels get too high. Yet, even if we could achieve zero emissions today, residual CO2 already in the atmosphere will continue to heat the planet until greenhouse gases return to pre-industrial levels, an indeterminately long time.

Now, that's a lag: The predicament confronting humankind is incomprehensible, as well as indeterminate.

Astrophysicist Adam Frank of the University of Rochester recently outlined why the predicament is incomprehensible: He writes that enough of us have not yet understood "the meaning of what's happening to us and the planet .What we don't get is the true planetary context of the planetary transformation human civilization is driving."

Frank observes, "On a fundamental level we don't really understand" the problem of climate change. Man's cumulative impact is so significant, he states, that we've pushed Earth "out of the Holocene and into the Anthropocene, an entirely new geological epoch."

In a conclusion reminiscent of the "Gaia hypothesis" proposed in 1973, Frank suggests we might yet make it if we develop "the maturity to 'think like a planet' or the planet will just move on without us."

One small, but necessary, first step toward reducing carbon emissions is found in Washington Initiative 732, which creates a carbon tax. It won't "turn off" CO2 emissions, but it will use market incentives to reduce emissions by encouraging use of ever-cleaner sources of energy.

If Washington voters pass I-732, the state will become first in the nation to develop a market-based approach to carbon emissions. British Columbia has had a similar tax since 2008. It's worked so well that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is pushing for a similar measure nationwide.

As Election Day approaches, articles supporting I-732 are increasing. One thoughtful analysis appeared last week in Vox: It explores not only the technical details, but also conflicting political positions.

Infighting on this issue could result in stalemate as temperatures continue to rise, driven by energy demands of an increasing global population. Although renewables are burgeoning, ability to bring them to market at a scale and timeliness sufficient to turn off the thermostat remains unlikely.

I-732 will buy time.

Global ramifications of doing nothing are expanding exponentially as temperatures climb. Waffling politicians haven't the cojones to address the issue; people need to be involved at the grassroots level.

Passing I-732 for a revenue-neutral carbon fee to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will be a positive start. Vote "yes."

Pete Haug's eclectic interests and several careers drew him across the U.S. and into China with his wife before retiring south of Colfax.

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