Environmental advocacy can often feel daunting and overwhelming because the fate of the environment seems so far out of our hands. We can change lightbulbs, compost, and hopefully drive less. But in the meantime the machines of globalization, industry, and multinational corporations churn out pollution, waste, and greenhouse gases (along with some good things we need). At the international level, the 25-year history of annual UN climate change talks hasn’t been fruitful.
An underlying cause of climate change is that the social and environmental costs of fossil fuels aren’t accounted for in their monetary cost. The Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) has a proposal that addresses this root cause: a revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend. Further, CCL has a lot in common with interfaith approaches since the organization focuses on relationship building, cooperation, and empathy.
The social and environmental costs of fossil fuels – known as externalities – are ultimately paid by society through environmental degradation, climate change, and health effects of air pollution. Our current situation is largely the product of subsidized fossil fuels and inefficient infrastructure built on the (false) assumption of their continued abundance. By putting a price on carbon, the market economy – the very thing we might feel powerless over – can help fix these problems.
CCL’s proposal would put a $15/ton fee on emissions from carbon-emitting fuels at their source (e.g. mine, well, port). The fee would rise by $10/ton each year until emissions reach a sustainable level. For gasoline, this would equate to a price increase of about $0.15 per gallon plus $0.10 a year. The gradual nature of the fee avoids shocks, volatility, and potential gaming of the system that could be associated with cap and trade or other forms of regulation. Businesses also prefer it over other alternatives since it’s clear and predictable.
The money collected from the fee would be evenly distributed back to US residents (the revenue neutral and dividend part!), offsetting increased costs of fuel and consumer goods. Each household would receive a monthly dividend check in the mail or by direct deposit. Studies indicate a net positive effect on the economy: most people – especially the working class and below – would break even or gain income, the economy would become more efficient, and investment in low carbon energy sources would flourish.
In addition to this brilliant proposal, what makes CCL stand out is that it seeks to empower people to work together and communicate face-to-face with their Congressional Representatives, the people who are key to creating and passing such a bill. I was extremely inspired and moved by our CCL chapter’s meeting with my Republican Representative and have heard other great CCL stories about meetings with Representatives. Having that personal connection and showing our leaders that we’re committed to finding a solution to climate change from both a moral and practical perspective goes a long way.
Advocating for a proposal like CCL’s also shows empathy for our world leaders. Imagine the scene at international climate negotiations: the air is heavy because extreme inequalities exist in past, present, and future emitters. How do leaders determine what their emissions targets should be in the light of these differences, especially when the numbers will be scrutinized by the rest of the world? And how would these targets be implemented back home?
In advocating for the CCL proposal, we give our leaders a solution that they know we’ll stand behind. Another advantage is that each country could pass its own carbon fee legislation, avoiding the additional complications of treaties which in the US require a ⅔ majority vote.
There’s a saying to be wise as serpents, but gentle as doves. The CCL proposal fulfills this because it will be effective and is crafted to appeal to both conservatives and liberals. For the first time, a majority of Republicans want federal action on climate change, and a revenue neutral carbon fee is most attractive to conservatives. It would not be a new tax since all money is returned to households, it would not grow the size of government, it would be fair and even beneficial to lower classes, it would rely on the market instead of regulation, and it addresses a root cause of climate change through policy. Polls show it would have broad support. It’s our best shot at meaningful legislation on climate change, but we need to get the word out and rally our communities!
I know that we youth of the interfaith movement can mobilize our religious communities on this legislation. It promotes hope, positive action, and cooperation. Passing such a carbon fee would be truly revolutionary and could be the single most effective action to combat climate change that any of us could take.