More and more Americans are looking to our legislative leaders for effective climate solution policy. We need a collective solution to our collective problem. The key challenge is to curb our use of fossil fuels to avert the worst outcomes.
When we sit down at the table to hash out solution details, what is important to consider? Given that urgent action is needed, we need to get this right from the start with well thought out criteria:
* Drive large scale change quickly. The solution needs to match the scale of the problem: too much carbon in the atmosphere. It would reduce our emissions by about 45% within the next 10 years. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports, “A solution would require ‘rapid and far-reaching’ transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities.” Policy solutions that make small marginal improvements would be a waste of valuable time, as would unproven or highly-complex plans.
* Be favorable for the economy. Any climate solution is doomed without significant job creation. The Environmental Defense Fund reported in 2018, “Clean energy is building a new American workforce,” thanks to changes in demand, dropping technology costs, investments and supportive policy. Four main areas of job growth include renewable energy, energy storage and modern advanced energy grid, energy efficiency, and advanced vehicles and transportation.
* Use “choice” incentives. Good employers know people are motivated by incentives that help change behavior. A smart solution to climate change would let people choose for themselves, with incentives to select wisely in transitioning to lower carbon options. Many people don’t want the government to dictate what they can and cannot do. Change is easier when we are given choice in the matter.
* Be fair. The solution should protect low- and moderate-income populations from higher energy prices. Consumers who pollute more should pay more to compensate for the taxpayer costs and social costs we all pay for high greenhouse gas levels. (Increased frequency of extreme weather events: sea-level rise, storm surges, drought, wildfires, flooding, mitigation costs, disaster recovery, etc.)
* Be durable. It would have secure popular support (like Social Security or Medicare) so that a change in political leadership can’t easily overturn an effective policy. The majority of Americans support Congress taking action on climate change. Solving climate change is too urgent to get caught up in partisan politics. Bi-partisan support is crucial.
* Be good for our health. It would save lives and improve health by reducing pollution that we all breathe.
Influence other countries to reduce their emissions. Climate change is a global issue. A successful U.S. solution can inspire emulation by others. Policy that encourages the transition of any country to clean energy is key, as is world leadership. International trade can favor countries who are actively reducing their emissions, instead of favoring to export manufacturing sectors that are fossil-fuel intensive.
Placing a fee on carbon emissions from coal, oil and gas, and returning all proceeds equally to households via a monthly dividend check meets all the above criteria for large-scale change through incentives that are fair and stimulate economic growth.
The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act would drive down carbon pollution because energy companies, industries, and consumers will move toward cleaner, cheaper options. A border carbon adjustment would protect U.S. manufacturers from unfair competition and create incentive for other nations to adopt a similar carbon pricing policy.
A free-market economy is one of the most powerful institutions on earth. Using market forces to facilitate the transition away from carbon pollution makes sense; Price signals do the heavy lifting of necessary change. A carbon/dividends plan can be the catalyst to a cleaner future and a stable climate.
Susan Atkinson, Durango, Colo., is a member of the Citizens Climate Lobby.