Alicia Du and Dillan Barlow: Why the next generation of Utahns is stepping up on climate change

As high school student leaders here in Utah, we know that climate change is one of the top concerns of our generation. From conversations at school to the discourse on social media, few topics command as much focus and attention. For young people with decades of life ahead, this issue is personal.

In Utah, the stakes are even greater. We are already experiencing warming at twice the rate as the world average. If these trends continue, Utah’s economy will face serious consequences. Less frequent snow and earlier melting will disrupt our picture-perfect mountain communities and the livelihoods they power. The depletion of our water reservoir, especially the Wasatch Front, will endanger our drinking water supply. And that’s just the start.

That’s why we are joining high school leaders from all 50 states — and across the political spectrum — to advance the critical climate solution known as carbon dividends. This new effort, called High Schoolers for Carbon Dividends, counts more than 700 young leaders from all 50 states among its founders, including national debate champions, winners of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, student government presidents, and more.

This groundswell of youth support, and from young Republicans and Democrats alike, speaks to the unique appeal of the carbon dividends strategy.

The plan would charge fossil fuel companies a fee for their emissions and return the revenue collected to the American people as quarterly dividends. This market-based approach would create a powerful economic incentive for businesses to innovate new technologies and transition to cleaner, more affordable energy. It would also limit the size of government and put money back in the pockets of American workers and families.

A carbon dividends policy, starting at just two cents per pound of CO2 would help cut U.S. emissions in half over the next 10 years — and without the need for greater deficit spending or burdensome regulations. This demonstrates the inherent wisdom of a market-based solution.

Importantly, the carbon dividends strategy — popularized by Republican Secretaries of State James A. Baker III and the late George P. Shultz — would also hold foreign countries accountable for their emissions. By charging a fee on imported pollution, the plan would compel other countries, including China, India and Russia, to clean-up their acts and follow America’s lead.

Because U.S. production is cleaner and more efficient than that of overseas competitors, the carbon dividends approach would also increase domestic manufacturing. This would position American companies to innovate, and profit from, the clean energy technologies of the future.

Here in Utah, the carbon dividends plan has earned a remarkable base of support. This includes the backing of business leaders, mayors, student body presidents, chamber of commerce leaders, economics professors, small business owners, the College Republicans, the Young Republicans, and GOP state legislators. No other climate solution has earned anywhere near the same level of in-state support, and it speaks to the plan’s unique ability to safeguard the environment and grow our economy at the same time.

As the student body president and vice president, respectively, of West High School in Salt Lake City and Sky View High School in Smithfield, we are proud to have helped build this newly announced partnership of student leaders and to be adding our voice to the growing chorus of Utahans who support carbon dividends.

The climate challenge may seem daunting, but the solution needn’t be. By harnessing time-proven market principles, the carbon dividends plan would deliver the results we need.

As we look ahead to our high school graduation, our college, and careers, and starting families of our own, the future brims with possibility. But only with timely leadership on climate change can we secure the blessings of American prosperity for our generation and the many yet to come.

Alicia Du is the student body president of West High School in Salt Lake City.

Dillan Barlow served as the 2020-21 student body vice president of Sky View High School in Smithfield. They are both co-founders of High Schoolers for Carbon Dividends.