Using market forces to help the climate

Our nation is missing a great opportunity. Our citizens can help make that opportunity a reality.

We have an opportunity to create a clean energy economy, expand our GDP, increase jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

These would be the effects of a carbon fee and dividend, a proposal that harnesses market forces to move toward energy independence and a livable environment.

As proposed by Citizens Climate Lobby, the carbon fee starts at $15 per metric ton of carbon dioxide (or equivalent greenhouse gas) emitted and increases by $10 a ton annually until emissions reach 10 percent of 1990 levels.

The revenue from the fee does not go to government, but is rebated to all U.S. citizens in equal shares (the dividend). This proposal does not grow the government, create new regulations, or produce new programs.

The dividend protects the majority of citizens from the economic burden of rising costs. Several independent analyses of revenue-neutral carbon fees project that a majority will break even or come out ahead.

Other analyses show benefits to the economy from a carbon fee and dividend. Regional Economic Modeling Inc., a well-respected consulting firm, projects that over 20 years, a carbon fee with dividend would produce 2.8 million new jobs, add $1.4 trillion to GDP, and reduce carbon emissions by 52 percent. These benefits come from the stimulus of citizens receiving hundreds of dollars monthly in dividend checks.

Carbon fee and dividend uses market forces to drive a transition to an economy that uses clean, renewable energy. The fee corrects for the external costs of fossil fuels, which are not reflected in current market prices. These “externalities” include increased health costs from particulate emissions, the damages from extreme weather, the military costs of defending access to fossil fuels, etc. Levying a fee on carbon-based fuels forces them to reflect their true cost to society, which makes clean, renewable sources more affordable.

To protect U.S. manufacturers, carbon fee and dividend also includes a border adjustment: Tariffs will be placed on any goods imported from nations that do not levy a similar carbon fee.

In short, carbon fee and dividend helps the economy, reduces emissions that are changing our climate, and could help our nation take the lead in building a new energy system.

But the manifest advantages of a carbon fee and dividend are not enough. Citizens must work to create the political will for action. We are beginning to see signs of movement in Congress.

More citizens should encourage Congress to act. That is the mission of Citizens Climate Lobby. Since being founded in 2007, CCL has grown every year and now has 324 groups with 35,000 members.

The local CCL chapter will hold a Climate Advocate Training on Sunday, April 10, from 1-4 p.m. in Hollenbeck Hall at Wittenberg University. Please sign up at (937) 631-3058 or on the Facebook event page.

Looking at the changing climate and the political climate can be depressing. But we have a remedy: learning to advocate for a solution to the climate crisis. That remedy is even stronger when we join with others in building the political will for a livable climate. To learn how to do this, join us on April 10 and beyond.

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Steve Schlather is the group leader of the Clark County Citizens Climate Lobby.