Carbon Fee an Essential First Step on Climate

Op Ed by Peter Rolnick in the Press-Citizen August 17, 2016

Up until this year I’d never lobbied Congress, but in June I joined a thousand other volunteers with Citizens’ Climate Lobby and met with members of Congress from Iowa to promote Carbon Fee and Dividend, a plan for a revenue-neutral fee on carbon.

Why spend time, energy and money to go to Washington and meet with my representatives? Of all the challenges we face as a country, global warming due to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels is the most pressing. If we don’t address it in the next few years the world my grandchildren will face as they grow up will be unrecognizable: major coastal cities flooded, extreme droughts and floods. The resulting violence and massive immigration worldwide will make the current crisis in Syria look small. If we wait 20 years it will be too late — changes will have been set in motion that cannot be undone.

I am not saying that other problems we face are not deserving of our immediate and focused attention. I am just saying that the problem of global warming must be addressed immediately, even as we address those other problems.

Is it really that bad? Yes — the science is crystal clear, check the peer-reviewed literature. The supporting evidence is compelling. Locally: In the past few decades, Iowa has experienced multiple “500-year floods,” or floods that are expected to occur only every 500 years. Globally, the crisis in Syria and the resulting immigration overwhelming nations worldwide was precipitated in no small part by four years of severe drought preceding the civil war.

How does CF&D address the problem? It makes business and consumers pay the true cost of dumping greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. Specifically, CF&D puts a fee on all coal, oil, etc., and the fee increases every year. The fee will make gasoline, home heating, etc., more expensive to consumers. However, all the fees collected are returned to American citizens as a dividend. Models show that lower income Americans will come out ahead, whereas higher-income Americans will come out very slightly behind. The increased spending by those who benefit, along with the increased investment in sustainable energy will create a net increase in jobs and in the economy. That is the main idea, though there is more to CF&D, including a way to protect American business from competition in countries that have no carbon fee.

Why is CF&D the best solution? It does not grow government, it is not a tax, it creates jobs and it does not unfairly burden the poor. It is more effective than a hodge-podge of regulations that vary from state to state. The market solves the problem: People will not invest in or purchase products that dump carbon into the atmosphere; American ingenuity will develop better ways to produce energy without warming the planet. Because the fee increases gradually, the change will happen in a predictable way over the course of a few decades. Economists, and the free market, love predictability — it is a conservative’s dream. Indeed, Reagan’s Secretary of State, George Shultz, strongly endorses CF&D. According to a non-partisan independent modeling company, CF&D, if implemented now, will cut our carbon emissions to 50 percent below 1990 levels in 20 years. Thus Citizens’ Climate Lobby has launched a focused effort to get CF&D passed by the end of 2017. I am not saying CF&D is all we need to address climate change, but it will address the immediate problems most effectively.

Think Congress is too dysfunctional? Think again. The Climate Solutions Caucus in the House, which requires equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats, contains 16 members and is growing. The members of Congress and staffers I met with, mostly Republicans, were all thoughtful and open to input. In spite of our problems, we still have a government by and for the people, but we must speak up.

If what I’ve said makes sense to you, one way to speak up is to write Senators Ernst and Grassley, and Representatives King, Young, Blum and Loebsack; let them know CF&D is a win-win solution to a pressing problem, and that you support it.


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