By Elizabeth Dell
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change just released its fifth report on the science of climate change. The conclusion? The planet and oceans are warming and it’s extremely likely (95 percent certain) the warming is related to human activities such as burning fossil fuels. Yet many Americans don’t accept that it is a man-made problem; others are left with a sense of despair.
So how do we move forward? Perhaps it’s time to look at it as an economic problem causing an environmental problem. As former GOP Rep. Bob Inglis describes it, the fossil fuel companies are socializing the cost of their product (damage to air and water quality for example) while privatizing their profits. But there is a free-market alternative favored by conservatives and liberals: a revenue-neutral carbon tax.
Putting a tax on carbon at the source (mine, well, port of entry) and increasing it over 10 years will spur investment in and demand for renewable energy while driving down its cost. Meanwhile, 100 percent of the tax revenue would be returned to American households on an equitable basis through monthly rebate checks.
A border tax adjustment on goods imported from nations without similar carbon-pricing mechanisms will ensure American businesses aren’t put at a competitive disadvantage. The adjustment could move other nations to institute a carbon tax rather than just paying the U.S. government for the privilege of polluting. (China is talking about implementing a carbon tax and is experimenting with a cap-and-trade carbon pricing mechanism in seven major cities.)
A carbon tax will allow the market to pick winners and losers while creating U.S. jobs and energy independence, give us cleaner air and water, and make America a world leader in the growing renewable energy economy.
Michigan stands to benefit tremendously. Gov. Snyder just released a report showing that a 30 percent or higher renewable energy standard is easily achievable by 2035 without compromising affordability or reliability. The cost of Michigan wind power has dropped dramatically, making it cheaper than energy from a new coal plant. Michigan’s planned or installed solar systems only account for 28 megawatts of a conservatively estimated 34,560 megawatts of solar potential, or just .08 percent. Increasing the amount of locally generated renewable energy improves our national security and our health.
The challenge is creating the political will to enact a revenue-neutral carbon tax. For that, we need engaged citizens. Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweikart said, “We aren’t passengers on Spaceship Earth, we’re the crew. We aren’t residents on this planet, we’re citizens. The difference in both cases is responsibility.”
There’s a grassroots, bipartisan organization empowering citizens to take responsibility: Citizens Climate Lobby. Our local chapter formed in February; in September, five new chapters organized in Michigan. Volunteers lobby members of Congress and work to build public support for this solution. We welcome all seeking a healthy and secure energy future to join our crew.
About the author: Elizabeth Dell is a group leader for the Northern Michigan Chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby. She spent 10 years working for nonprofit organizations focusing on land use issues and conservation, and now volunteers as a climate advocate. By e-mail at: Northern.firstname.lastname@example.org; on the web at: www.citizensclimatelobby.org
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