Close to Home: Climate action pays dividends
Climate touches everything. As Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins wrote, it’s as close to home as the lungs of her 2-year-old boy. As with COVID, rejecting the reality of climate change doesn’t protect anyone from its ravages; it only drags everyone into the death spiral.
Prevention is the best course of action, for individual behavior and national policy. As you read this, congressional Democrats are working out the climate details of the president’s Build Back Better legislation, using the budget reconciliation process to avoid a Republican filibuster in the Senate. It could include a simple policy innovation that would cause a huge reduction in carbon emissions: making coal, oil and gas companies pay the people for the climate and health havoc caused by their products.
This breakthrough policy is called “carbon fee and dividend.” Press Democrat editorial page readers should recognize it. The paper was a leader in endorsing carbon fee and dividend in 2015 and has published many letters on the topic. It’s also been endorsed by the California Legislature, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, the Santa Rosa and Petaluma city councils, the Climate Center and Sonoma Clean Power. Sen. Dianne Feinstein has co-sponsored a carbon fee and dividend bill. So has Rep. Jared Huffman, along with 83 House colleagues, including the chairs of the Progressive and Black Caucuses.
Lawmakers’ slow acceptance carbon fee and dividend has been driven by misunderstanding — from the left, who fear it’s an oil company green wash, and the right, who suspect it’s a tax and spend boondoggle. It’s neither. Climate hawk and 350.org founder Bill McKibben was an early supporter.
“A price on carbon” he wrote in a 2012 essay, “would enlist markets in the fight against global warming. A so-called ‘fee-and-dividend’ scheme would put a hefty tax on coal and gas and oil, then simply divide up the proceeds, sending everyone in the country a check each month for their share of the added costs of carbon.”
The late George Shultz, Ronald Reagan’s treasury secretary, was a carbon fee and dividend champion, as are more than 3,600 U.S. economists, including 28 Nobel laureates.
What sets this approach apart from other climate policies? It’s not just that it doesn’t grow the government or increase income taxes or the debt. Or that it meets Senate requirements for inclusion in a reconciliation bill. Or because it covers fossil fuel everywhere it is used in the economy and thus will have the largest and fastest impact on emissions. Or that it “plays well” with the other policies on the table.
It’s the dividend. The dividend would regularly and predictably put hundreds to thousands of dollars into the accounts of American families to spend as they see fit. It would ease the financial cost of their transition from increasingly expensive polluting products to less expensive cleaner ones. It would stimulate healthy growth of local economies. It would enable members of communities to pool their dividend funds and leverage investments in clean energy and climate resilience. This could help my hometown of Petaluma meet its ambitious climate goals.
Citizens’ Climate Lobby chapters across the country have for the past decade worked close to home, with polite, patient and persistent organizing and lobbying. Their tens of thousands of calls and emails to Congress over the past few months have helped put carbon fee and dividend on the table for the budget reconciliation process now underway.
We are inviting everyone now to visit cclusa.org/white-house, cclusa.org/senate and cclusa.org/house to ask President Joe Biden, Sens. Alex Padilla and Feinstein and Reps. Mike Thompson and Huffman to make inclusion of carbon fee and dividend in the budget reconciliation bill a top priority this autumn.
Bruce Hagen of Petaluma and Barbara Moulton of Santa Rosa are members of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.
You can send letters to the editor to email@example.com.