Climate Dispatch: We all need to act (opinion)
I’ve been lucky enough to call Truckee home since 1996 and despite all the changes I’ve witnessed, including unprecedented growth, I still love my community. But I don’t feel quite so lucky anymore as fire season continues to grow longer, hotter and more dangerous here in Tahoe and the rest of our state. It’s not a matter of if we’ll experience a major fire but when. As the planet gets hotter and radical swings in precipitation and severe weather events become the norm, what kind of world are we going to leave our children and even more frightening, their children?
Look at this winter that went from a record snow level in December to nary a drop until April, pushing us back into severe drought. When the atmospheric river drenched part of California in December, the extremely parched landscape sucked most of the water up, and the hot and windy conditions that followed caused the water to evaporate and dry up the vegetation to fuel another fire season. The snowpack plummeted. What will winter look like in the next decades, if we even have much of one? Are climate change and rising temperatures happening so fast that we don’t have time to adapt? What kind of livable — or unlivable world — are we leaving our youth?
On a deeply personal level, I’m terrified and want to leave a livable planet to my 20-year-old daughter. And we all know friends and family whose lives were upended by the Santa Rosa, Caldor, Napa and Paradise fires, not to mention floods and droughts worldwide. But what can we, as ordinary citizens, do?
My answer: Citizens’ Climate Lobby. CCL is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, grassroots advocacy organization focused on policies to address climate change. Founded in 2007, CCL now has over 200,000 members and 577 chapters in the US and abroad. I joined CCL after attending a climate advocacy training in September of 2018. We spent the workshop learning CCL’s values and writing letters to the editor and our Congress members expressing our fear of climate change and the need to act. I was thrilled to meet like-minded people who shared my passion. CCL values diversity, integrity and tolerance to promote a climate solution that has appeal across the political spectrum.
A main focus of CCL is the single most impactful solution to climate change and decreasing carbon and greenhouse gas emissions: a national carbon fee dividend, also called a carbon cash back.
How does a carbon fee work for climate change? Right now, carbon pollution is free. If a carbon fee and dividend is established, fossil fuel companies (gas, oil, and coal) pay a gradually increasing fee when their fossil fuels enter the economy — at the mine or wellhead. This sends what economists call a “price signal” to users of fossil fuels to change their behavior to save money and find alternatives to fossil fuels. The results: a decrease in the carbon emissions that are causing temperatures to rise, a shift to cleaner energy and greener products such as more affordable electric cars. Power companies will replace fossil fuels with clean energy alternatives.
And the fees collected? That money goes back to every American household as a monthly dividend or “carbon cashback” that can be spent however recipients want. According to robust economic modeling of this policy, the carbon cashback will enable the majority of households to come out ahead or break even, despite the increased cost of energy from the carbon fee. The cessation of burning fossil fuels will stabilize the climate, clean the air, improve our health and even save lives. We all benefit. And, by encouraging the transition to renewable clean energy, we will achieve true “energy independence.” We will unhook ourselves from the global fossil fuel market that, as we have seen with the war in Ukraine, subjects us to supply shortages caused by geopolitical events we have no control over.
Scientists and economists agree that a carbon fee and dividend policy will decrease fossil fuel pollution by 50% by 2030 and go a long way toward net zero emissions by 2050. Multiple studies have supported this and MIT has a podcast and a short tutorial on the subject. A carbon fee will lead to millions of new jobs in clean energy and help grow the economy. What is disconcerting is that of the world’s developed nations, the U.S. and Australia are the only countries that do not have carbon pricing in effect.
Legislation embodying this policy, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R. 2307) was introduced into the House of Representatives with over 90 sponsors. Locally, it has been endorsed by 30 groups and prominent individuals including the town of Truckee, the city of South Lake Tahoe, Palisades Tahoe, Sierra Nevada Alliance, the Shane McConkey Foundation and Julia Mancuso. The policy was on the table in discussions taking place in the U.S. Senate on a budget reconciliation bill.
Much to my regret, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), announced that he will not support any climate action in the current session of Congress, then said he’d take another look in August, depending on economic developments. We have been one vote away from getting robust climate legislation, including a carbon fee and carbon cash back policy, for several months. But it looks likely Mr. Manchin is going to nix climate action in this session of Congress. So, what’s the next step?
Come November, vote. Research and choose climate conscious candidates, before it’s too late. Encourage your friends to do the same. I encourage you to research CCL and join. CCL is partnering with another non-partisan organization, the Environmental Voter Project (EnvironmentalVoter.org), to contact environmentally-concerned registered voters to urge them to vote in November. This is an important action you can take from home, participating in phone banks, texting or postcard writing. If more of these citizens got to the polls, they could make a crucial difference in elections.
Politicians don’t create political will, they respond to it. It’s up to us to let them know climate action is important to us. We owe it to the world. We owe it to future generations.
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