The laws of physics and chemistry will determine the future of our climate. No amount of debate will change the dangerous impacts our greenhouse gas emissions are having on our planetary habitat. As Voltaire declared, “Men argue, nature acts.”
The recent IPCC report by the world’s leading climate scientists gave us a clear climate stop sign. The report said that to keep the increase in global temperature safely below 1.5 degrees Celsius, we must reduce global greenhouse gas emissions 40 to 60 percent by 2030, and reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Beyond these tipping points it is almost certain that we will plunge off the climate cliff into an unlivable world where powerful natural feedbacks will be unstoppable.
Taking action to reduce our emissions is like applying the brakes in a car. To stop the car in the shortest distance possible, the brakes must be strongly applied but skidding must be avoided. We must quickly make major emissions reductions and increase the reductions over time and we must avoid major delays and setbacks.
How can we apply the climate brakes without skidding? The IPCC report recommended carbon pricing as the best way to accelerate emission reductions. The vast majority of economists have also identified carbon pricing as the most powerful climate policy tool available.
In January, leading American economists including former Federal Reserve Chairs Alan Greenspan, Paul Volcker, Ben Bernanke and Janet Yellen, and 15 former leaders of the White House Council of Economic Advisers and 27 Nobel laureates, issued the following statement:
“Global climate change is a serious problem calling for immediate national action. Guided by sound economic principles, we are united in the following policy recommendations.
I. A carbon tax offers the most cost-effective lever to reduce carbon emissions at the scale and speed that is necessary. By correcting a well-known market failure, a carbon tax will send a powerful price signal that harnesses the invisible hand of the marketplace to steer economic actors toward a low-carbon future.
II. A carbon tax should increase every year until emissions reductions goals are met and be revenue neutral to avoid debates over the size of government. A consistently rising carbon price will encourage technological innovation and large-scale infrastructure development. It will also accelerate the diffusion of carbon-efficient goods and services.
III. A sufficiently robust and gradually rising carbon tax will replace the need for various carbon regulations that are less efficient. Substituting a price signal for cumbersome regulations will promote economic growth and provide the regulatory certainty companies need for long-term investment in clean-energy alternatives.
IV. To prevent carbon leakage and to protect U.S. competitiveness, a border carbon adjustment system should be established. This system would enhance the competitiveness of American firms that are more energy-efficient than their global competitors. It would also create an incentive for other nations to adopt similar carbon pricing.
V. To maximize the fairness and political viability of a rising carbon tax, all the revenue should be returned directly to U.S. citizens through equal lump-sum rebates. The majority of American families, including the most vulnerable, will benefit financially by receiving more in “carbon dividends” than they pay in increased energy prices.
The U.S. can implement this policy now. The bipartisan Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (HR 763) has been introduced in the U.S. Congress. It is a national revenue-neutral carbon fee-and-dividend plan based on the principles in the “Economists Statement” above. Implementing this policy in 2020 would reduce U.S. emissions 40 percent by 2032.
The U.S. can lead the transition to clean energy. We can inspire other major emitting countries to adopt similar carbon prices. This would achieve the majority of reductions needed to meet the IPCC goals. Global carbon pricing would also make it much easier to achieve additional emissions reductions with targeted policies at local, national and international levels.
As Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee has said, “We’re the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we’re the last that can do something about it. I don’t know of any other issue that touches the heart of things so many of us care about: our jobs, our health, our safety and our children’s future.”
Support HR 763. Let’s apply the climate brakes now.
John D. Kelley
The author is group leader of the Citizens Climate Lobby, Santa Barbara Chapter.