Carbon fee and dividend still needed in the climate war 

Published as, “Opinion: More legislation needed in the global warming fight”

Climate activists celebrated the August 2022 passage of the Inflation Reduction Act for its many provisions dealing with climate. True, those provisions were watered down in order to secure passage, and they are far less than what is needed. But that it passed at all was a big surprise, after previous hopes for legislative climate action had been dashed.

However, more comprehensive climate legislation is still much needed, as we are badly losing the war on global warming. In the Paris Accords of 2015-16, 196 nations pledged to pursue efforts to limit earth’s temperature increase to no more than 2.7°F (=1.5°C) above pre-industrial levels — with a fallback ‘in case we fail’ goal to limit warming to less than 3.6°F (2°C). Worldwide greenhouse gas emissions (GGE) are at their highest atmospheric concentrations and emissions levels ever recorded, and they are projected to continue rising for at least several years. Virtually no climate science expert believes we will achieve the Paris 2.7°F goal.

There is no question that the U.S. cannot resolve the global warming problem by itself. All nations (especially China) need to take immediate action to slash their greenhouse gas emissions. But this should not dissuade the U.S. from taking responsibility to deal with our own emissions. As leader of the free world and historically the highest emitter of greenhouse gases, we bear a special responsibility to lead by example.

Granted, compared to previous decades, recent U.S. progress in switching away from fossil fuels seems impressive. It is simply not fast enough. U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (all greenhouse gases, not just CO2) decreased by only 2 percent from 1990 to 2021. We need additional federal policy to accelerate reduction of our greenhouse gas emissions.

What is needed is a ‘carbon fee and dividend’ policy, which places a fee on greenhouse gas emissions and returns those fees to taxpayers. This approach has been endorsed by a large number of businesses (including Exxon-Mobil), prominent individuals and organizations (e.g., the Climate Leadership Council, whose members include 27 Nobel Laureate economists, and over 3,000 U.S. economists). Carbon fee and dividend has the benefits of being the climate policy that involves least government intrusion in the affairs of business and brings a positive cash flow to most taxpayers (both of which should make it the least objectionable option to members of Congress), and it will have a net positive long-term impact on the economy and jobs creation. The most important benefit is that, if crafted properly, it can be effective enough to achieve U.S. climate goals.

The wise man Yogi Berra purportedly said ‘It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.’ It is indeed tough to determine precisely how hot earth will end up getting because the answer depends almost entirely upon decisions we humans might or might not make: take immediate drastic action; do little or nothing; do something lukewarm in between. It is still possible we could limit warming to 2.7°F – but extremely improbable. All nations would have to take the immediate drastic action path; it won’t happen. The world is now on the ‘lukewarm’ path, one expected to lead to a 4.5-7.2°F rise by century’s end.

Yes, this is a wide range of uncertainty. But even if warming ends up at the low end of this range, it will be disastrous for humans and many other of earth’s plant and animal residents. There is zero uncertainty that we need to take more powerful action now to halt the warming. A carbon fee and dividend policy is the best option for the U.S. to address our greenhouse gas emissions problem.

Mark Warren

Member, Citizens Climate Lobby Austin Chapter

Austin American-Statesman

March 2023

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