The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is very clear: Our world is already experiencing disastrous climate changes due to greenhouse gas emissions from our use of carbon fuels. Among the harmful changes reported are melting ice caps, collapsing sea ice, rising sea levels, acidifying oceans, dying coral reefs, intensifying heat waves and rain storms, stressed water supplies, and declining food production. As the chair of the IPCC Rajendra K. Pachauri says, “Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change.”
Alarming changes are occurring here in California, including the examples shown in the accompanying info-graphic. According to Sam Delson, spokesperson for the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, “The nature of these changes is that they are occurring gradually, but the impacts are significant and growing.”
All of the 100 glaciers remaining in California’s Sierra Nevada are shrinking. For example, Yosemite’s Lyell Glacier, the headwater of the Tuolumne River watershed, has dropped 62 percent of its mass and lost 120 vertical feet of ice in the last century. Greg Stock, the Yosemite’s geologist, says, “We give it 20 years or so of existence — then it’ll vanish, leaving behind rocky debris.”
Much of California’s water supply for homes and agriculture comes from the glaciers and snow pack of our Sierra Nevada mountains. The imminent disappearance of many California glaciers threatens the long-term security of our water supply here in Santa Barbara.
No human argument will prevent ice from changing into water when the temperature shifts from 32 degrees Fahrenheit to 33 degrees Fahrenheit. The climate of our planet is not controlled by our wishes and opinions; it only responds to the natural forces that drive it.
So how can we significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions to temper the impacts of climate change? As individuals we can make personal choices to reduce our use of carbon fuels, but we also must make major policy changes to shift our country’s economy from carbon fuels to clean, renewable energy sources.
America’s history shows that when faced with great threats and challenges we can cooperate to achieve great things. During World War II, we helped stop the threat of global tyranny. In the 1960s we landed men on the Moon. Climate change is a threat greater than the fascism of the 20th century, a challenge more daunting than putting a man on the Moon. We have the capacity to avoid a catastrophic future, but only if we respond to this crisis with a historic level of urgency and effort.
The use of carbon fuels produces most of our greenhouse gas emissions. Currently the price of carbon fuels does not reflect the enormous health, security, and environmental costs that arise from their use. A carbon tax can fix this price distortion without the need for regulations or subsidies. The resulting market forces would create strong incentives for increasing energy efficiency and clean energy production, thus reducing emissions quickly.
A growing number of people believe that a national carbon tax is the most efficient, transparent, and enforceable mechanism to drive an effective and fair transition to the clean energy economy we need. To make the economic transition as smooth as possible, the tax would start small and increase annually and predictably. At the same time, carbon fuel subsidies would be phased out. This would make energy prices predictable for individuals and businesses over time.
Making the carbon tax revenue-neutral would protect American families and businesses from higher energy prices. The essence of this concept is to tax carbon production and return 100 percent of the proceeds equally to all households. Because this idea is both equitable and market-driven, it is gaining support across the political spectrum.
A national carbon tax would be simple to administer. The tax would be charged at first point-of-sale, the mine, the wellhead, or border crossing, and would be collected by the IRS. The funds would be placed in a Carbon Tax Trust Fund and rebated to American families and businesses. All households would receive equal monthly dividends, and families would also receive a half-share per child under 18 years old, with a limit of two child-shares per family. It is estimated that 70 percent of families would see some net increase in income.
Some critics claim a carbon tax would kill jobs, drag down the economy, and burden families with higher energy bills. However, a well-designed carbon tax that recycles revenue back to households and into the economy would actually protect families from rising costs and add jobs. A recent study by Regional Economic Models Inc. found that a carbon tax in California, even at very high levels, would increase our prosperity and add hundreds of thousands of jobs.
Some critics say that a carbon tax would put American businesses at a disadvantage with foreign competitors. However, tariffs and rebates would ensure that U.S.-made goods would remain competitive in international markets. Carbon tax equivalent tariffs would be charged for goods entering the U.S. from countries without equivalent carbon pricing. Carbon tax rebates would reduce the price of exports to those same countries. These tariffs and rebates would provide an incentive for international adoption of carbon taxes.
Some skeptics say the carbon tax is an untested idea. However, five years ago, British Columbia implemented a revenue-neutral carbon tax. It gradually added to the cost of fossil fuels while cutting both personal and corporate income taxes. A recent study reports that B.C.’s “use of petroleum fuels has dropped by 15.1 percent.” The study also finds that B.C.’s “personal and corporate income tax rates are now the lowest in Canada, due to the carbon tax shift.”
Are we approaching a political tipping point regarding climate change policies? Currently the Environmental Protection Agency is under court order to issue climate change rules, and the carbon fuel industry is fearful of new EPA policies. We urgently need congressional action to break this stalemate and significantly improve our climate change policies and programs.
If Congress implements a revenue-neutral carbon tax, it will create a stronger economy and ensure a more livable climate for our children and grandchildren. Let’s do something BIG about climate change. Let’s encourage lawmakers in Congress to embrace this sensible solution. To learn more about the Citizens’ Climate Lobby campaign join us at the Unitarian Society Parish Hall on Thursday, May 8 from 7:30-9 p.m.
John D. Kelley is an award-winning architect who specializes in environmentally friendly home design. The Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a national volunteer organization, is leading the campaign for a revenue-neutral carbon tax. You can contact the Santa Barbara chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby at firstname.lastname@example.org.