When we’re confronted by an emergency that impacts our entire nation, we need a government response based on expert advice that ensures those hardest hit receive the assistance they need.  One such emergency is the current global pandemic that scientists have long warned was coming

Like the current pandemic, climate change is a global emergency whose source is invisible and for which we’ve far too long delayed taking action. As we work to end the pandemic, we must also address the climate emergency.  We must listen to the experts, act swiftly on their recommendations, and ensure fair solutions.  

It’s About Listening to the Experts

There is a clear consensus on climate change. Scientists tell us that the earth is warming, that the main reason is human-generated CO2 emissions, and that it is urgent to reduce net global CO2 emissions all the way to zero within the next 30 years to avoid the most severe consequences.  The graph below helps make visible the impact of an invisible gas, by showing the relationship between global CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels and global temperature increases since the late 19th century.

Experts have not only identified CO2 emissions as the primary driver of the climate crisis, they have also recommended solutions to mitigate its worst effects. The scientists who prepared the 2018 report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) tell us that a high price on carbon is central to an ambitious climate policy that will get global warming under control. Economists agree, telling us that the most cost-effective way to transition to a clean energy economy is to add a gradually increasing price on fossil fuel emissions, thereby incentivizing businesses and individuals to make greener choices.  

As volunteers with Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), a non-profit, nonpartisan, grassroots organization, we are advocating for passage of the Energy Innovation Act, a bill that places a rising price on carbon emissions.  The bill has 82 cosponsors, including climate champion Representative Jan Schakowsky.  Its design is guided by the research and recommendations of experts.  It will save lives and help to stabilize our climate by reducing US CO2 emissions by 40% in 12 years and by more than 90% by 2050. 

It’s About Fairness

While communities like Evanston have plans in place to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, others are sitting out the crisis.  But there can be no free riders. It’s time we stopped subsidizing fossil fuel companies, time to prevent them from polluting our atmosphere and disrupting our climate for free.  We need a national policy like the Energy Innovation Act that adds a fee to the cost of fossil fuels, paid by the energy companies.  This makes the true costs of fossil fuels apparent and incentivizes all communities to invest in a green future. 

The bill is designed to protect low and middle-income families, who are least responsible for US carbon emissions, from rising costs associated with the carbon fee.  The net proceeds from the money collected are allocated in equal monthly dividend shares to the American people.  The graph below shows that the dividend enables nearly two-thirds of American families to come out ahead.  Ninety-six percent of households in the lowest consumption (and income) quintile have a net gain, receiving a mean net annual benefit of $241 in year 1 and over $1,000 by year 10. 

The distribution of equal dividends enables low-income consumers to realize a net gain, since they buy smaller quantities of fossil fuel-related products and have smaller carbon footprints.  High-income consumers will see a net loss because they have bigger (and perhaps multiple) homes and cars, fly more, and have larger carbon footprints.  The higher costs of fossil fuel products passed on to consumers incentivize greener choices by making it obvious that clean energy is the smart choice. 

A brief video introducing Citizens’ Climate Lobby and explaining Carbon Fee & Dividend is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9oyguP4nLv0

Be a Part of the Solution

Like COVID-19, climate change is driven by an invisible source with devastatingly visible consequences.  From fires in the West, to hurricanes on the Gulf and East Coasts, to increased flooding and extreme weather events everywhere in between, we are all in this crisis together. We invite you to be part of the solution in protecting generations to come

Joan Muller and Laura Winston are co-leaders of Citizens’ Climate Lobby Evanston.