Solving global climate change is Mission Possible — contrary to the gloomy opinion piece of economist Robert Samuelson published in the IR on Oct. 16. Samuelson wrote in response to a new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the top authority on the study of climate change.
The IPCC warns that the window of time for dealing with climate change is quickly closing. To limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, we may have only 12 years to act decisively on climate change to slash global emissions 45 percent. Failure to do so will accelerate the consequences of a warming planet, consequences that we are all too painfully aware of in Montana. Think more drought, more forest fires, fewer fish, less water for irrigation, no glaciers, etc.
Samuelson writes that “we don’t have the technology to reduce and eventually eliminate emissions from fossil fuels.” Yet many states and countries have increased the share of renewables to generate electricity manyfold in just the last few years. South Dakota, for example, gets over 30 percent of its electricity from wind and solar; Vermont 41 percent, California 28 percent. China, already the world’s largest producer of wind power, is growing capacity by 20 percent per year with plans to ramp up further. With political will, renewables would boom even more.
Electricity storage technology for when the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow is advancing rapidly on many fronts. Flywheel technology advances that sound like something out of sci fi are especially encouraging and already being used on large-scale projects by a number of American cities. Google up Stephentown Flywheel!
Samuelson equates moving to a renewable energy economy with economic depression. Yet, renewable energy creates many more jobs than fossil fuels. The Department of Energy reports 187,000 people are employed in the generation of electricity in the oil, gas and coal industries combined in the United States. Solar energy, with only a small sliver of current energy production, employs 374,000 people. Common sense tells us that ramping up solar and wind will reap huge employment benefits across the country.
So, how do we transition to a renewable future sooner rather than later? A key solution to climate change is a carbon fee and dividend (CFD), a federal legislative proposal by the Citizens' Climate Lobby. Many economists, both conservative and liberal, support CFD as the most effective way to quickly move us to a renewable future.
CFD would place an initial fee of $15/metric ton on the CO2 equivalent emissions of fossil fuels, escalating by $10/metric ton each year, imposed upstream at mine, well or port of entry. One-hundred percent of the net carbon fees are held in a Carbon Fees Trust Fund and returned directly to all U.S. households as a monthly dividend. Almost 70 percent of households will receive more in dividends than they would pay in higher prices.
Citizens' Climate Lobby hired Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI) to study the effect of a revenue-neutral carbon price on the American economy. REMI is highly respected and provides analysis to both governmental bodies and fossil fuel corporations. REMI concludes that CFD would have strong positive economic effects on the nation’s health and prosperity alike.
During the first 20 years alone a CFD policy would:
• Reduce carbon emissions 50 percent below 1990 levels.
• Add 2.8 million jobs above baseline, driven by the steady economic stimulus of the energy dividend.
• Avoid 230,000 premature deaths by reducing air pollutants that often accompany carbon emissions.
We have the means to change the path we’re on. It’s up to all of us to develop and support the political will necessary. CFD, a win-win for the environment and economy, will play a key role.
John Hoffland is a member of Citizens' Climate Lobby Helena, one of 450 chapters of CCL in the United States.