BY STEFFI RAUSCH
When I moved from Missoula, Mont., to Asheville, I thought my fears of extreme drought were behind me. Instead, I was surprised to learn that Western North Carolina is predicted to have longer periods of extreme drought and wildfires, punctuated by heavier, extreme precipitation events (according to the latest National Climate Assessment, a summary of the expected impacts of climate change on the United States).
Because action is the antidote to despair, I decided to get involved in finding a climate change solution, but soon realized how divisive and apathetic both sides of the political aisle had become. I knew all about the conservative viewpoints against climate action, but I didn’t expect my liberal cohorts to act in ways that aren’t helpful to finding a strong solution to the problem.
Initially, I didn’t believe my conservative congressman who said he wasn’t hearing from constituents on climate change, so I attended a few town halls, and no one spoke up on the issue but me. When I asked my liberal friends if they would attend a town hall or write a letter to their congressman, they would say, “No, because it won’t do any good.” And then some environmental leaders told me they don’t believe Congress could pass national climate change legislation, given the conservative opposition, so they would rather grow their grassroots movements locally.
While I commend everyone’s efforts, locally and nationally, I still see a breakdown of communication between the left and the right as the biggest problem toward achieving a climate solution. I started to question my one-sided environmental views and the beloved liberal town of Asheville I’m proud to call home. Had our self-congratulatory attitude become part of the problem? Had we become too complacent and accusatory to graciously extend a hand across the aisle? In my view, yes.
Social science has shown that if we talk to people about a problem but don’t offer a solution, our acceptance of that problem is radically lower, thereby causing indifference or inaction. This means that we need to start talking about common-ground solutions that turn self-interest into mutual interest and work for most everyone involved — liberals, conservatives and energy consumers as well as energy providers.
My search led me to carbon pricing, a rising fee on carbon use, which has been adopted by 40 countries overall and described by top economists as the most efficient climate change solution because it drives consumers and businesses to change their behavior without costly bureaucratic micromanagement.
Even large players like Bank of America, Citi, Goldman Sachs, BP and Shell have recommended a market-friendly carbon pricing approach because it provides greater market certainty, drives innovation in the renewable energy field and creates jobs. Businesses can’t manage what they can’t measure, so providing a more predictable increase in carbon pricing to their budget projections can help with a transition to alternate energy sources.
However, I found the revenue-neutral Carbon Fee & Dividend solution by Citizens’ Climate Lobby to be far superior to just a carbon tax because it protects consumers like us who will bear the brunt of these rising carbon costs, especially low-income households, who pay a higher percentage of their income on energy. Also, a 2013 nonpartisan economic study by REMI (Regional Economic Models Inc.) projects that CFD will grow the U.S. economy, jobs and gross domestic product while reducing our CO2 emissions to 52 percent of 1990 levels by 2035. And CFD has been implemented in four countries around the world (Sweden, Chile, Ireland, and recently, Canada) while being praised by the likes of Bill McKibben of 350.org, Bernie Sanders, George Schultz and Rex Tillerson from Exxon-Mobil. How does that sound for a solution that most everyone can embrace?
CFD’s power is in its simplicity and transparency. It charges a slowly rising fee on fossil fuel producers at the entry point to our economy (coal mine, gas/oil well or import terminal) but then returns 100 percent of the fee (less administrative costs) back to all consumers equally via a monthly dividend check. So let’s be clear — CFD is not a “tax” because the proceeds go to the people, not the government. For example, a four-person home could receive about $300/month after 10 years and about $400/month after 20 years, according to a 2013 REMI report (http://avl.mx/34s).
We know that the fossil fuel producers will pass along the rising fee to consumers through the markets, but those increased costs will be offset by the dividend. The increased costs for carbon-intensive goods will motivate our transition away from fossil fuels, while the dividend will help offset the rising costs and allow us to funnel money back into our economy (food, retail, health care, etc.). As well, businesses will be motivated to invest in less costly, renewable energy options, and energy companies will have to adapt to survive.
The administrative costs are self-funded by the fee and very low due to the simplicity of the calculations. The rising fee will be charged to the roughly 1,140 fossil fuel producers via a simple line item on their monthly/quarterly estimated tax filings, and the rising dividends will be distributed equally to every citizen regardless of how much carbon they consume.
What’s even better is that this is an alternative to the regulatory Clean Energy Plan, which has been under assault, and our politically divided Congress won’t have to debate where the revenue should be spent. Our government does not need to be in the business of making decisions for us by giving large subsidies or tax breaks to the energy companies of their choosing, something that costs taxpayers and has not served us well over the last decades.
Basically this is a “win” for everyone involved. Just imagine a climate change solution that would enable us to bridge the divide between us. This issue is too important to not compromise — on the left and the right. If you want to learn how to engage in a positive dialogue with the other side, please join our bipartisan movement at www.citizensclimatelobby.org or watch for us on the Dec. 7 episode of “Years of Living Dangerously.” Whether you are a liberal, conservative, military person, business owner, farmer, scientist or faith leader — let’s be a part of the solution we seek.
Steffi Rausch is a web designer and owner of Evolv.com. She is also an unpaid citizen lobbyist fighting for climate change solutions in Congress and lead organizer of the Asheville Chapter for Citizens’ Climate Lobby (www.facebook.com/ashevilleccl).