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Cool solution for a warming planet

It seems that Baltimore is keeping pace with the rest of the country and the world: It's getting hotter. On Aug. 1, The Sun reported that July was the hottest July — actually the hottest month — ever for Baltimore. One day later, we learned that the city's 30-year average had risen half a degree above the last average.

I'm scared. I can handle a record-high temperature so long as I know that it's an exception and that it will go back down. But what is being reported here is a trend — one with no end in sight. These data are consistent with scientists' predictions of global warming.

I have a child. I want to bequeath to her a livable planet.

I've been following climate trends for decades now, and I no longer doubt that we need to do something major to counteract this trend. We need to put a price on carbon. Authorities in all walks of life are saying so: scientists (the National Academy of Sciences), religious leaders (the Vatican and others), and ultraconservative think tanks (the American Enterprise Institute), among many others.

So this month I enlisted in the nonpartisan, nonprofit, all-volunteer Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) and agreed to join the fight for effective federal climate legislation. I believe the carbon fee and dividend legislation that CCL plans to ask Congress to take up is the best approach.

CCL's proposed legislation puts a fee on carbon as it enters the economy and then gives 100 percent of the money collected to American citizens as rebates. The fee starts at $15 per ton of carbon and rises by $10 a year for the next seven years. The effect of the fee will be to gradually make carbon-containing fuels (coal, oil and gas) and products made using those fuels more expensive, enabling alternative energy resources to compete. Meanwhile, the effect of the monthly rebates to American households would be to shield ordinary citizens from the financial stress that rising fuel prices would otherwise cause. (The scheme is completely spelled out on the CCL website, http://www.citizensclimatelobby.org.)

A fee is needed because the prices of fossil fuels themselves are not sending a "market signal," according to economists. A huge price is paid for fossil fuel use, but only a small fraction of that price is reflected in the cost of the fuel. Society as a whole is paying this price. Included in it are subsidies taken from our taxes, health damage caused by pollution, military expenditures and deaths incurred by our addiction to oil, and the escalating ecological devastation caused by climate change. Putting a fee on carbon would correct this market failure so that the price of fuels would more accurately reflect their costs to society. CCL's experts say the system they propose can level the playing field between fossil and alternative energy within seven to ten years.

The alternative energy industries are ready for this change and can quickly deploy to replace fossil fuel energy generation. Abundant new technologies are already on the shelf and need only to be scaled up to meet the nation's energy needs. CCL makes available a booklet, "Building a Green Economy," providing details on these points.

A carbon fee and dividend system would be an easy sell to citizens, because of the "green checks" they would receive every month. Fossil fuel and other industries could adjust to fluctuating fossil fuel prices, because the increases in the fees would be predictable. The system would be welcome to the military, because climate change is a national security issue — a "threat multiplier." It would be acceptable to Republicans who took the "no new revenues" pledge, because it is revenue neutral. It is transparent, fair, and even-handed, and it would be easy to administer: the IRS could issue the checks. It would not lend itself to gambling and gaming by speculators, as cap and trade systems have.

Fee and dividend legislation would be a tremendous job creator. Analyses show that it would add many times more jobs than additional conventional power plants would do, in manufacturing, installation, and maintenance of alternative energy systems. It would benefit the environment: alternative energy resources are, for the most part, clean energy. It is supported by precedents: Germany has already shifted to carbon-based taxing and, as a result, has become a world leader in alternative energy technologies. British Columbia has introduced a system of this kind and the citizens strongly favor it.

Climate change is a nonpartisan, nondenominational, non-nationalistic issue. We can work together on it—Republicans and Democrats, people of all religious faiths, the United States and other countries. Canada's prime minister has said that if the United States introduces this system, Canada will join in. We need to do this wonderful thing and we need to do it now. Waiting can only make the climate crisis worse, more and more rapidly. Acting now can begin to build a benign new world for our children.

Dana Knighten lives in Pylesville. Her email is blueheron@zoominternet.net.


Editor's note: An earlier version of this article contained an inaccuracy regarding estimates of what the proposed carbon fee and dividend system would be able to achieve over the next decade. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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