Baltimore has gone through a lot in 2015, from a harsh winter that strained its budget to riots and curfews in spring to the highest monthly homicide rate in 40 plus years. In addition, the Baltimore region continues to grapple with poor air and water quality, obesity, and a continuing gap between the rich and poor.
It can be depressing to think about all those issues. But we can do something hopeful and fun that would help resolve many of them: We can lobby Congress.
Seriously. Lobbying as engaged citizens for legislation that can grow the economy, add much needed middle-class jobs locally, decrease the gap between the rich and poor, improve air and water quality, and encourage community building will empower you to see connections and be hopeful.
Here is the legislation that could have all those ramifications:
Put a fee on carbon at the source, starting out low ($15 per ton of carbon-dioxide emissions) and set to increase steadily for at least a decade (an additional $10 per ton of carbon-dioxide emissions each year). This will set a market signal to get off fossil fuel and move to 21st century energy sources without shocking our economic system. The fee is placed at the sources of fossil fuel (coal mines and oil fields) inside the U.S. and thus the administrative costs are low. A border adjustment is made for goods and fuel produced outside the U.S.
Then, return 100 percent of the revenue to households on an equitable basis. This will help close the gap between the rich and poor because a household living in poverty would get as much back in dividend as a billionaire. Economic analysis indicates that about 70 percent of households would get back at least as much as the increase in prices due to the carbon fee.
Respected economists, including conservatives George Shultz and Gary Becker, support this proposal. Business and finance leaders of ExxonMobil, BP, Caterpillar, Shell, Swiss Re and FedEx, as well as top executives of large European oil and gas companies (BG Group, BP, Eni, Royal Dutch Shell, Statoil and Total) have all called for a carbon fee. We just need to tell Congress we agree!
A carbon-fee-and-dividend scenario would phase out coal-fired power plants, quickly replacing them with clean sources of energy. We all know coal-fired power plants have harmed our air quality and increased asthma. Carbon-fee-and-dividend will be the nudge markets need to quickly get off coal-fired power plants.
It would encourage communities to think of having fun without using so much fossil fuel. Community walks, bike rides and renovations of waterways to enjoy kayaking might be some of the activities we choose to do together, providing community building activities that would help manage stormwater and get us off the couch. There could be more carpooling to save money with the added benefit of getting to know each other.
Because the dividend would be divided equally among households, some of the poorest neighborhoods in Baltimore would suddenly have money to spend on basics like food and housing, alleviating some of the stress in those neighborhoods. It could also spark entrepreneurs to start local companies to save more on carbon dioxide emissions by providing goods and services that use less fossil fuel. These are local jobs that cannot be outsourced; jobs such as insulating homes and installing energy efficient windows and storm doors.
By working together to lobby Congress, you will meet all kinds of people you would never meet otherwise. My lobby group consists of people from 19 to 70 years old, covering most of the racial groups in the U.S. We don't always agree, but we don't need to. Having people think differently than you allows for creativity and helps us see the same problem from different perspectives — essential in solving complicated problems.
What is important is that we care alike. And that is what makes lobbying together as engaged citizens a hopeful activity — people from very different backgrounds caring enough to work for positive change.
Sabrina S. Fu is with the Howard County Chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby; her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.