Please indulge me this rare sports-free post. Green-Sports-themed posts will return next week!
I had the good fortune to spend Monday and Tuesday in Washington D.C. among an amazing group of 1,400 volunteers at the Citizens’ Climate Lobby National Conference. The 10-year old grassroots organization exists “to create the political will for climate solutions by enabling individual breakthroughs in the exercise of personal and political power.”
Though the group is very diverse — volunteers come from all corners of the United States, there are high schoolers and octogenarians, lefties and conservatives (a growing number, in fact) — CCLers have three things in common.
1. Are passionate about solving the climate crisis,
2. Believe in CCL’s market-based Carbon Fee & Dividend legislative proposal that would place a price on carbon and that would share the dividends equally with every household in the country. This would grow the economy, in particular the lower and middle classes, and clean energy technologies would scale at the pace needed to avert the worst effects of climate change.
3. Know that getting to meaningful climate solutions is a marathon and we are in the race until it is won.
Are we closer to the start or the finish of the climate change marathon? No one really knows. But, Tuesday’s lobby-thon — CCLers met with almost each of the 535 House and Senate offices — showed that Citizens’ Climate Lobby definitely picked up the pace.
For those of us engaged in the climate change fight in the United States, it is very easy to get dispirited.
- We have a climate change denier in the White House.
- Congress is controlled by the only major political party in the world — at least as far as I know — which casts significant doubt on the veracity of climate change.
- Daily political discourse is much, much, much more focused on Russia, Stormy Daniels, witch hunts, Robert Mueller, etc., etc., etc.
- Even the environment, when it gets covered, centers on Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt’s many scandals, rather than the virulently anti-climate policies he, his boss, and their Administration are enacting.
All of this is happening as the climate change news becomes more dire. In Wednesday’s Washington Post, this headline blared: “Antarctic ice loss has tripled in a decade. If that continues, we are in serious trouble.” If you are reading this, you know there are a legion of such stories out there.
Pine Island Glacier in Antarctica, a site of significant ice loss. (Photo credit: Ian Joughin/University of Washington)
So it is understandable that many people would rather do something — anything — else other than get and stay involved with climate change activism.
These people need to meet Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) volunteers.
WHERE MANY SEE DESPAIR, CCL’ERS SEE A TANGIBLE WAY FORWARD…AND THUS, HOPE
Are CCLers naive? Just the opposite.
CCLers know that we humans have put our climate in critical condition and that we need to quickly change the course we are on, energy production- and usage-wise.
We also know that the solutions that exist now (wind, solar, efficiency, storage, etc.) can get us where we need to go in time to avert the worst effects of climate change, if we have the political will.
As far as CCL is concerned, building that political will to critical mass means finding a legislative solution in Congress.
The hopeful news is that CCL has a transformative policy measure — designed to appeal to both sides of the political aisle — that, once signed into law and implemented — will grow the economy, benefit mostly those in the lower and middle income stratas, and will reduce emissions at the scale and pace necessary.
Do the italicized parts sound a bit Kumbaya-ish?
Your skepticism is understandable — I just ask you to put it aside, at least until you’ve read the CCL policy prescription and how its 1,400-member volunteer army, moved it forward this week.
THE POLICY: CARBON FEE & DIVIDEND
Carbon fee and dividend sounds like something a gaggle of accountants would get giddy about…but a climate crisis game-changer? Really?
Here’s the slightly wonkish gist:
To account for the many societal costs (climate change, medical costs due to pollution, climate refugees, etc.) of burning fossil fuels, CCL proposes a fee^ — which would escalate yearly —be established on the emissions of fossil fuels. It will be imposed where the fuels are extracted (at the mine or well) or, if we are importing it, at the port of entry.
This fee accounts for the true cost of fossil fuel emissions, creates a level-playing field for all sources of energy, and informs consumers of the true cost comparison of various fuels when making purchase decisions.
All fees collected minus administrative costs will be returned to households as a monthly energy dividend that is divided evenly per household, based on size. If you have a social security number, you get the dividend.
You and Me
In year one, about 2/3 of households — the lowest 2/3 on the income scale — will break even or receive more in the dividend than they would pay in higher prices.
The people who make the least tend to also use the lowest amount of carbon — they likely don’t live lavish, carbon-intense lifestyles. But they’re getting the same dividend as everyone else.
And, since the lower income groups will likely spend most of the dividend, billions will be injected into the economy.
As families see they can do better financially simply by using less carbon, they will likely make smarter choices about their energy usage, meaning their net financial benefit will increase over time. This will spur innovation and build aggregate demand for low-carbon products at the consumer level.
The environment and the economy
In just 20 years, independent studies show that this system could reduce carbon emissions to 50 percent of 1990 levels while adding 2.1 million jobs above baseline to the American economy.
If you need a bit more clarity, check out this two minute video about CF&D:
THE POLITICS: BIPARTISAN APPROACH; SOME GOP MOVEMENT IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
There have been a number carbon pricing bills brought forth in Congress over the years but none have passed. Most have been structured as taxes, meaning the revenues go to the federal government for the Congress to disburse, not to the citizenry, as with CF&D. These bills have only garnered support from Democrats.
CCL leadership says they won’t push to introduce Carbon Fee & Dividend as a bill (i.e. to have it considered and voted on) until it has a Republican co-sponsor. They believe that for a carbon pricing law to have staying power, getting there has to be a bipartisan project. Since any number of Democrats in both chambers would likely sponsor CF&D, finding Republicans to co-sponsor is crucial.
But, you may ask, why would any GOP senator or representative sponsor a carbon pricing, given the climate change denial from the President and Congressional leadership and the party’s lockstep opposition to anything that looks like a tax?
It is a valid question, and, so far, not one Republican has stepped up.
But while the climate change fight is a marathon, one that has been run against fierce headwinds since November, 2016, something is impossible until it isn’t.
And there are, largely below the radar, some changes brewing on the GOP side.
- Most notably, a group of esteemed Republican leaders of yore like George Schultz and James Baker, along with ex-New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, economist Greg Mankiw, the late, great Steven Hawking, and others, formed the Climate Leadership Council (CLC). They published a market-style, dividend-based carbon pricing proposal that is similar to CF&D.
- And, thanks in good measure to the efforts of CCL volunteers, the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus was formed in the House in 2016. Members explore policy options addressing the impacts, causes, and challenges of climate change. For a Democrat to join, she or he must bring a Republican “dance partner” along. As of this week, the Caucus numbers 78 (39 from each party), representing 18 percent of total House members. Over the past 18 months or so, there have been a few climate/environmentally-related votes in the House in which some Republican Caucus members broke with party leadership.
Now, many Democrats fear that GOPers who join the Caucus do so as a “Greenwash”. This means they’re not interested in doing anything meaningful on climate change, but they want to appear like they do, so they sign up. And that may well be true in some cases. It also must be said, sadly, there have been some votes in which Caucus GOP members voted with the President.
So I’m skeptical.
But, I’m much more interested in getting a price on carbon than giving in to my skepticism.
And so I am more than willing to support the market-based, CF&D approach if it can gain Republican support.
What about other issues, you may ask?
From healthcare to immigration to gun safety to income inequality to basic decency to stopping the insanity that began when we woke up on 11/9/16 to [FILL IN THE BLANK], I line up firmly on the Democratic side. Thus I hope a Blue Wave washes ashore in November. And, if that means we have to start in January, 2019 with a smaller Caucus — and a longer marathon to run — so be it.
THE CONFERENCE: YOUNG CONSERVATIVES OFFER HOPE
Despite the above, my climate change fighting batteries got recharged, big time, at Monday’s CCL National Conference/lobbying training and Tuesday’s Lobby Day on Capitol Hill. This was my third conference/lobby day in the past four years.
Monday’s highlight was a terrific talk by Ted Halstead, founder, Chairman and CEO of the Climate Leadership Council (the GOPers eminences grises group I mentioned earlier). His main thrust is that a dividend-based carbon pricing scheme will be a transformational “grand bargain” between right and left. In Halstead’s eyes, the left gets a carbon pricing scheme that benefits the lower 70 percent of families, the right gets regulatory simplification*, and carbon pollution starts to wane.
If you want to really get Halstead’s approach, please watch/listen to his 13 minute Ted Talk.
Halstead then brought on to the stage leaders from Students for Carbon Dividends (SC4D), a new group of college and university organizations — 23 Republican clubs and 6 Democratic clubs so far — that are supporting dividend-based carbon pricing. “This is the first time College Republican groups are publicly supporting a national climate solution,” said Alex Posner of Yale, the President of SC4D. “Young conservatives are very much interested in climate solutions. And liberals on campus are looking for something to move the needle.”
SC4D Vice President Kiera O’Brien of Harvard added, “According to a Pew Research study, 75 percent of young republicans want action on climate but have no outlet. We feel like we’ve been given a false choice: Conservation or the economy. We believe that, a dividend approach will result in conservation, economic growth and less regulation.”
Hopefully, many more young conservatives will follow Alex’ and Kiera’s lead on climate, and FAST!
LOBBY DAY: THE MARATHON CONTINUES
Kudos to the CCL staff! They were able to schedule lobbying meetings for 1,400 people with with over 500 congressional offices on Capitol Hill — and those took place on one day!
Citizens Climate Lobby volunteers pause for a photo in front of the U.S. Capitol before heading to over 500 Congressional offices to advocate for its Carbon Fee & Dividend legislative proposal (Photo credit: Citizens Climate Lobby)
And, it is my great honor to lobby with my CCL colleagues.
If you want to learn how to run an organized, strategic meeting — lobbying, business or otherwise — join a CCL lobbying meeting. Respectful and meticulously well-planned, they feature open-ended questions that get the member and/or staff talking, fact-based discussions, clear asks and tangible next steps.
I took part in three meetings, two with staff from Democratic House members (José Serrano from the Bronx and Joe Crowley from the Bronx and Queens) and with a staffer for an upstate New York Republican (Tom Reed, Ithaca to Jamestown).
CCL has been calling on these offices for years so much of our pitch isn’t new. Some of the objections and questions raised by staffers were similar to those I heard in 2015-16: “We need to promote conservation without hurting the economy,” “How does the dividend get allocated?”
But the staffers’ body language was more positive, more forward leaning. And their questions showed that some, small bits of progress had been made. There was a deeper understanding of the power of the dividend and interest in a “Grand Bargain.”
Leaving Capitol Hill, I felt energized, looking forward to the next phase of the climate change marathon, but also wondering how fast people like Halstead, Posner and O’Brien can rally their conservative friends to join in.
The marathon continues and I have yet to hit “the wall.”
The more I do this work with CCL, the more I am convinced that its bipartisan approach to carbon pricing is ultimately going to be successful. If you would like to be a part of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, click here.
^ $15/metric ton on the CO2 equivalent emissions of fossil fuels, escalating by $10/metric ton each year,
* It is important to note Halstead’s/CLC’s plan eliminates carbon-based regulations like the Clean Power Plan in exchange for the carbon fee while CCL’s program does not remove regulations
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