I live in the small town of Orono , Maine. In response to the persistent urging and educational efforts of a group of town citizens, the Orono Town Council unanimously passed a resolution asking the Maine congressional delegation to support enactment of a carbon fee and dividend to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It urged speedy action appropriate to the gravity and urgency of the growing climate crisis. With this resolution, Orono joined other Maine municipalities that have passed similar resolutions including two of its largest cities, Bangor and Portland.
I am a member of CGS, a national organization loosely affiliated with the international movement to establish a democratic world federation that would maintain peace, justice, and a sustainable, healthy environment. Anthropogenic climate change is one of several global environmental problems created by humans that show no respect for national borders and that threaten our global life support system. Why write a blog for CGS about local action as a route toward solving a global problem? First, action on this issue on international and national levels has been painfully slow and inadequate, and here in the United States our president has even denied that there is a problem. Second, the United States, together with China is one of the top two carbon emitters, and in the absence of effective global environmental management by the UN or international treaty, and until we have a world government we need to get our government to act. Without a groundswell from citizen level upward through tiers of government demonstrating profound concern and urging prompt, effective action we are unlikely to act fast enough to avoid dire consequences of climate change. All the while, we should be supporting CGS’s long term efforts to reform the way the world does business so that urgent efforts such as this to avoid the worst consequences of a problem that has been predicted by scientists for decades aren’t needed in the future.
Small Town Effects
Orono acted, in part, because its infrastructure and resources have been strained by increases in extreme storm and precipitation events affecting storm water systems and road maintenance. Orono also is being affected by spread of Lyme disease partially due to climate warming and moistening. Less direct impacts include the warming, acidifying, and rising of the Gulf of Maine, affecting Maine’s coastal and fishing communities — trends expected to intensify. Elsewhere, in the United States and internationally climates are changing in different ways: droughts and disastrous fires in some areas, wind-driven deluges in others. Economic strains radiate throughout the system. Expenditures must increase to keep up with impacts. Every person and municipality are affected, directly and/or indirectly, in one way or another.
What Can We Do?
The solution? There are many: effective action can be taken by individuals, families, towns, states, and nations. Solutions range from the cars we drive (electric?), to the electricity we use (solar, wind?), the way we heat our houses (heat pumps, geothermal?), the way we produce our food (minimal use of fossil fuel?), where we produce it (close at hand?), and how much we recycle and reduce waste. But whether we succeed in this race against time depends in large part on our national government, as a major economic transformation is required.
Federal Carbon Fees
The most effective and practical way to deal with this problem in the U.S is for the government to collect a fee on carbon that increases over time, to impose it on coal before it ships from the mine and on oil and natural gas before they are piped from the well. In this way, the price of all fossil fuels will go up whether used in transportation, manufacturing, electricity production, heating, and other. This approach tips the competitive balance away from fossil fuels to renewable forms of energy, and efficiently spurs the transformation needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Fees Offset by Dividends
But, what about the low-income American who has to pay more for gasoline, heating oil or natural gas? The carbon fee and dividend (CFD) approach takes care of that crucial dilemma. CFD legislation now before the House of Representatives (H.R.763) returns the fee money in equal monthly payments (“dividends”) to all households, like social security checks. Most poor households will receive more in dividends than they spend on increased energy costs, and most middle income households will at least break even. Only wealthy profligate energy users will typically pay more for energy than they receive in dividends. This system is revenue-neutral: the total fees collected equal amounts paid out in dividends. A pie in the sky? No. So far, over 3550 U.S. economists have signed a statement supporting carbon fee and dividend, including four former chairs of the Federal Reserve, 27 Nobel Laureate economists, 15 former chairs of the Council of Economic Advisors, and two former Secretaries of the Department of Treasury (https://www.econstatement.org/). When have so many economists ever agreed on anything? No wonder my town of Orono, Maine is on board! How about your town, your state, your members of congress? Think globally and support CGS, but also act locally. And If you are a concerned citizen like me, contact your congressional representatives to urge a carbon fee and dividend as in H.R.763.
The author of this blog is a retired professor from the University of Maine where he was a member of the Climate Change Institute and the School of Biology and Ecology. He is a paleoecologist, ecologist and naturalist with teaching and research interests in a range of natural ecosystems. The opinions he expresses in this blog are his own, and not necessarily those of the University of Maine.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the official policy of Citizens for Global Solutions.