Pete Ackerman | Fight Climate Change in Ways That Help Economy

SCV Voices: Guest Commentary
SCV Voices: Guest Commentary

Most people are concerned about all the negative effects of climate change, a recent Yale survey found. Large majorities of voters support policies to reduce carbon pollution and promote clean energy, and this support is often across party lines.

The survey was conducted in December by Yale and George Mason Universities, polling a nationally representative sample of registered voters across the political spectrum. The survey found large majorities of NPR, MSNBC and CNN audiences are either alarmed or concerned about global warming. 

I was pleased to also see 57% of Fox News audiences are alarmed, concerned, or cautious about global warming, versus only 36% who are doubtful or dismissive.

Even Santa Clarita’s conservative U.S. Rep. Mike Garcia said he’s concerned about global warming when meeting with some of our Santa Clarita chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby last August. CCL is a nationwide nonprofit advocating for bipartisan ways to fight climate change.

Many people believe, however, that tackling climate change will hurt our economy. 

I used to believe this was a price to be paid to leave a livable world to my kids and grandkids. An economic analysis out of Columbia University in New York, however, found that the clean energy fight can also improve our economy if done right. The key is to use market-based solutions rather than regulations.

Noah Kaufman led this economic analysis on impacts of a carbon fee. He is a professor at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, and a leading independent expert on climate policies. Columbia’s analysis found that a range of carbon fees, assessed on producers against the carbon dioxide emissions of their fuels, would significantly lower greenhouse gas emissions. 

A fee of $50 per ton, for example, would lower U.S. GHG by 3.2% per year. (Fifty dollars per ton is considered a moderate fee; 3.2% per year is considered a substantial reduction, and it would be compounded annually.) 

They found 80% of the reduction would be in electricity power generation, since an array of clean energy technologies exist in this sector to facilitate immediate CO2 reductions.

The Columbia analysis also ran economic models on various ways to use the revenue from a carbon fee. These predicted the economic effects would be small — less than 0.5% of gross domestic product annually across all scenarios. 

Significantly, if the revenue is returned to people as a dividend to reduce payroll taxes, a carbon fee will increase U.S. GDP! This was true over both the five- and 10-year horizons modeled.

The analysis also noted that a simple carbon fee would allow reducing many government regulations that would become redundant to the fee. In order to not disadvantage U.S. manufacturers, they fairly applied the carbon fee to imports, also. 

A U.S. carbon fee on imports would likely encourage trading partners to implement similar policies. This is good news, since climate change is a global problem that needs global solutions.

We now clearly understand climate change leads to more extreme weather. Heat waves get hotter, cold gets colder, wet weather gets wetter, and droughts get dryer. 

We’ve also learned that Arctic regions have seen by far the most warming of any area. Some scientists believe that Arctic warming may have created an unstable situation for the winter path of the jet stream. 

This could have been what allowed the jet stream to change course, bringing extreme cold down to Texas. As widely reported, Texas’ electricity grid, and other energy systems, were not resilient to cold weather.

Per the Yale survey, 84% of voters support modernizing electrical grids, and 88% support incentives to make buildings more energy-efficient. A carbon fee would provide that incentive, and the dividend could provide the money. 

Furthermore, 82% of voters support rebates for energy-efficient vehicles and solar panels. A carbon fee would also provide this incentive, and people could decide what to use their dividend for.

CCL has always focused on reducing CO2 emissions and insisted that all revenues from a carbon fee be returned to the American people. As the late Republican George Schultz stated, “. . . it’s not a tax if the government doesn’t keep the money.”

A price on carbon emissions is also supported by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, and even the American Petroleum Institute. 

Congressman Garcia should cosponsor carbon fee and dividend legislation as the best way to keep a livable world and improve our economy without excessive regulations. If you agree, please let him know!

Pete Ackerman is an engineer and member of the Santa Clarita chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby.

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