A carbon fee system would put us on the right path

Opinion: Columns

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By James Schwartz

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With another Earth Day past, we find our environment and our society facing considerable risk from climate change.

According to the Chicago Climate Action Plan, "Continued global dependence at current levels on coal, gas and oil would radically alter the city's climate so that a Chicago summer late in this century could feel like that of Mobile, Alabama, today. The number of extremely hot days could increase from the current two days per year to as many as 31 days per year." 

If climate change is left unchecked, "Chicago could experience extreme heat in the summer, many more heavy rain storms, growing flood risks, stresses on our public health and threats to the city's economy."

These forecasts demonstrate a danger for our region that is quite clear, but does not always feel present. It seems easier to delay, and this makes effective action seem impossible. But we can look to the actions of our forebears for inspiration when tackling seemingly impossible challenges.

When the Great Chicago Fire left one-third of the city's residents homeless, they rebuilt the city from the ground up. When they faced a crisis of dangerous drinking water in the 19th century, they did not shrug and push the problem on to a future generation. They rolled up their sleeves and reversed the Chicago River's flow to prevent it from polluting their water source. Now, we are called to tackle the massive challenge of global climate change.

It is time to implement a bold, practical policy to address this problem. According to Citizens Climate Lobby, a nonpartisan climate advocacy group, "A national carbon fee and dividend system could reduce carbon emissions to 50% of 1990 levels while adding 2.8 million jobs to the American economy" in just 20 years. Carbon fee and dividend would be a huge step forward on climate change — it is simple, fair and effective, and supported by scientists, economists, and climate advocates. This is our best real option for addressing climate change.

This system would require companies to pay a fee, based on the amount of carbon dioxide they produce, assessed when the fossil fuels are burned. This fee would start low and gradually increase to encourage companies and consumers to move away from fossil fuel production and consumption via a market-based system. The money collected would be returned entirely to American households via a dividend to offset the increased product prices they would pay because of the fee.

This system would reduce carbon emissions practically and steadily, without mandating particular technologies or adding revenues for the government. At the same time, this would spur investment in clean energy and energy efficiency. All Americans, regardless of politics, can come together around this policy and fight back against climate change's threat to our way of life.

Our forebears built Chicago into a world-class metropolis, home and workplace of millions. At times, the political inertia in Washington, DC and in our own state can make us feel powerless to tackle big challenges.

Taking inspiration from Earth Day, we must heed Daniel Burnham's admonition to "make no little plans." Let's push our national lawmakers to adopt carbon fee and dividend legislation to address climate change, put money in every family's pockets, and grow the economy for all of us. 

James Schwartz is an Oak Park resident and a volunteer with Citizens Climate Lobby, a climate advocacy organization.

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Ramona Lopez  

Posted: April 25th, 2018 1:02 PM

I agree, humans are destroying the planet. Specifically, what we have done to the oceans is horrific. There are a few things that hurts the climate change movement: 1. They changed the narrative from Global Warming to Climate Change. 2. Al Gore is NOT the best spokesperson and to receive a Nobel Peace Prize for his work was not warranted in the least. 3. Over 31,000 scientist have signed a petition doubting the climate change data. The rebuttal is those scientists are NOT climatologists. Well, neither is Al Gores, Bill Nye or Neil deGrasse Tyson. I'm not sure what the answer is, but when one is fighting deep pockets like BP, Shell and Mobil/Exxon, they better bring "A" game.

Jan Freed from l/a/  

Posted: April 25th, 2018 11:40 AM

Yes! Why even bother with the paid deniers and front groups who thrive creating the delay of a false climate debate? A revenue neutral carbon fee but with a 100% dividend, makes enormous sense (cents, too)! ! Conservative and liberal economists and scientists say it is the best way to create healthy pollution free communities and limit climate change. It is not a tax. This way citizens would RECEIVE the carbon fees as a monthly check, for example. That would protect us from price spikes in dirty energy. Polluters PAY the fees, so it holds fossil fuel corporations responsible for the damages. or "externalities", they cause, hundreds of billions of dollars per year (Harvard School of Medicine). It would more rapidly limit further pollution than by regulations alone, as happened in BC Canada with a similar, popular policy. BC lowered emissions and also lowered taxes with their fees. A study by respected non-partisan Regional Economic Modeling, Inc. found the dividends would help to create 2.9 million additional jobs in 20 years, while reducing carbon emissions 50% in that time, as fees stimulate low carbon technologies . http://citizensclimatelobby.org/wpcontent/uploads/2014/09/REMI-National-SUMMARY.pdf To those who reject the science: perhaps nothing will change your mind. But what have you got against cleaner air, less asthma in our kids, fewer heart attacks, and more money (the dividend) in your pockets? To those accepting the science: Any effort to? limit the problem of climate trauma is worth it. For example: the cost of sea level rise ALONE is so great that no effort to prevent it is unwarranted. Elon Musk was asked "what can we do? " Musk: "I would say whenever you have the opportunity, talk to the politicians.,,,,. We have to fix the unpriced externality [social cost]. I would talk to your friends about it and fight the propaganda from the carbon industry."

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