Sound and Fury…
I went to the People’s Climate March in Washington DC on April 29th. It drew about 200,000 people. That’s pretty remarkable. A triumph of grassroots organizing. Unlike most marches, we did actually march, winding from the Capitol Building to the Whitehouse. People were excited and full of energy.
The trouble is, it felt like it ended with a whimper. I was really hoping to end the march hearing a CleanTech version of MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Instead, I heard a lot of virtue signaling, shouting “shame” at the Trump International Hotel as we went by, and lots of colorful and often hilarious cuss words aimed at President Trump. It often felt unproductive and divisive. I didn’t see the path forward. After the march, I wandered back to my AirBnb sunburnt and a bit dejected.
As important as getting people together is to show solidarity, without action it smacks of Teddy Roosevelt’s famous phrase about how complaining without proposing a solution is called whining. I’m a get stuff done kind of person, and I did not see a plan of action.
Let’s be frank. The Republicans are in control for at least 18 more months. If we want to do something related to climate aside from whine, we’re going to need to propose a solution in language that isn’t repulsive to the right that is also something they can actually get behind. I wrote about that here, with a more hopeful tone than I feel today.
So what can we do?
Working Together by Changing Our Language
First, we need to excise Climate Change from our language and instead use conservative-friendly language. Debbie Dooley of the Green Tea Party suggests using words like, energy freedom, energy choice, competition, stewardship, and conservation. Conservation is a deep-seated conservative value. After all it was Nixon that started the EPA. Take 4 minutes and watch that video. Seriously, stop reading this and check it out.
There is plenty of common ground to work from here, and climate change will be addressed by these solutions. We really do need to change our language, though. It’s hard, but it needs to happen, or else nothing will get done. Half the population has been conditioned to put up stone walls when “climate change” is mentioned. We have to avoid dealing with that wall. I have plenty of conservative friends, in fact it’s where I came from. I’d like to work with them, not argue about climate change.
Carbon Fee and Dividend
Second, I’d like to propose revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend as our goal. Carbon Fee and Dividend is not a tax, all money is returned to the populace. Citizens Climate Lobby (gotta change that name…) has the best plan. A number of Republican statesmen proposed a very similar plan in February.
The best option for the dividend seems to be returning all of the fees directly to citizens. As soon as we start trying to decide where else the money could go, we have a political fight on our hands, one that we are likely to lose. (As recently happened in Washington state.)
How does it work? Basically, you pay at the pump, on your electric bill (if you have fossil fuel generation), or on your heating bill for the amount of carbon dioxide released from burning that fuel. Plans call for $15-$40/ton. The math works out to be about $0.15 – $0.40 per gallon of gasoline. Every month or every quarter, you get a check back for an equal share of the fee. If you are efficient, you get more back than it costs you. If you are inefficient, you pay more.
Every citizen would get a monthly or quarterly check returning the fee as a dividend. Frequent checks are likely to reduce resistance to increased prices. They will also nudge people to switch to fossil fuel free options like wind & solar electricity, heat pumps, and electric cars. The carbon fee will put you ahead of the game if you are all electric.
Carbon Fee and Dividend will serve as a pricing signal, which tend to move markets when they are transparent. It’s market based which is conservative friendly.
This can actually be a bipartisan solution, as shown by the two groups I mentioned from both sides of the aisle. Another example is that Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon and current Secretary of State, has expressed support for carbon fee and dividend because it is far simpler and more predictable than current regulations.
A Path Forward
I firmly believe that if the energy I experienced at the People’s Climate March was channeled towards one aim, we could actually get it done. All the groups need to settle on one bipartisan aim like Carbon Fee and Dividend, and we need to be careful to use bipartisan language. Then, I think we could actually tackle climate change. Oops, I mean energy independence.