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Set the free market free by making it accountable

photo of Peter Joseph

Started by: PJMD

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Citizens Climate Lobby: Carbon Fee and Dividend


Set the free market free by making it accountable

Citizens Climate Lobby advocates a carbon fee and dividend approach to restraining runaway carbon pollution. It's simple: Tax carbon pollution by placing a small but rising fee on fossil fuels at their source or point of entry into the economy, then return the funds to individuals so they can afford their needs. This will send a price signal that will trigger massive private investment in non-fossil energy. End subsidies to all fuels, level the playing field, internalize the social costs of climate change into the fuels that produce it and correct the greatest market failure in the history of money: failure to account for the waste that threatens to destroy the civilization that the market is meant to serve.

Economists from all persuasions agree that a carbon tax is the best way to promote growth while protecting the environment. 

This is the best way to kick start the next Industrial Revolution. 

Reasons for working in this topic, project or business:

Humanity is out of time with respect to climate change. Feedbacks are at play and tipping points are being crossed as governments dither, countries argue, and politics-as-usual plays out.

We must use existing social structures to manage this huge problem. The solution must be of equal scale as the climate problem. It must be massive, global, deep,broad, transparent, simple, easily understandable, quickly deployable, non-punative nor regressive, not subject to gimmicks, speculation, or price volatility and thus predictable. Businesses must be able to live with it, and most can adjust. Politicians of all persuasions must find it acceptable. 

The only structure that fits this description is the global economy. It touches everyone, and everyone is both part of the problem and can be part of the solution, since all humans are carbon emitters and participate in the global economy. Thus a financial price signal touches and empowers all of us, from corporate planners to individuals.


"Internalizing externalities", ie, paying for our poop, is the only way to stop carbon pollution from being profitable. As long as it's profitable, it will continue, due to the massive power of money. 

Make the money incentives align with our survival incentives and the market will change course and work for survival. 

This is the least expensive route and more effective than heavy-handed government regulations and it works across borders with border tax adjustments. We cannot afford to wait for the UNFCCC process to produce elusive consensus and meaningful actions if we get the money right. Countries can participate or not, but their exports will be penalized at the border if they fail to make the effort to reduce carbon emissions. 

See: Carbon Tax Center, Citizens Climate Lobby, and The Case for A Carbon Tax


Root causes of the problems in this field and main barriers:

Fossil fuels are the cheapest source of energy. As long as they remain so, they will be exploited down to the last drop. This must change.

Resistance to a carbon tax is a mile wide and an inch deep. Once people understand its effectiveness they like the idea. Citizens want to contribute to solutions and are willing to spend a little to do so. The dividend, or rebate, softens the financial impact on households. Studies from Yale Project on Climate Change Communication shows very broad public support for a revenue-neutral carbon fee, and models suggest that in the US, 2/3 of households will receive more money in their dividend check than the cost of rising prices. That check also cements political support long term: what politician would dare suggest taking it away? 

What is needed to overcome barriers to implement solutions:

More people need to understand both the gravity of climate change and its solutions. See the conclusions of James Hansen's TED talk.  Once people realize that there is a powerful solution to this tragedy they can lose their despair and sense of being overwhelmed. That hope has a multiplier effect that can cross political divides and unite us. 

A great deal of disinfomation now floods the public space, massively financed by fossil fuel interests. That can be overcome only by many people spreading the word, having conversations and changing the cultural norm. This has happened before: slavery, women's rights, marriage equality to name but a few issues where a culture has pivoted  from one set of beliefs to another. It takes only an active minority to change the milieu, but one that is focused on a single, achievable, understandable and practical solution.  

Specific needs and/or support requests:

Citizens Climate Lobby works at the local and federal levels using our democratic institutions to push for change at the top. Only a coherent national solution can work fast enough to catch up with accelerating climate feedbacks. Individual actions, while necessary and laudable, are insufficient to get the job done. 

Chapters are rapidly spreading across the US. We especially need them in districts represented by climate deniers and those set against "new taxes." 

We work by writing letters to the editors of local papers, which electeds always read carefully. We write op-ed pieces and meet with editorial boards of papers, urging them to write about this conservative climate solution. We meet with elected officials both in their districts and on Capitol Hill, working in a non-partisan fashion, always respectfully, aiming to build relationships with staffers and their bosses. We provide reliable, unbiased information to busy journalists and politicians. 

Suggested best local solution for this topic:

We have forged relationships with our elected reps and their staffers and work with local groups urging them to focus also on national solutions in addition to local ones. Explore Citizens Climate Lobby  to see how this is working. For example, our chapter in the Bay Area has worked with Senator Boxer's office around the carbon fee and dividend bill recently introduced, and we continue to try to help improve its chances of passing. 

Networking opportunities:

Saving humanity from devastating climate change requires many groups working on many fronts in an "ecosystem" of change. But unless financial incentives align, it will be an uphill fight with very uncertain chances for success no matter what we do. Imagine working on all our issues in a context where financial incentives are shifting towards a green revolution. It would make it so much easier. 

Therefore, we need a united movement aimed at ONE key goal: Make the "free market" free to be honest, free to correct its biggest failure, free to not destroy the civilization it's meant to serve. WE HAVE TO GET THE MONEY STRAIGHT. Doing so will render the Keystone XL pipeline superfluous, since tar sands will price itself out of the market. Doing so will cause investors to DIVEST themselves of fossil fuel stocks since their reserves will become less valuable -- all using market forces, not demonstrations and civil disobedience. 

Suggested best global solution for this topic:

In Europe, carbon allowances are practically worthless. Cap and trade hasn't worked. In British Columbia, a carbon fee and dividend program has succeeded. 

Best practices and policies:

Best policies can be found at The Carbon Tax Center in NY and the Brookings Institution in DC. Citizens Climate Lobby has, I believe, a "best practices" approach: by empowering individuals to take action to shift the political climate to one where sensible legislation can be achieved that will make a livable climate more likely in the near future and solve a host of other problems.  


Women can lead the way to a more sane federal policy on carbon pollution. 


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