My-Turn-thumb

By Steve Ghan

My wife and I just returned from four glorious days in the Methow Valley. I love the winter sun shining on the snow-covered fields, the majestic ponderosa pines, and the mountains rising in the distance. I am amazed at the generosity of the Methow farmers allowing skiers to pass over their land without compensation. I am glad the mountain snow and gentle land produces crops for Methow farmers during the summer months. I enjoy the friendliness of the innkeepers and restaurateurs serving visitors from across the state.

As a climate scientist, I know well how much the Methow way of life is threatened by the warming climate. I want to protect what you and I love so much. But how? The Methow is but a tiny corner of one state in one country. How can people in the Methow make a difference? How can we get the rest of the world to help protect what we love?

The fact is everyone is threatened in some way by global warming. Mountain snowpack is particularly sensitive to temperature in ranges all around the world. That impacts agriculture which relies on summer snowmelt for irrigation. All coastal zones are threatened by sea level rise as the ocean warms and the ice caps on Greenland and Antarctica melt. More violent storms and more intense precipitation in a warmer world cause unprecedented flooding and wind damage in many regions.

Everyone is therefore motivated to prevent further warming. That was the basis for the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015. All countries knew they had much to lose from inaction, and could not expect other countries to reduce the carbon emissions driving the warming without reducing emissions themselves.

But the Paris Climate Agreement is not enough to prevent the Greenland ice from melting (albeit slowly) or the Cascade snowpack from declining by 70 percent by the end of this century. Moreover, our current president wants out of the Paris Climate Agreement.

What can we do?

How then can we get the whole world to embrace effective action without hurting the economy? I recommend national carbon fee and dividend legislation that does three things. First, put a steadily increasing price on fossil carbon at the point it enters the U.S. economy (the coal mine, the oil/gas well, or port of entry from other countries). Such a price would account for the social costs of fossil fuel that consumers are not paying directly, but collectively through taxes or insurance, for impacts of climate change, impacts on human health, and the military costs of ensuring access to foreign oil. That predictable price signal will spread through the economy, making fossil fuel products more expensive for utilities, manufacturers and consumers, which makes carbon-free energy and products more competitive. There are already many substitutes for carbon-based energy and products, and many more will follow with a predictable price signal on carbon.

Second, promptly return all of the revenue from the carbon fee back to the economy as an equal dividend to every resident, no matter how much fossil fuel consumers use. Consumers can use their monthly dividend to pay more for fossil fuel or choose carbon-free energy or products the next time they replace their vehicle, tractor or home. Since the carbon content is reflected by the price, no special accounting is required. Most consumers come out ahead.

Third, to protect U.S. trade, put tariffs on products imported from countries without a price on carbon, and use the revenue from those tariffs to compensate our exports. Since the United States is the world’s biggest consumer nation, such tariffs would give us considerable leverage on the carbon policies of other countries. That’s how to get the whole world to reduce carbon emissions for the benefit of  Methow Valley.

But what can you do? A local chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL), which advocates such a carbon fee and dividend legislation, is forming in the Methow Valley. Sign up at citizensclimatelobby.org and CCL will connect you with local leaders. You’ll receive training on how to be effective advocates for a national climate policy that, because it is revenue-neutral and market-based, can appeal to Republicans as well as Democrats. More than 400 chapters already exist, and more than 90,000 people are CCL volunteers. Together we can build the political will needed to pass durable bipartisan national legislation that will cut U.S. carbon emissions in half within 20 years without hurting the U.S. economy. So we can save the Methow way of life that we love so much.

Steve Ghan lives in Richland.