Advocates visit the valley with plan to create jobs, slow climate change
By Ann McCreary
Advocates for a market-based approach to slowing global warming brought their message to the Methow Valley last week.
A three-person delegation met with local farmers and business representatives, and gave a community presentation in Twisp as part of a 12-city tour in Washington and Idaho to promote a proposal they said could stabilize the climate without damaging the nation’s economy.
The conversation about finding ways to address climate change often focuses on a belief that climate change policies will kill jobs and limit energy choices for consumers, said John Sandvig, an aerospace engineer and executive, and a volunteer with Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), which sponsored the tour.
A proposal developed by CCL seeks to create jobs and benefit the economy while shifting energy use from oil, coal and gas to cleaner forms of energy, Sandvig said. If that occurred, the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the earth’s atmosphere would slow and ultimately decrease, and the shift to alternative technology would spur economic development, he said.
At the heart of the proposal is putting prices on coal, oil and gas that reflect the true impacts and costs of those products on the environment and the economy, Sandvig said. Fees on fossil fuels would in phased in over time, and those fees would be returned as dividend checks equally to households throughout the United States.
The “carbon fee and dividend” model proposed by CCL would drive “a massive change in behavior” among energy consumers, Sandvig said. “We do that by … intentionally making carbon expensive” and consequently encouraging development of energy forms that will become comparatively less expensive over time, he said.
“We see a future where alternate energy sources are becoming more affordable at the same time fossil fuels are more expensive,” he said. In order to make their dividend check from the fees on fossil fuels go further, households will turn to lower cost energy, he said.
Because the fee and dividend approach doesn’t involve new taxes or regulatory agencies, and is based on free-market forces, it could appeal to lawmakers “across the political spectrum,” Sandvig said.
He was joined on the multi-city tour by Steve Ghan, a climate scientist and leader of the Citizens Climate Lobby group in Richland, and Jennifer Syrowitz, conservation manager for the Audubon Washington Chapter and a CCL volunteer.
Ghan said he is among the vast majority of scientists who believe that climate change is caused by burning fossil fuels. While the earth’s climate has fluctuated over the planet’s history, “only the increasing concentration of greenhouse gases can explain” the climate changes observed since the industrial revolution, he said.
Climate science, however, is the target of a “disinformation campaign,” Ghan told the audience at a presentation Wednesday evening (Nov. 8) at The Merc Playhouse in Twisp. “There is a public and coordinated campaign to sow seeds of doubt, funded largely by the fossil fuels industry,” he said.
As an example, Ghan held up a thick report called “Climate Change Reconsidered,” published by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, a group he said is funded by the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank. Ghan said his own climate research is cited in the report, and is “totally misrepresented.”
Despite that campaign, public acceptance of the need to change human behavior to slow climate change is growing, Ghan said. He cited a nationwide poll by Yale University in 2016, which found that 68 percent of Okanogan County residents believe climate change is real and 72 percent believe carbon dioxide emissions, which are blamed for warming temperatures, should be regulated.
Ghan said new clean energy technologies are being developed, waiting for consumer demand. “New Holland, a tractor manufacturer, has already developed a tractor powered by hydrogen fuel cells and is testing it. They’re not going to manufacture it without a market,” Ghan said.
“If we put a price on carbon there would be all sorts of people incentivized to produce” products using alternative energy sources, he said.
“Part of the idea of this tour is to normalize the idea of a carbon fee,” Syrowitz said during an informal meeting with community members at TwispWorks. “We pay to have our garbage picked up and sewage treated. I consider this a small contribution … to build a better world,” she said.
No. 1 issue
“Climate change is the No. 1 issue of my generation,” Syrowitz said. “In Audubon we look at birds as the harbinger of change — the canary in the coal mine, so to speak. Audubon has identified 314 bird species that are threatened or endangered by climate change.”
“Over the last 50 years, 60 percent of wintering birds have shifted their range northward during winter” due to warmer temperatures, she said.
Ghan said the impacts of climate change locally can be observed in retreating glaciers in the Cascade Mountains; changes in snowmelt and reduced water supplies; increasing wildfires, insects and disease in forests; and heat waves that affect crops and livestock. Globally, climate change is linked to more severe storms, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, drought, costs of protecting oil fields, and health impacts.
“Even if it [climate change] is not certain, one might ask, what if scientists are right? Would it make sense to manage it as a risk … in such a way that you didn’t hurt the economy or the standard of living?” Sandvig said.
The fee and dividend proposal described by CCL calls for imposing fees on oil, coal and gas at the source — wells, mines, ports. The fee would start out low, perhaps $15 per ton of carbon dioxide emitted, and increase each year by $10 per ton. That would equal about 15 cents per gallon of gas the first year, and about $2.05 per gallon after 20 years, Sandvig said. All the fees collected would be divided among all households equally.
A border adjustment levy would be placed on fossil fuel imports from other countries without similar carbon pricing, and rebates would be given to American companies exporting to countries without similar pricing. That would encourage other countries to adopt similar pricing plans, Sandvig said.
The fee and dividend plan would not require creating a new government bureaucracy, and the market-based approach would drive transition to an economy powered by nonpolluting, low-carbon energy, Sandvig said.
Sandvig said the climate lobby hopes to garner support among members of Congress and develop legislation that it hopes will be introduced by members of the Republican Party. Carbon fee and dividend legislation has been introduced in past legislatures, and CCL is hoping that it could be introduced again in the current Congress, but is more optimistic that it could be introduced after the 2018 election, he said.
The climate activists’ visit to the Methow Valley was sponsored by the Methow Valley Citizens Council. In addition to their stop in Twisp, the trio visited Omak and Okanogan, where they met with Okanogan County commissioners. Their tour also included Toppenish, Yakima, the Tri-Cities, Ellensburg, Wenatchee, Moses Lake, Spokane, Lewiston-Clarkston, Palouse, Walla Walla and Sandpoint, Idaho.