LETTER: Why a carbon fee and dividend is imperative

Michael Jessen says climate change is a "black swan in waiting."

Michael Jessen

Michael Jessen

Climate change is a black swan in waiting. The black swan theory is a metaphor that describes an event that is unpredictable, has a massive impact, and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight.

The invention of the Internet, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the astonishing success of Google, and 9/11 were all black swans.

There is a limit on fossil fuel carbon dioxide that we can pour into the atmosphere without guaranteeing unacceptably tragic, immoral climatic consequences for all humans and nature.

We may soon pass the limit on carbon emissions because we have no idea what that limit is. Our ineffectual efforts to reign in carbon emissions must be replaced by one in which an across-the-board rising carbon fee is collected from fossil fuel companies at the place where the fossil fuel enters a domestic market, at the domestic mine or port-of-entry.

All funds so collected should be distributed electronically (to bank account or debit card) monthly to legal residents of the country in equal per capita amounts, with half a share for each child up to two children per family. Currently, more than 60 percent of citizens will receive more in their monthly dividend than they pay in increased prices.

At present fossil fuels are the dominant energy only because the environmental and social costs are externalized onto society as a whole rather than being internalized into their prices. Human health costs due to air and water pollution from mining and burning of fossil fuels are borne by the public, as are costs of climate change that have been estimated at US $100 to $1,000 per ton of CO2.

The fee-and-dividend approach allows the market place to select technology winners. Government subsidies should be eliminated for all energies, not just fossil fuels. This approach will spur innovation, stimulating the economy as price signals encourage the public to adopt energy efficiency and clean energies.

Former NASA climate scientist James Hansen says “A fundamental fact is that as long as fossil fuels are allowed to be cheap, via subsidies and failure to pay their costs to society, they will be burned.”

Since it will require up to a decade to replace fossil fuel energy infrastructure with carbon-neutral and carbon-negative energies, it is imperative we act now to remedy the systemic flaws that have rendered our future increasingly precarious.

Michael Jessen

Citizens’ Climate Lobby


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