Local View: A carbon dividend could save the economy
As the economy grinds to a halt because of the coronavirus, Congress has authorized trillions of dollars in deficit spending in an attempt to stave off a recession by sending checks to Americans to spend. Speed is of the essence because unlike the last recession, which was caused by a financial-system collapse, this recession is caused by a catastrophic drop in demand for goods and services. Unfortunately, the federal government doesn’t have the addresses or accurate direct-deposit information to deliver millions of the checks. The result will almost certainly be a deeper and longer recession than had to be the case.
Fortunately, a solution for climate change could also help us in our response to the coronavirus recession.
Central to the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, HR 763, is a steadily rising fee on the price of fossil fuels, with all the proceeds distributed monthly as a dividend to every American citizen. All the kinks that now bedevil the Treasury Department would have been ironed out for Americans years ago if this bill had been enacted. It would have then been a simple task for Congress to add income support to each dividend check when a recession loomed. Over time, this flush of cash, in addition to the regular dividend check, could be fine-tuned to the economic circumstances. The economy would be preserved, and the impending burden of sheer want would be lifted from millions of Americans.
The current epidemic can be thought of as an acute, short-term problem that needs emergency funding to keep families in their homes. Climate change, on the other hand, is a long-term threat to the homes of millions. By the end of this century, climate change is expected to shave 10% off GDP on an annual basis, and millions of homes will be threatened by sea-level rise, flooding, and storm damage.
There will be future pandemics. There are more than 1,000 identified viruses that could potentially cause a pandemic. Climate change will only make matters worse. Can you imagine millions of Floridians fleeing a hurricane and sheltering with thousands of others at a time like this? Or what about people in the West congregating together in shelters to escape forest fires?
What about forest fires in northern Minnesota? The deaths from the catastrophic Cloquet fire 102 years ago were compounded when thousands of homeless fire refugees descended upon Duluth just as the great influenza pandemic of 1918 hit the city.
We now know that Congress can move quickly and decisively when it wants. We are also increasing the deficit at such a rate that our public debt will exceed the size of the economy in the next several months, and we are acting far too slowly on both the coronavirus and climate change. Additionally, we have never had so many Americans unemployed in such a short time.
The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act offers the near elimination of fossil fuels over 30 years with a dividend check to all Americans every month. All without raising the deficit.
These are tough times on many levels. However, when this crisis has passed, remember the cleaner air you breathed and the clear vistas from the lack of soot in the air you enjoyed. Our individual actions by driving less and burning a lot less coal for electricity made this happen. If we pull together, we can have a solution which prepares us for pandemics, resolves climate change, and builds a prosperous future. Support the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act.
Dr. Eric Enberg practices family medicine in West Duluth and is group leader for the Duluth Citizens' Climate Lobby (https://citizensclimatelobby.org). He also is a member of the Duluth Climate and Environment Network.