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Our view: Let’s cash in, solve warming

In the oh-so-polarizing debate over climate change -- not so much whether it's real as what to do about it -- Dyann Andybur of Duluth and Katya and Mark Gordon of Two Harbors are pushing an idea they argue can be embraced by liberals and conserva...

In the oh-so-polarizing debate over climate change - not so much whether it’s real as what to do about it - Dyann Andybur of Duluth and Katya and Mark Gordon of Two Harbors are pushing an idea they argue can be embraced by liberals and conservatives alike as well as everyone in between or on the periphery.
The three are members of the Duluth and North Shore chapter of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a national advocacy group. They met Tuesday with News Tribune editorial board members. The lobby, they said, endorses creating a federal revenue-neutral carbon tax. Energy companies would be the ones nicked, providing them and their customers a bottom-line-minding incentive to pursue and embrace lower-carbon alternative fuels. The harm from climate change then would be reduced. And revenue from the tax would be distributed to Americans via monthly dividend checks.
“That’s right; Americans would make money off climate change rather than being harmed by potentially higher energy prices,” Washington Post science and environment writer Chris Mooney wrote last month when reporting on talk of the tax.
That talk actually has been around a while, at least since President George W. Bush, and it deserves more conversation than it has been getting. It’s an idea that promises to fulfill the huge liberal goal of curbing climate change but in a way that conservatives can support.
The province of British Columbia in Canada already has instituted a revenue-neutral carbon tax. Taxes in the province went down as a result.
As proposed here, since revenue wouldn’t go to the government, the size of government wouldn’t be expanded by the tax. So this isn’t tax and spend. And because it’s not, it promises to be far less politically polarizing than other climate measures.
This is a policy climate scientists and economists alike say is the best first step in reducing “the likelihood of catastrophic climate change,” the Citizens Climate Lobby claims at its website, citizensclimatelobby.org. “As long as fossil fuels remain artificially cheap and profitable, their use will rise. Correcting this market failure requires their price to account for their true social costs.”
Harvard University economist Greg Mankiw, who advised both President Bush and Mitt Romney, put it like this in Mooney’s piece for the Post: “Basic economics tells us that when you tax something, you normally get less of it. So if we want to reduce global emissions of carbon, we need a global carbon tax.”
Well, maybe not global - not yet. The idea can’t even seem to catch traction in D.C., where congressional gridlock seems to be claiming another victim, no matter how badly it may be needed.
“It’s a very simple thing. It’s very transparent,” Katya Gordon argued. “It’s not a blame thing. … We really want to get away from the politics idea of this and just say, ‘This is something we all need to be working toward.’ ”
The Citizens’ Climate Lobby claims the proposal would reduce carbon emissions to 69 percent of 1990 levels by 2025 and to 50 percent of 1990 levels by 2035, citing an independent study it commissioned. The same study said the changing economy as a result of the tax and the industry response to the tax would lead to the creation of 2.8 million jobs in 20 years.
Those are forecasts easily embraced by liberals, conservatives and everyone in between or on the periphery.
“Compared to all the other things that have been put forward, this is the one that will provide the rapid transformation into more cleaner-energy sources that we need in order to curb the advance of climate change,” Mark Gordon said. “This is going to solve the problem in a matter of years rather than decades. … We don’t have that much time, if you believe the science. We need to be acting pretty strategically right now. … I’m convinced that this is the one (proposal that) politically (can) be passed.”

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