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There has been a positive side effect to “shelter in place” orders: a staggering drop in air pollution and carbon emissions worldwide.
Meehan Crist, writing in the New York Times, says “the real question is not whether the virus is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for climate, or whether rich people will take fewer airplane flights, but whether we can create a functioning economy that supports people without threatening life on Earth, including our own.”
Such a connection does not trivialize the grief of families dealing with the death of loved ones or the pain of workers who lost their jobs in the devastated economy. Their suffering is our foremost priority. The $2 trillion economic relief package provided relief for families and businesses but did not include relief for renewable markets, such as critical tax credit extensions for solar or wind.
In the long run, long after the pandemic has ceased, these technologies will be crucial for providing clean and reliable energy for everyone on this finite planet. Sustainably supporting a functioning economy is paramount given effects of change and warming will have similar effects to the ones we endure now, including millions displaced and trillions of dollars in economic damages.
Consider this: Coronavirus is in part terrifying because it has a relatively long incubation period where people can asymptotically spread it. Now imagine a future disease with an incubation period of a month and how scary that would be. Climate change is analogous, but with an incubation period of multiple decades.
The damage we bake in today will be every bit as global, costly, and difficult to undo to as the economic problems wrought by the coronavirus. But unlike the coronavirus, there is a solution that does not hurt the economy.
Enter, “The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act.” This legislation would impose fees on the carbon content of all produced and imported fuels that emit greenhouse gases into the atmosphere when burned.
The money collected would then be distributed to U.S. citizens and lawful residents in the form of dividends. This approach is not a handout or relief package. It internalizes the true cost of carbon, which we have always considered a market externality. In just 12 years, this policy would reduce America’s emissions by at least 40% and inevitably add jobs to the economy.
More than 3,550 U.S. economic experts, including 15 former chairs of the Council of Economic Advisers, support a federal carbon fee and dividend approach. If they support it, why don’t we?
Governments have shown they can take swift action to protect and provide for the American people in times of crisis. Coronavirus isn’t the only crisis. We will need a similar response in pricing carbon, because the pandemic will eventually subside, but warming and climate change are here to stay.
Jacob Miller is a Conservative Outreach fellow for Citizens' Climate Lobby and a sixth-generation Kansan, raised on 15 acres of Konza country near Manhattan.