Commentary: Addressing climate change is good for the economy

Commentary: Addressing climate change  is good for the economy
May 28
00:00 2015

Illustration above by Ron Rogers for The Chronicle

By Bill Blancato
Guest Columnist

We celebrated another Earth Day on April 22. In 1970, when Earth Day was established, our government acted decisively to address the most pressing environmental issues of the day; water pollution and emission of smog, causing particulate matter into the air. Today our government is paralyzed and seems unable to tackle the worst environmental problem of our lifetimes – climate change.
This past winter was hard on the East Coast. But according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, March 2015 and the first quarter of this year were the warmest on record. The last time the average monthly temperature was below average was February 1985. So for more than 30 years each month has been warmer than average.
In 1859, Irish scientist John Tyndall discovered that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas; increased amounts of it in the atmosphere trap heat, warming the earth. Since that discovery, we have burned fossil fuels and dumped CO2 in the atmosphere at a rate well beyond what nature can absorb. That CO2 will stay in the atmosphere long after we are gone, trapping heat and changing the climate.
The consequences of climate change are dire. A report issued last year by a group headed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former President George W. Bush’s Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson predicts that “by 2050 between $66 billion and $106 billion worth of existing coastal property will likely be below sea level nationwide, with $238 billion to $507 billion worth of property below sea level by 2100” and “some states in the Southeast, lower Great Plains, and Midwest risk up to a 50% to 70% loss in average annual crop yields.”
Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists are convinced, based upon the evidence, that human-caused global warming is happening. In the mid-1700s, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was about 280 ppm. In 1960, it was about 315 ppm. Now it is 400 ppm. All of that CO2 comes from burning fossil fuels.
We must reduce our use of fossil fuels to reduce the risks of climate change. We are often told we can’t act to address climate change because doing so will hurt the economy and cost jobs. But that is not true. A revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend will substantially reduce our use of fossil fuels and CO2 emissions, will create more than 2 million jobs within 10 years and will help the economy grow.
Carbon fee and dividend works like this:
A steadily-rising fee – starting at $15 per ton of carbon-dioxide – is placed on fossil fuels at the first point of sale, increasing by $10 per ton of CO2 each year. Revenue from the fee is divided up equally and returned to all households. Border adjustment tariffs are placed on imports from nations that do not have an equivalent carbon-pricing mechanism in order to maintain a level playing field for American businesses.
Regional Economic Models Inc. (REMI), a firm that corporations, governments and academic institutions turn to for economic forecasting, conducted a study on the carbon fee and dividend proposal. They found that in the first year, a four-person household would receive an annual dividend of $600. After 10 years, the total annual dividend would be around $3,500. This feature is critical: instead of impeding economic growth, a carbon fee will grow the economy, create jobs, and put money in the pockets of American households. For most families, this dividend will be more than enough to cover their increased energy bills. REMI found that within a decade, a revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend system will create more than 2 million new jobs and increase GDP by about $80 billion per year.
With carbon fee and dividend, we can transition our economy off of fossil fuels to clean and sustainable renewable energy. This will be particularly good for North Carolina’s strong and growing renewable energy sector. A recent report from the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association estimates that we have 22,995 full-time equivalent jobs in the renewable energy sector in North Carolina. This is up from 18,404 jobs a year earlier, almost a 25% increase. These are jobs in North Carolina. Unlike fossil fuels, renewable energy is created locally. Reducing our use of fossil fuels is not only good for the environment, it is also good for our economy.
Citizens’ Climate Lobby is working to persuade Congress to enact a revenue neutral carbon fee and dividend. You can learn more at

Bill Blancato is a Winston-Salem attorney who has organized a local group for Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

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