Now is time to act on climate change

By CHRIS WERLE,

By now you may have seen the footage from France; throngs of protesters blocking streets, billowing street fires and vandalism causing property damages, business closures, and over 1,700 arrests. 

Many protesters don the fluorescent vest worn by incapacitated motorists to increase visibility and signal their need for assistance, thus providing the name of the “yellow-vest movement.” 

With estimates of 10,000 protesters in Paris and 125,000 across the country, this has been called the worst public demonstration in France since 1968.

While some have mistakenly labeled this as an “anti-climate” protest, it is in fact much more nuanced and reflective of the type of social divisions that we also experience right here in the U.S.; the “urban elites” and the “rural workers.” 

Designed as a way to reduce petroleum consumption and by extension carbon emissions, recent increases in French fuel taxes did spur the yellow vest movement in November. 

Protesters have described government austerity measures and increases in cost of living without corresponding wage increases, leading to hardship for the working and middle class, as well as rural populations that cannot rely on public transportation and depend on personal vehicles for their day-to-day life.

Upon closer inspection, this fuel consumption tax was initiated shortly after the repeal of a wealth tax, previously levied on French citizens with assets in excess of €1.3 million, roughly equivalent to $1.5 million. 

While this editorial is not intended as a discussion of tax structure, it is clear to see that offering a generous tax break to the wealthy while simultaneously burdening working class and rural populations with a fuel consumption tax is neither a good way to balance a budget nor reduce carbon emissions. This was a short-sighted and poorly-planned move by the French leadership, and one they may come to regret.

In stark contrast to this French plan, a recent bill introduced by a bipartisan group of U.S. Representatives will place a fee on carbon at the point of extraction and allocate all proceeds to American households in monthly payments. 

As a revenue-neutral policy, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H. R. 7173) will not divert any funds to the federal budget, but rather would provide a majority of American families with more money than they would spend each month on increased costs associated with the fee. 

In this way we can promote the development of the renewable energy sector and reduce carbon emissions without placing the burden on working Americans. 

According to a recent study by Regional Economic Models, Inc., by accelerating the transition to clean energy, this bill would lead to an additional 2.1 million jobs for our economy within the first decade of implementation.

Climate scientists, petroleum corporations, and the Department of Defense all are in agreement on the need to curb carbon emissions, and this ambitious plan will achieve a 40% reduction in emissions within the first 12 years and a target of 90% within 30 years. We are running short on time to ward off the worst effects of climate change, including coastal flooding, extreme weather, agricultural challenges and population migrations. 

With the recent warning from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, as well as our own National Climate Assessment, we know it is time to act. 

And while initial efforts in France appear to have fallen short, this represents an opportunity for America to regain a position of leadership. By passing the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, we can show the world the way forward to both climate and social stability.

 

Chris Werle is leader of the Hattiesburg chapter of the Citizens' Climate Lobby, and can be reached at hattiesburg@citizensclimatelobby.org

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