My view: A global warming solution to grow the economy

By Dave Folland, For the Deseret News

Published: Tue, July 29, 2014, 12:00 a.m. MDT


Are you getting weary of hearing the bad news related to global warming? We hear stories like these: food prices are higher from extreme drought in agricultural areas; record wildfires destroy homes, pollute the air and create flooding on charred landscapes; pine beetles decimate Western forests, and, globally, May and June were the hottest months ever recorded. Yet we are told that steps we take to solve the problems will hurt our economy.

For those weary of the discouraging stories, there is good news in a report from REMI (Regional Economic Models Inc.), a highly regarded analytic firm. In a study commissioned by the nonpartisan Citizens Climate Lobby, REMI modeled the effect of carbon fee and dividend legislation.

In this proposal, a fee is placed on carbon (coal, oil and natural gas) where it enters the economy (mine, well or port of entry). It is set at $10 per ton of released carbon dioxide and increased by $10 per year, with all proceeds given back to households.

This policy would lead to the following outcomes over 20 years: 2.8 million jobs created, an increase in the economy by $80 billion to $90 billion per year, 13,000 to 15,000 fewer yearly deaths from air pollution and reduced carbon emissions of 52 percent.

How would this carbon fee actually benefit the economy? First, by giving revenues back to households, the fee would actually stimulate the economy and create jobs in health care, retail, the service industry and other sectors.

Second, the proposal calls for border adjustments, that is, a tariff on imports based on the amount of carbon used in their production. This would protect U.S. manufacturers while giving our trading partners a reason to enact their own carbon fee.

Finally, by letting the market drive the transition to clean energy, over time other cleaner sources of electricity would actually become less expensive than the polluting fossil fuels.

As a physician, I’m especially pleased with the improved health that would accompany the reduced air pollution from this proposal. Because all the factors leading to a death are usually not apparent, we generally don’t recognize how air pollution contributes to the deaths of so many people: it's reported that over 7 million people die each year from air pollution, which includes an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 Utahns. These people die from heart attacks, asthma and other lung diseases, but “air pollution” is not listed as a cause of death on their death certificates.

So why aren’t members of Congress working tirelessly on carbon fee and dividend policy? In fairness, the great benefits of such a policy have just recently been reported. But also there is tremendous pressure to keep the status quo.

I had the privilege of joining seven other local Citizens Climate Lobby volunteers in Washington, D.C., last month to lobby for carbon fee and dividend legislation. We joined over 600 others from across the country and together held 512 meetings with members of Congress or their staffs. Many were very receptive to thinking seriously about the proposal, and many asked keen questions.

But before our senators and representatives will take positive action, they need to hear from their constituents. With elections a little more than three months away, now is the ideal time to formulate questions for the candidates. What is their energy policy to address global warming? What do they think about carbon fee and dividend legislation?

Isn’t it time for some good news on addressing global warming? A carbon fee and dividend policy can lead to increased jobs, a growing economy, better health and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

David Folland, M.D., is a retired pediatrician from Sandy and volunteer co-leader of the Salt Lake City Chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby.

1. marxist
Salt Lake City, UT,
July 29, 2014

I sympathize but there are some problems with this proposal. If the carbon tax is levied at the mine head or well head, that will raise the price of carbon fuels. But then if the tax is returned to customers they will use those revenues to continue buying such fuels, right? Moreover, the carbon tariff will raise prices at a time when the middle class is suffering.

Moreover in the current political climate this proposal can go nowhere.

Also, it attempts to game the market to do the right thing. The market cannot handle climate change. There needs to be declared a humankind emergency to coordinate internationally the advancement of solar energy recovery. I know, I know, this can't go anywhere either in the current political climate, nationally and globally. But a few more big events like a couple of "typhoons of the century," big Sandy-sized hurricanes in New England, or the drying up reservoirs like Lake Mead or Lake Powell will convince people that something is really going on - then we will get action.

This involves losing precious time, but it's the only way things are going to change.

2. Mountanman
Hayden, ID,
July 29, 2014

The author misses some very important facts! Carbon taxes will be passed on to consumers which will harm poor people the most by increasing costs of food and energy (and everything else) while doing NOTHING for the environment! Productivity produces prosperity! A carbon tax will guarantee a destruction of productivity and increase poverty! If low productivity produced prosperity, every 3rd world country in the world would be prosperous, but they are not and the reason they are not is that they are not productive! A carbon tax will do nothing but destroy productivity, period!

3. Nate
Pleasant Grove, UT,
July 29, 2014

@Dave Folland

When you begin with unproven presumptions, your conclusion is virtually guaranteed to be wrong. This article does, and is.

4. Irony Guy
Bountiful, Utah,
July 29, 2014

The devastation is already upon us in the West. We are draining our ancient aquifers. Every single drop of the Colorado River watershed is pumped out. We have created a greenhouse over our heads, and still our Republican leaders grin blissfully and push for even more development. The carbon tax is the right thing to do, but it is too little too late in the face of self-destructive ignorance.

5. Schnee
Salt Lake City, UT,
July 29, 2014

Denmark basically does this and the first two comments miss the key part of how this works. The tax that gets passed on to consumers does not hit all consumers equally. Those who use more energy pay more in those taxes and those who use less will pay less. However, when it gets returned as a tax credit everyone gets the same amount back so those who use less energy get more back then they put in. That's the incentive to use less.