A solution to the Climate Crisis that pays families? What an Earth Day gift that would be! 

Am I kidding? No. The idea is out there in Congress. It would price carbon fuels at their source and throughout the economy, based upon their emissions. That would, of course, raise prices at the pump or store. But all the money raised from the coal oil and gas producers would return to the economy with “CarbonCashback” dividends going to every household.

That plan originated with President Ronald Reagan’s secretary of state, George Shultz. It is built into the Energy Innovation & Carbon Dividend Act in the current Congress. It would cut emissions 30% in five years, and reduce America’s carbon pollution to net-zero by 2050.

Oddly, this kind of solution is now gaining acceptance by business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, and even the American Petroleum Institute. Almost everyone, even these business-friendly organizations, clearly recognizes that climate change is real, is accelerating, and is costing us big bucks. So they advocate for market-based carbon pricing.

Why would business groups urge Congress to enact carbon pricing as a viable solution? It’s because they’re afraid Congress would instead impose a set of sector-specific standards and regulations, which would be more expensive for industry.

So let’s think this through. The particular benefits of carbon pricing at source are that it:


  • is simple to administer;
  • can be set in motion in less than a year, with Cashback Dividends disbursed every month thereafter;
  • covers every part of the economy, encouraging widespread innovation in energy generation and energy efficiency by industry and everyone else; and
  • allows both businesses and households to choose how to shift away from carbon fuels due to their rising price, without government rulemaking: the rising price does the job!

With U.S. emissions in the range of 5 billion tonnes of energy-related emissions per year, an initial price of $15 per ton of CO2 emissions would bring in $75 billion in revenues. Those revenues from the carbon price will be distributed from a Carbon Dividend Trust Fund on a monthly basis, in equal shares to every adult, with half shares to children. It is the only carbon pricing bill that pays families.

You can do the math on how your household budget would fare under this system by going to energyinnovationact.org/carbon-dividend-calculator.The reality is that about 65% of U.S. household budgets would either benefit or come out whole.

Of course, Congress could appropriate the money to fix our national infrastructure (roads and bridges, water and wastewater systems, etc.). However, that would leave families on lower incomes with the problem of how to pay for the rising price of gasoline and heating oil, as well as other items. Similar financial problems would face those displaced by the industry-wide shift away from the extraction, refinery and distribution of coal, oil and natural gas.

Come what may, getting off carbon fuels is going to be costly. But what if we don’t do that? With the rising tides of climate change, will there be another historic year of weather disasters, like 2020?

NOAA’s recently released report on such disasters features those that cost a billion dollars or more in recovery. There were 22 such disasters across the United States. They included a record seven linked to tropical cyclones, 13 to severe storms, and one each to drought and wildfires. Cost estimates for each event come from insured and uninsured losses, as well as estimated costs covered by tax-funded agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Such costs are ones that all of us pay eventually, through increased insurance premiums or taxes. Some agencies, like the National Flood Insurance Program, already operate in the red. Meanwhile, costs keep rising, now up to about $100 billion per year, which is the current cost of doing nothing about climate change.

Wouldn’t you prefer we do something? Wouldn’t you prefer a solution to the climate crisis that pays families?

Peter Garrett lives in Winslow. He is the Maine coordinator for the Citizens Climate Lobby.

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