Jane Stromberg: Time is up — we must put a price on carbon

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Jane Stromberg, who is a senior at the University of Vermont and a fellow with Our Climate.

[B]ack in October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change unequivocally declared that humans have a maximum of 12 years to halve our fossil fuel usage or face the disturbing consequences of 1.5 degrees of global warming. To avoid this climate catastrophe, the IPCC recommended, among other things, a realistic policy solution: putting a price on carbon pollution. According to a new report, our brave little state of Vermont is likely to be the perfect carbon pricing champion, if only we can convince our representatives to lead the way.

On Jan. 15, an independent economic think tank out of the joint fiscal office, Research for the Future, will be releasing its analysis of a carbon price in Vermont. If precedent and the recent preview of the study are any indicator, a price is likely an effective and equitable tool to curb emissions and lead our country to do the same.

I got my first taste of the study while hosting a recent panel discussion at my school, the University of Vermont. Local experts debated the pros and cons of carbon pricing in Vermont and previewed the upcoming study. The bottom line: Carbon pricing decreases emissions and drives clean alternatives by incentivizing polluters to use less fossil fuels. The revenues collected from the pollution fee has the potential to grow the economy, especially if it is rebated to citizens or investment in clean energy. British Columbia, California and Europe are only some of the places that have successfully priced carbon while maintaining steady growth in GDP.

While naysayers may balk at the extra cost at the pump, panelist Johanna Miller, director of energy and climate at the Vermont Natural Resources Council, explained that we often fail to weigh this against the cost of living on a degraded planet. Inaction is far more expensive, even for those who might think wealth can shield them from the worst. The countless mansions burned to the ground during the horrific fires in California and the gorgeous beach resorts sitting as piles of rubble due to unordinary coastal flooding around the country speak for themselves.

And climate change is coming home to our state as well. Our covered bridges — a beautiful remnant of another era — were violently washed away by Hurricane Irene. Our maples, and the syrup industry that depends on them, are migrating inexorably across the Canadian border. And these changes are driven by multi-billion dollar industries that can currently emit climate change causing pollution for absolutely free. The beautiful aspect of a carbon price is that it would shift the burden of the damages back to those responsible.

As a 21-year-old, with a whole life extending out over the climate change abyss of the coming decades, I have a lot riding on these policies. That’s why I’m thankful that Mayor Miro Weinberger of Burlington isn’t waiting. He publicly announced in early December that he is calling for a carbon pricing law in Vermont, leading New England and eventually the country to follow suit.

President Calvin Coolidge said Vermont was a brave little state for a reason. The world needs our leadership. If there is a state out there that can take the helm on this issue, it is Vermont.


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