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Per Capita Davis: More good news on climate change work

By From page A4 | May 15, 2014

It was so much fun writing the last column about good news on the climate change front that I thought I’d try it again.

The good news starts on the national level. Some members of Congress, led by California’s Sen. Barbara Boxer, have formed the Climate Change Caucus. Members say they don’t expect passage of any legislation this year (why would they, when there has been zero legislation enacted to date?) but they want to elevate the issue in Washington.

At the same time, a wealthy billionaire is committing $100 million of his own money, as well as additional funds from others, to support candidates who recognize the urgency of the issue. No doubt money will be raised and spent against these candidates but, hey, $100 million is not chump change.

On the state level, California’s “cap and trade” system is in place and creating an incentive for large users of fossil fuels to reduce greenhouse house gas emissions while generating funds to support energy efficiency and renewables.

On the local level, everyone by now is aware of Cool Davis (cooldavis.org) and its mission to engage 75 percent of the households in the city in some form of increased energy efficiency, and the repowerdavis (repowerdavis.com) effort to put photovoltaic systems on a significant number of rooftops in our community.

But now there is a new kid on the block: the Citizens Climate Lobby. This is a national organization with, as far as I can tell, more than 200 local chapters, one of which is right here in Yolo County. In part, this is significant to me because it is not a Davis-based organization. The majority of its members come from Woodland and Winters.

To be sure, there are Davis residents also involved, but usually Davis is more or less inward-looking and, to be honest, feeling a little smug and superior when it comes to climate change.

Some of this is a reflection of what an amazing record the city has accomplished over the years, but it also indicates a lack of awareness for (or interest in) what is happening in the rest of the county. The communities of Woodland, Winters and West Sacramento also have a lot to talk about when it comes to energy efficiency and greenhouse gas reduction but, I can only assume, their citizens don’t like to go to meetings as much as we do.

The CCL is the first organization I’m aware of with the vision to bring representatives from each community to the table on a topic that spans local boundaries.

The primary mission of CCL is “to build the political will for a stable climate.” The national organization was born when its founder, while speaking to an audience about what they could do as individuals to help reduce emissions, realized that “the actions I was suggesting to my listeners to take, while essential, were not a match for the problem. I realized that anything they intended to do would be swamped by what the government did or did not do.”

It’s important to note the “while essential” clause in that paragraph. He, and CCL, believe strongly in the value of individual action and promote it, but are not content to let government off the hook.

As a result, CCL searched for a proposal that could achieve nonpartisan support in the bitterly divided U.S. Congress and began building an organization to support that idea. There is at least one chapter organized and active in every state except Wyoming, North Dakota and Mississippi and they are all working on introducing and enacting a carbon fee and dividend proposal at the federal level. The core of their proposal is basically as follows:

A “carbon fee” of $15 per ton of CO2 emissions is levied at the front end of the commercial cycle (e.g., coal mine, oil well or when it enters the country) and this fee increases a minimum of $10 per ton per year for 10 years to ensure that U.S. emissions are reduced to 10 percent of what they were in 1990. The “dividend” part of the proposal is to distribute 100 percent of proceeds to households (they have a formula for this) so that its implementation is “revenue-neutral” (i.e., no tax increase).

In addition, the proposal calls for placing tariffs on goods imported from countries that do not have a similar program in place so as not to put American businesses at a disadvantage. The proposal also calls for phasing out all fossil fuel subsidies in a five-year period, and places a moratorium on new or expanded coal-fired power plants.

The Climate Change Caucus mentioned above realizes that any proposal to deal responsibly with greenhouse gas emissions is politically difficult. Similarly, organizers of the Citizens Climate Lobby, including those in the Yolo County chapter, are under no delusions about the difficulty of enacting their proposal. But their effort is grounded in building support at the grassroots level and they are gaining momentum in this direction.

For more information or to get involved, contact Elisabeth Robbins at [email protected]

— John Mott-Smith is a resident of Davis. This column is published on the first and third Thursdays of each month. Send comments to [email protected]

John Mott-Smith

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