ENERGY INNOVATION ACT
On May 29 over 20,000 tons of fuel oil spilled into a pristine river in Arctic Siberia. A fuel storage tank built on what had been solid permafrost collapsed when for the first time the frozen footing beneath it thawed and settled. The damage to fragile Arctic waterways has been called catastrophic. Its impact will be felt for years. Since then, the toxic flow has reached the Arctic Ocean.
Across the far north, temperatures are soaring, outdoing traditional hot spots like Miami. When was the last time temperatures here in Central Wisconsin topped 100 degrees: it did in Siberia on June 20, just one more hot day in the latest Arctic hot spell. It set an all-time high. More importantly, temperatures like these raise the specter of an unstoppable carbon exhalation from the witches’ brew of thawing dead plant matter and hungry microbes in the warming soil.
The climate crisis accelerates in a positive feedback loop we will be hard pressed to squelch. Thawing Arctic permafrost gives us clear warning that we are beginning to activate one of the major tipping points climate scientists fear the most. In short, to have any hope of a livable future the transition to renewable energy must get into high gear immediately.
As of now, we are not doing too well. According to Sir Robert Watson, former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change at our present rate “the world is on a pathway to between 3 and 4 degrees C (5.5 and 7 F) by the end of the century.”
That much heating leads directly to a bleak place for human life on “hot house Earth.” That is nothing any of us want to bequeath our grandchildren. Hot house Earth is a barely livable planet for most, and unlivable for many. Yet we dawdle, mired in a fossil fuel rut ultimately heading to disaster.
The challenge is daunting and immediate. Whether or not we are up to that challenge remains to be seen. Last fall Fifth Third Bank in North Carolina threw the switch on their 1400-acre solar farm. This one bank uses 200,000 megawatts of electricity each year. At our home we use 5.8 megawatts. Over 37,000 like us equals one of them. Yet, we all must be part of the solution. Currently, we are pretty much part of the problem.
To decrease our carbon emissions by the necessary 40 % by 2030 when it is still climbing in 2020 seems to beg for a miracle. Because we humans are such die-hard creatures of habit to say that we need to do that new thing is pointless. We just won’t. At least we haven’t yet.
This is where the word incentive rides in on a grand and mighty stallion to save the day. What we won’t do because we should or because we need to, we often do if we have the right incentives. That is why a fee on our carbon emissions and a broadly applied dividend to all holds such promise.
The number of voices in favor of a low initial fee that rises gradually each year on everyone’s carbon emissions and an equitably distributed dividend to all of us are growing larger and louder all the time. Interestingly enough, those voices bridge the divide between political parties.
In both the House of Representatives and the Senate, carbon pricing bills already exist and will be reintroduced in the new legislature. The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act offers an approach to dealing effectively with our climate crisis. At the same time, it puts money in our pockets through a monthly dividend check.
In a competitive business world, a bank which has gone renewable can out-compete banks which haven’t. You and I can continue to drive our gas mobiles despite the increasing cost of gas. On the other hand, we can decide to go electric and charge it with solar panels on our roof. I am betting we will take the incentive and discover we can have our cake and save the planet too. The alternative does not look promising!