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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Social and Environmental Justice

September 10, 2020

By James Hansen

We older people are leaving young people a tough row to hoe. So when they figure out something on their own, the best thing that we can do is support their efforts.

That’s the philosophy that Dan Miller and I had in writing the op-ed below (A Socially and Environmentally Just Way to Fight Climate Change), published yesterday in The Hill.

It is heartening to see young people thinking through a policy that is needed to solve the climate problem and at the same time benefits low and middle income people.

More than 350 student government presidents agreed on a bipartisan statement to follow the science – climate, energy, and economics – endorsing (Students for Carbon Dividends), as I described in a Communication in July.

The greatest threat that young people face is from their adult friends. Several years ago, after arduous efforts by thousands of Citizens Climate Lobby volunteers, Washington noticed carbon fee and dividend. Immediately politicians went into partisan business-as-usual. Barbara Boxer and Bernie Sanders introduced a fee and dividend bill, grabbing 40% of the money for the government. That destroys the bill for climate purposes – because the public will not allow such a fee – with most of the public losing money – to continue to rise.

When politicians strangle fee & dividend by grabbing the money, they kill the goose that lays golden eggs. Fee & dividend, if not strangled, spurs the economy, creates millions of jobs, and thus increases government revenues. Those increased government revenues can be used for social programs, for pre-K, for reducing higher education costs, and so on, but there are no such revenues if the goose is dead.

Do you think that the failure of American politicians to understand this is because Americans are especially dim-witted? I went to New Zealand, Australia, and more than half a dozen European countries. Politicians in all countries could not see a basic difference between fee & dividend and cap & trade, with the government grabbing the money from auctions and fuel taxes. Can the politicians not see the people beneath the yellow vests? People are not stupid. They can see that the politicians have become elites, out of touch with the common person. The people are fed up.

Fortunately, some young people understand the situation – they want a solution that works in the entire country. I still believe that we need a third party (after a transition) to force a clean-up of the mess in Washington, but let’s support young people as they push for a bipartisan approach.

Dr. James E. Hansen is director of the Program on Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions at Columbia University and is also an adjunct professor at Columbia University. He is the former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

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