By Ben Walsh
In July, NASA announced that the first six months of 2016 was the warmest half-year in history1; NOAA released data showing that June was the 14th consecutive hottest month on record2; and the Weather Channel reported that temperatures in the Middle East hit an all-time high – 129.2 degrees Fahrenheit3.
The signs that runaway global warming is upon us have never been clearer. Because of the warmest winter in Vermont history, ski areas opened late and closed early – leaving hundreds of Vermonters out of work. Algae blooms in Lake Champlain this summer closed beaches and endangered drinking water. And ticks have carried Lyme disease north with them – infecting thousands and driving up health care costs.
Despite these unmistakable indications of global warming, President Obama’s Clean Power Plan is tied up in court; the United States House of Representatives recently voted to oppose sensible solutions to reduce pollution; and the Republican Party nominated Donald Trump for President – a man who has repeatedly claimed that global warming is a “hoax.”
With national action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions largely stymied by a dysfunctional Congress and partisan legal challenges, it is essential that individual states act as the “laboratories of democracy” and design their own carbon pollution-reduction programs to address the threat of global warming.
What many politicians in Washington are missing – but many Vermonters understand – is that reducing carbon pollution will create jobs and strengthen the economy.
President Obama has called carbon pricing “the most elegant way to drive innovation and reduce carbon emissions.” And Republican Henry Paulson says, “A tax on carbon emissions will unleash a wave of innovation to develop technologies, lower the costs of clean energy and create jobs.”
Here in Vermont, there is growing support for putting a price on carbon pollution. By a margin of two to one (63% to 31%) Vermonters support the idea of a carbon pollution tax paired with cuts to other taxes and investments in clean energy4. More than 20,000 Vermonters have signed a petition calling for the next governor to lower taxes on income, employment and sales and put a gradually rising tax on carbon pollution.
One such proposal has been introduced by Energy Independent Vermont (www.EnergyIndependentVT.org) – a growing coalition of businesses, non-profits, academics, clergy and low-income advocates working to grow Vermont’s clean energy economy and ensure that all Vermonters are able to transition away from fossil fuels.
An independent analysis5 of the Energy Independent Vermont proposal shows it would:
Create two thousand new Vermont jobs by spurring the transition to cleaner, local sources of energy and keeping energy dollars local;
Strengthen the economy by increasing gross state product by $100 million and real disposable income by $150 million; and
Cut carbon dioxide emissions by 30% or more over the course of 25 years as Vermonters switch from heating fuel and gasoline to less-polluting alternatives like solar powered heat pumps and electric vehicles.
Curbing global warming is not a physics problem; it is a political problem. It is a market failure that largely excuses fossil fuel companies from paying the true cost of the pollution their products cause. Correcting that market failure requires political will – and that is what is missing.
But there is hope on the horizon.
In the year ahead, Vermont will swear in a new governor, lieutenant governor, Speaker of the House and Senate President Pro Tempore. There has not been this level of turnover in Vermont leadership since the late 1960s. With new leadership comes the opportunity for a fresh take on a persistent problem: the alleged conflict between bold environmental action and healthy economic development.
Vermonters want clean air, clean water and a healthful climate. We also want jobs and economic opportunity. For years, however, too many politicians have told us we have to choose between a strong economy and a healthy environment. Nothing could be further from the truth.
There is a simple, effective, bipartisan solution to promote both. By re-aligning our tax systems with our values we can create good-paying jobs, reduce pollution and save money.