Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Carbon Fee and Dividend for a Bright Green Future

900 Citizens Climate Lobby volunteers before visiting 502 Congressional offices on June 21, 2016. Photo: Citizens Climate Lobby.

900 Citizens Climate Lobby volunteers before visiting 502 Congressional offices on June 21, 2016. Photo: Citizens Climate Lobby.

By John Gage

The transition to clean energy is underway, but not fast enough to prevent life-changing consequences from greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon dioxide (CO2), the major contributor to climate change, sea level rise, and ocean acidification, comes from burning fossil fuels. According to leading scientists, a CO2 concentration above 350 parts per million is unsafe. We overshot that mark a few decades ago, and the concentration continues to rise. The Keeling Curve from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego is sobering.

This CO2 trend is due to a failure in the energy market, where success is decided based on such factors as availability, convenience, and price. The cost to society from the use of fossil fuels is not reflected in their price, so the market equation is incomplete and fossil fuels seem to remain a compelling option.

Fixing this market problem will release tremendous demand for clean energy. When fossil fuels’ true costs are reflected in their price, investors and consumers will naturally prefer alternatives. Such a shift should be done predictably and incrementally to give both time to react.

Many people assume that addressing the problem will be costly and require sacrifices. They worry that putting a price on carbon emissions will just lead to increased spending by the government. However, there is a simple solution: rather than having the government spend it, return all the money collected back to households.

The Carbon Fee and Dividend proposal from Citizens Climate Lobby does just that. It would charge an initial fee of $15 per ton of CO2 that a fossil fuel will emit, levied at the mine, well, or port of entry. The fee would be increased by $10 each year. With a steadily increasing cost for fossil fuels, businesses and investors will shift their focus from fossil fuels to clean energy. An independent study by Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI) found that by correcting the energy market in this way, fossil fuel emissions will be reduced to just 10% of 1990 levels in a few decades.

All the money collected from the fee (minus administration costs) would be returned as a dividend each month to all American households equally, one share per adult, and a half share per child up to two children per household. The REMI study found that nearly two thirds of households would at least break even under the proposal. Low-income households will be able to spend more, increasing the gross domestic product by $1.375 trillion and adding 2.8 million jobs, both within twenty years.

To address the problem at the global level, border adjustment tariffs would be applied on imports from countries that do not have comparable prices on their carbon emissions. This would normalize production costs among countries, protecting U.S. jobs and motivating our trading partners to follow our lead.

One reason we have not already done this is that powerful members of the fossil fuel industry have focused for decades on profits rather than heeding warnings of climate science. They have used their financial strength to delay action. They did this by funding public relations campaigns to confuse the public about the scientific consensus and supporting political allies. Our future depends on breaking their grip of control and shifting to clean energy.

We must build a consensus, enabling Congress to act, by promoting our common interests over those of the special interests. If we remain quiet, we implicitly support the status quo. By speaking out, each of us can be part of a fundamental and necessary change for human civilization. Citizens Climate Lobby does this in a way that is respectful and effective.

It is time for the U.S. to commit to addressing greenhouse gas emissions with a solution that attacks the root of the problem. This can be done by allowing price to reflect the true costs of each option. The Carbon fee and Dividend is a beneficial way for us to do that.

Climate change is a top concern. Please talk to your friends and family about the problem and the Carbon Fee and Dividend solution. Call or write your Congressmen and let them know climate change from fossil fuels is an important issue to you, and that you prefer the Carbon Fee and Dividend solution to address it (try this: If you own a business, consider endorsing carbon pricing. By voicing our shared concern, we can get our common interests addressed.

For more information, visit

John Gage is a volunteer for Citizens Climate Lobby and is the CCL NH South Central chapter leader,

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