Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Students Call for Most Effective Climate Policy

Students at the College of William and Mary hold Carbon Fee and Dividend Movement signs to help create the political will for the most effective climate policy. (Emily O’Keefe)

Katharine Gage

Despite recent advances in climate legislation, the Earth is still on track to reach 3.3˚C of warming and an atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration of 1000 parts per million (ppm) by the end of the century. The last time the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was that high, sea levels were 70-90 meters higher than they are today, and the climate was not supportive of life on Earth as we know it. Recognizing the urgency of the problem and the need for powerful, effective climate legislation, students across the country are calling on Congress to enact a Carbon Fee and Dividend policy.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), carbon pricing is necessary to hold warming to 1.5˚C. Returning all the money collected from a carbon fee on fossil fuel production to households on an equal, per capita basis ensures that a high enough carbon price can be achieved while protecting low- and middle-income families and marginalized communities. Over 3,500 U.S. economists declared that a Carbon Fee and Dividend approach is the most effective solution to reduce carbon emissions at the speed and scale necessary – it would lower U.S. emissions by 90% by 2050, putting the country on track to achieving our net zero goal.

A Carbon Fee and Dividend bill was recently re-introduced in Congress by Rep. Salud Carbajal (CA-24) as H.R. 5744, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. Despite the expert consensus around Carbon Fee and Dividend, more political will is needed for the bill to pass through Congress. High school and college students are helping build the popular support necessary for the legislation of this important policy through a collective action movement.

Students at Bowdoin College display signs while studying in the library that encourage their peers to email Congress in support of the single most effective climate policy – a Carbon Fee and Dividend. (Katharine Gage)

The Carbon Fee and Dividend Movement began last spring when William and Mary College student Emily O’Keefe displayed a sign in the dining hall that read, “Help Save Our Planet – WRITE CONGRESS to support a CARBON FEE AND DIVIDEND –” Over the course of the semester, more and more students joined in making Carbon Fee and Dividend signs to display on their computer cases and dorm doors, and the movement had a snowball effect. The students also spread the message by putting up flyers, writing on sidewalks in chalk, and giving presentations to classes and clubs. By the end of the semester, nearly every student at William and Mary knew about the most effective climate policy, and many had written to Congress expressing their support. “I feel like this has been the most impactful thing I’ve done, maybe in my life”, said O’Keefe, the movement’s founder.

The Carbon Fee and Dividend Movement is growing rapidly and is now active or starting up at eleven schools, including Bowdoin College, the University of New Hampshire, the University of Vermont, and Yale University.

I joined the movement last fall at Bowdoin with the Citizens’ Climate Lobby club. We covered the campus with flyers and passed out stickers with the simple message to write Congress about the most effective climate policy. It was very rewarding when we were tabling at school and asked people walking by if they had heard of Carbon Fee and Dividend, and many students whom we did not even know said yes. Most college students I know are deeply concerned about our future because of climate change, and with our busy school schedules, offering quick actions to email Congress and display a sign or sticker to promote the most effective climate policy has been very successful in increasing engagement in climate activism.

There are many easy ways to get involved and support the Carbon Fee and Dividend Movement. Students can join the movement at Anyone can email Congress about Carbon Fee and Dividend at , follow us on Instagram @carbonfeeanddividend, and make a sign and show it where you can.

Katharine Gage is a freshman at Bowdoin College and has volunteered with Citizens’ Climate Lobby (VVL) for five years. She co-leads a CCL NH and a Bowdoin chapter.

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