January 19, 2021

The Year of Possibility

Guest Opinion
By Cathye Williams | Dec. 12, 2020


If 2020 were a movie, the trailer alone would have most of us heading for the exits. The pandemic brought death, isolation, and financial hardship.

The murder of George Floyd et al, brought a reckoning: that our ideals of freedom and justice are only that — and not a lived reality for many. The climate crisis is at critical mass – so many storms, we ran out of names; loss of millions of forest acres, species, habitat, and biodiversity; a constant assault on infrastructure from rising oceans, rivers, and lakes.  

Of course, we must take time to acknowledge and mourn what we have lost this year, and all we still have to overcome. But shouldn’t we also acknowledge the resiliency, creativity, and decency that has pulled us through and left us standing together on the edge of great possibility?

Individuals, businesses, and even local governments have shown in countless small ways what is possible. We’ve sacrificed and worked together to reduce pollution, fight inequality, and protect public health. But without broad sweeping public policy to drive systems change, these efforts and sacrifices alone won’t get us a stable climate, health, safety, or a fair shot for all.

For the past four years, we have been impeded by a chief executive determined to roll back decades of progress in environmental protection, civil rights, and social justice. We will soon have an administration that understands the severity of these interconnected crises and has proposed a robust climate platform to begin solving them.

Still, many are discouraged by what this platform doesn’t include. Many worry about a majority Republican Congress under a Democratic administration and grim prospects for getting anything done, let alone solving problems.

As Mark Reynolds, executive director of the Citizens Climate Lobby, says, “We can no longer operate in terms of what people think can be done but must operate in terms of what must be done.” We need to work in the framework of what can be, not what is likely to be. Most of the great social changes of this century would never have made the odds in Vegas. It was only through the vision and work of courageous leaders and citizens, acting out of the necessity of their own conditions, that landmark legislation for civil rights and clean air and water protections ever came to be.

Dr. Hahrie Han of Johns Hopkins University makes the point that politicians don’t bring about great change. Whatever their dreams are, politicians are stuck with daily tasks of governing, seeing to constituents’ needs, and staying in office. Not much big-picture stuff there.

They need us, the people, to make them act — and to provide political cover and hold them accountable. So how do we make possible the changes we want? Dr. Han, with her associates Elizabeth McKenna and Michelle Oyakawa, studied several social movement groups and found the most successful were not those with the most money or even the most people. The most successful had strategic, creative leaders who built relationships among their members and in the community where they sought change. They acted not out of ideology but acted in way that held them “accountable to members who needed to solve concrete problems in their lives.”

If you want to solve the concrete problem that touches all our lives — climate change — check out Citizens Climate Lobby, which is focused on a national, legislative solution that will reduce America’s emissions, fast. It builds relationships based on respect and appreciation with each other, with members’ communities, and with elected leaders. CCL believes that for meaningful change to happen, a proposal that is popular, effective, and quick is critical.

The bipartisan Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (aka HR 763) is all that. It would place a fee on fossil fuels at the source and return 100 percent of the net revenue to households as a dividend.

It’s popular: The bill currently has 80 cosponsors, with an aim to increase that substantially when introduced in the new Congress. Carbon pricing as a way to reduce emissions is also supported by a broad range of Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, former Federal Reserve chairs and Nobel Laureate economists, national and local faith organizations, and local governments. Carbon pricing is clearly growing in popularity in Congress, too; the EICDA is one of 12 carbon-pricing bills introduced this session, four of which were bipartisan.

It's effective: The EICDA will result in 40 percent less carbon emission in the next 12 years and save nearly 300,000 lives because of better air quality. The dividends paid to people will protect 80 percent of lower- and middle-income families from rising energy costs expected at the beginning of the transition to more affordable clean energy. The dividend will also stimulate the economy and create 21 million local jobs across America.

It'll also work fast: Because HR763 is simple and straightforward, it could be quickly implemented using existing mechanisms in the treasury to collect fees and distribute household dividends, thus requiring no new government agencies. Studies show the bill’s positive impacts will occur within the next 10­–12 years.

Is HR763 the be-all, end-all? Heck no. There are other pricing schemes and promising policies being developed or introduced in agricultural practices, battery storage, transmission infrastructure, carbon capture, and more. Businesses, states, and local governments are already acting or preparing to adapt and innovate as well. With all these factored in, the impacts could be greater and occur even more quickly than anticipated from any one solution alone.

Want to get more wonky? Read up on the EICDA at www.citizensclimatelobby.org.

Cathye Williams serves as a volunteer and media liaison for the Grand Traverse area chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby, www.citizensclimatelobby.com. She writes from Benzie County.


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