GIVE THE PUBLIC A GREEN CHECK
Climate policy is not rocket science. Our fossil-fuel addiction cannot be solved if fossil fuels are the cheapest energy. But fossil-fuel energy is cheapest only because the producers of fossil fuels receive direct and indirect subsidies and are not made to pay for their costs to society -- such as health risks and long-term climate-change remediation. Until Barack Obama tackles this fundamental incongruity, the United States will remain stuck in useless and costly political battles like the rancid, partisan, congressional cap-and-trade debacle of the last two years.
Instead of getting a free ride, fossil fuels should pay their fair share via a gradually rising carbon fee collected from fossil-fuel companies at the domestic mine or port of entry. All funds collected should be distributed directly to the public on a per capita basis via a monthly "green check." This will spur the U.S. economy and promote clean-energy innovations. In the short term, more than 60 percent of the U.S. population would receive more in their green check than they would pay out in increased energy prices. (This won't be true for the wealthiest Americans, as they tend to use more energy.)
The best part about a rising carbon price is that it provides the only realistic chance for an international climate accord. Obama was right not to depend on last year's 192-country, cap-and-trade talkfest in Copenhagen. But he can't give up on an agreement between the world's two top emitters: the United States and China.
The Chinese will never agree to a "cap" on their carbon emissions. But China seems willing to negotiate a carbon price. Why? Not only are its leaders concerned about the country's environmental quality, they also want to avoid the fossil-fuel addiction that has hobbled the United States. More importantly, they stand to profit: Beijing is making enormous investments in nuclear, wind, and solar power. If the United States were to strongly incentivize green choices, China's factories would struggle to keep up with consumer demand. And once the United States and China agree on what the right carbon fee should be, most other countries will go along.
Lest we forget, stabilizing climate change is a moral issue. Our fossil-fuel addiction, if unabated, threatens our children and grandchildren, and most species on the planet. If Obama dreams of being a great president, he needs to take on the great moral challenge of our century.
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