A bipartisan approach to carbon reduction

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Conversation between Apollo 8 astronauts Borman and Anders as they came out from behind the dark side of the moon — the first humans to witness Earthrise:

Borman: Oh my God! Look at that picture over there! Here’s the Earth coming up. Wow, is that pretty.

Anders: Hey, don’t take that [picture], it’s not scheduled.

Borman: (laughing) You got a color film, Jim?

Anders: Hand me that roll of color quick, will you ...

One of us (Dennis) was a young aviator in 1968, and listening to that conversation — the Lunar Module calling Spacecraft Earth to tell us they had successfully completed the first orbit of the Moon — that world-famous picture had a profound effect on him: one life supporting environment calling the other while both are traveling through space together; we are all passengers on Spacecraft Earth.

Dennis knows aircraft: a commercial airliner traveling at 37,000 feet is in hostile territory. Without oxygen we have 10 seconds of consciousness. Without heat at — 50° F we freeze. What Dennis realized watching Apollo 8 round the moon was that the Earth, just like the airplanes he was flying, is a closed, fragile environmental system. Think the atmosphere is big? Think again. If the Earth were the size of a basketball the 60 mile ride to reach outer space (the distance from Iowa City to Grinnell) would be only as thick as two sheets of paper.

We are friends. Dennis is a Republican, and Peter is a Democrat. There are some things we disagree about. In this last election Dennis was a Republican caucus chairman and Peter caucused with the Democrats. Dennis believes we can deal effectively with the problem of climate change while still, in the long run, continuing to use oil and natural gas to some extent; Peter believes oil and natural gas must be phased out. Dennis believes the energy currently provided by coal could and should be replaced by nuclear; Peter believes depending heavily on nuclear is a mistake.

Something we agree on, however, is that the U.S. Congress should implement a revenue-neutral carbon fee, such as Carbon Fee and Dividend (CFD) being promoted by Citizens’ Climate Lobby, before the end of this year. In such a plan, a fee, increasing yearly, is placed on greenhouse gas-generating products such as oil and natural gas as soon as they enter our economy (at the wellhead, at the shipping port). The proceeds from the fee are distributed monthly to all U.S. households. To keep the U.S. competitive in the world market, there would be a separate border correction on imports and exports, depending on whether the trading partner did or didn’t have a similar fee on carbon.

This accomplishes two things. First, industry, and thus consumers, will be forced to pay the true cost to the economy associated with these products. Second, consumers will have additional income to cover the added cost of greenhouse gas-generating products, but will save money if they can find a way to get the products and services they need in a way that does not generate greenhouse gases. This is not a tax, and does not grow government. It will thus be in the interest of industry to move toward sustainable products and energy sources. Studies have shown that within 20 years CFD would decrease emissions more than 50 percent and add 2.8 million jobs, all without regulation, and without subsidies of either fossil fuels or renewables. Furthermore, the dividend will more than cover the extra cost of fuel for all but the wealthiest Americans.

This conservative, market-based approach is the most realistic and effective way to keep our fragile environmental system, our Spaceship Earth, functioning — something this Democrat and this Republican can agree on.

• Dennis Gordon and Peter Rolnick are members of Iowa City Climate Advocates.

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