Climate change (including the ocean acidification that comes with it) is here, and it is a huge threat. But there is some good news: there are solutions, if we can use them, and soon. Some will claim that any solution will kill jobs, and even wreck the economy; but the opposite is true.
A study by Regional Economic Modeling, Inc. (REMI), has shown that a carbon fee-and-dividend system (see below for details) would both reduce emissions greatly, and create more jobs. The new jobs would be in areas like renewable energy, energy efficiency, etc. Leading economists have supported this approach.
The REMI study does not address the enormous costs of NOT doing something about climate change, including the destruction of our biggest sustainable resource, commercial fishing, and the costs of relocating communities. Economists with the UAA Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) have estimated the costs for Alaska to be $340-700 million per year (compare that with the state’s budget).
For both heat and electricity, the transition to the use of clean energy starts with local, renewable resources. In Alaska, 20-30% of the state’s electricity already comes from hydroelectric projects, and we are seeing steady growth in the use of wind and solar energy. Innovative utilities, facing high diesel costs, are using a mix of hydro, wind, solar, and storage to effectively shut their diesel generators off. Nationwide, “clean” energy employs three times as many people as the fossil fuels industry, and it is growing in Alaska. Alaska has a tremendous solar resource, and the costs have declined dramatically. In-stream hydro has great potential for generating power without the damage caused by “traditional” dams. Geothermal energy is another resource to be tapped.
Alaskans face some of the highest heating costs in the nation, but there are new (and still improving) technologies to address this. Heat pumps, community biomass systems, wind-for-heat – these are just a few solutions being developed for heating our homes.
How can we transition to these kinds of power, given the financial needs of the state and its people? The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, introduced in Congress (HR 763), would support this transition. It would levy a fee on carbon-based fuels, at the source (the wellhead, etc.). This fee starts at $15/ton of carbon dioxide equivalent and increases by $10/ton each year. The money is returned to us as a dividend, like our Alaska PFD payments, but on a monthly basis. The government does not keep any of it except what is needed for administration (again, like the PFD). To protect U.S. manufacturers and jobs, imported goods will pay a border carbon adjustment, and goods exported from the United States will receive a refund. The bill pauses the EPA authority to regulate CO2 and equivalent emissions covered by the fee, for the first 10 years. Then, if emission targets are not met after 10 years, the EPA will be directed to regulate emissions to meet those targets. The bill would encourage a transition to more efficient and cheaper energy sources. Many people in the oil and gas industries have
skill sets that would transfer easily, such as construction trades, project management, communications, and frozen-ground engineering. Others may need retraining; in some places, like Alberta, Canada, this is already starting to happen. The act has bipartisan support. It protects households from price increases via the dividend. There has been concern about the impact on rural Alaskans, since their fuel costs are already high. A recent study by Steve Colt, an economist at ISER, suggests that even for them, the dividend will more than offset the increased costs. We need to address climate change on many fronts; but this bill is an important step, on a large scale, with major positive impacts and no significant negatives. It deserves our support, through letters and calls to our Congressman. Even if climate change were not an existential threat to us, a transition away from fossil fuels will bring major economic benefits, while helping preserve what makes Alaska great.
There are real-world success stories for carbon pricing. As of May 2018, 42 national and sub-national governments have had either a carbon tax or an emissions trading system. Our Canadian neighbor, British Columbia, has had a carbon tax since 2008. By 2014, their carbon tax had increased from $10 to $30 per ton, while their economy grew about 12 percent, and carbon emissions per person decreased faster than in Canada overall.
The authors are volunteers with the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, which focuses on advocating for this kind of policy. Our Mat-Su chapter holds monthly meetings in Palmer, and anyone interested in what they can do about the climate crisis may like to see what our organization is doing. For our web site, or to join up, see citizensclimatelobby.org.
Phil Somervell (email@example.com) is a retired epidemiologist. Mark Masteller (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Assistant Professor of Sustainable Energy at the University of Alaska.
Please contact us with any questions, or for links to the studies that we cite above.