Vicki Kirschenbaum: Legislation Can Stop Global Warming

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Vicki Kirschenbaum of Citizens Climate Lobby advocates for legislation that puts a fee on carbon pollution to stop global warming. This would spur energy conservation, create incentives for investment in renewables, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce the devastating environmental impacts of burning fossil fuels.

climate change, global warming

Rising sea levels over the next century could flood 3.7 million people in over 500 U.S. cities, including New York, New Orleans and Miami. Image from Big Think

The Number One Way to Stop Global Warming

By Vicki Kirschenbaum, Originally Published in the Pasadena Star-News

If I’d never read “The Climate of Man” by Elizabeth Kolbert, published in The New Yorker the spring of 2005, I’d be an average American housewife. I’d obsess about slow drains, kitchen remodeling, adding a deck. But I did read it. I am Eve, tossed out of the Garden of Ignorance, and I can never go back.

Before reading The Climate of Man, I thought global warming was an esoteric scientific weather forecast, akin to the projection that billions of years from now the sun will expand and incinerate Earth. Something I was vaguely aware of but that wasn’t going to ruin my day. I had no idea that the planet had been heating up at warp speed since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution when human beings began burning fossil fuels on a grand scale.

I desperately wanted to do something, but I didn’t know what. And then those lists started appearing: Top 10 Ways to Stop Global Warming…Top 20 Ways…Top 101 Ways. To the consternation of my friends and family, I threw myself into checking off every single item on every list.

I switched to cloth bags, changed light bulbs, hung clothes on a line, and brushed my teeth with baking soda. I replaced the lawn with succulents and native plants, became a vegetarian, bought a bike, and purchased all my clothes at the Salvation Army. I was strongly considering a compost toilet called “the lovable loo” when I happened to attend a talk by Eban Goodstein–author, economics professor, and dedicated grassroots environmental activist.

Greening one’s lifestyle was terrific, Goodstein said, but such efforts were no match for global warming. The urgency and enormity of the challenge required more than scattered individual actions. To sufficiently lower CO2 emissions, we needed federal legislation, a tax on carbon that would level the playing field for renewables such as solar and wind. He told us, “The meaning of life is phone-banking for a clean energy candidate in his makeshift campaign office located in a dingy strip mall.”


Lester Brown (author of “Plan B – The Need for a Carbon Tax”), Thomas Friedman, and Paul Krugman discuss the need for a carbon tax in order to price carbon emissions at their true cost, from PBS “Journey to Planet Earth.”

I began educating myself about energy alternatives and reading up on the pros and cons of putting a fee on carbon. Leading economists Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, and a host of respected scholars–from the conservative American Enterprise Institute to the liberal Brookings Institution–voiced support for federal carbon fee and dividend legislation. Such legislation would put a steadily rising fee on coal, oil, and gas at the mine, well or port based on the amount of CO2 the fuel would emit when burned. The revenues collected would go directly to taxpayers, possibly in conjunction with lowering the national debt or investing in clean energy projects.

extreme weather

Harbinger of Climate Change? Hurricane Irene slams into Long Island in 2011. Joe Raedle – Getty Images

Recently I joined the Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL), a nationwide network of volunteers. We educate the public, meet with members of Congress, and do all we can to build constituent support for federal carbon fee and dividend legislation. Currently on the table in the House is Rep. Pete Stark’s bill, the Save Our Climate Act (SOCA), HR3242. Passing SOCA would spur energy conservation, create incentives for investment in renewables, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce the devastating environmental impacts of burning fossil fuels.

With SOCA or similar legislation in place, Pasadena and other cities that are highly dependent on coal-fired electricity could turn their backs on the dirtiest of fuels. Pasadena gets 60% of its energy from one of the largest, most polluting coal plants in the nation, the Intermountain Power Plant (IPP) in Utah. Emitting copious amounts of mercury, arsenic, lead, and nitrous oxide, IPP causes higher rates of cancer, stroke, respiratory illnesses, and heart disease. The plant contaminates billions of gallons of fresh water annually and releases 16 million tons of CO2 each year.

carbon dioxide tax necessary

The conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) has met with other Washington, D.C. think tank officials to discuss building political support for a carbon pollution tax. Photo: Documerica – EPA

According to a survey by REAP, the Renewable Energy Accountability Project, 66% of Pasadena residents favor divestment from coal, yet the city now plans to remain saddled to this deadly power source until 2027. The General Manager of Pasadena Water and Power, Ms. Phyllis Currie, chairs the American Public Power Association, which is suing the EPA to delay installation of retrofits on power plants like IPP that would greatly reduce mercury emissions, saving lives and incidently slowing the release of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere. The only deterrent to eliminating this horrific power plant from Pasadena’s energy portfolio is cost. Make Intermountain pay to pollute, return the monies collected to consumers, and the deterrent disappears.

Think of the boom in energy efficiency projects and in solar, wind and geothermal installations for Southern California if we transition away from fossil-fuel-powered electricity. Think of the decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. The health benefits. And job creation. According to Next 10’s Many Shades of Green report, during the period from January 2009 through January 2010, when other sectors were in steep decline, Los Angeles county solar companies added 7% more positions.

We need to tell our members of Congress we understand the benefits of carbon legislation. We need to write letters, make calls, attend town hall meetings, drop by the local offices of the men and women who are our voices in Washington. And then we need to encourage our friends and neighbors to do the same.

I have made a new list. There is only one item: Fight for carbon legislation.

Vicki Kirschenbaum is a volunteer for the Pasadena Foothills Citizens Climate Lobby.

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