Earth Day arrives this year amid greater urgency than ever to take steps to reduce the greenhouse gases causing climate change. Many people assume, however, that addressing climate change will stifle our economy and place hardship on American families.
It's an erroneous assumption. Done properly, a solution to the climate problem will also produce new jobs, stop old ones from leaving, and stimulate our economy.
While traveling to Sao Paulo, Brazil, last year, I was amazed at the city's industrial might. With over 19 million people in the greater metropolitan area engaged in every conceivable industry, I could feel the city hum and throb with productivity. Over there, people still make things.
The United States no longer has cities quite like Sao Paulo. The last century has brought about child labor protection, safety standards, and environmental law, resulting in a drain of manufacturing jobs. I'm proud we don't tolerate such injustice here anymore. But while America cleaned up its own environment, free trade simply pushed the dirty deeds overseas. We stopped cheating at home, but allowed it to continue abroad.
And seeing conditions abroad, it's a race to the bottom for America competing amidst such inequity. American workers are handcuffed to domestic environment law and seduced by free trade. Why? Some overseas industry is constrained neither by safety practices nor environmental concerns. Workers are exploited in dangerous conditions, sweating for pennies a day. Their plight becomes our cheap imports, things deemed too "expensive" to make at home. Free trade isn't really free; it punishes local businesses obeying the law and rewards overseas businesses cheating on the environment.
I don't know about you, but I can't tolerate another poisoned imported toy, another oil funded terrorist plot, and another human rights cop-out. Divesting morality from free trade is naïve and myopic: Congress needs to value people first and enact a Carbon Fee and Dividend Act for Americans.
Under this approach, we do not have to give up our clean air and water, nor tolerate a steady exodus of jobs. In fact, it could spark a second industrial revolution at home, and a green revolution at that.
It would work like this: Place a fee on carbon-based fuel as far upstream as possible the well, mine or port of entry. The price of the carbon dioxide it generates could be set at $15 per metric ton and rise predictably over time eventually making clean energy the obvious economic choice. To offset the burden on Americans, all of the revenue collected would return to the people via dividend checks. So as fuel costs rise, Americans have incentive to conserve and save money, yet the dividend check will protect those who have trouble sloughing fossil fuel.
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