Brian Ettling presents the conservative case for a carbon tax at the 2018 Truex Economic Lecture

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On Tuesday, Oct. 9, Brian Ettling visited William Jewell College to give the Truex Economic Lecture. A 1992 Jewell alumni, Ettling spent 25 years as a national park ranger, which led him to his current career as a climate change organizer, public speaker and lobbyist. Ettling’s occupation has taken him to over 200 climate change talks across 10 U.S. states, Washington D.C., and Ottawa, Canada. In an effort to protect the viability of our homeland, Ettling has resolutely devoted his life to protecting this Earth.

Ettling visited Jewell specifically to spread awareness of not only the dire situation we find ourselves in today but also what we can do about it.

Early on, Ettling realized the knowledge that our Earth was dying was useless absent mobilization towards action.

“I learned from the peer-reviewed study published in the Association for Psychological Science in January 2011 by University of California research scientists in their report Apocalypse Soon? Dire Messages Reduce Belief in Global Warming by Contradicting Just-World Beliefs, that just talking about the problem of climate change without talking about solutions can make people feel depressed and even less likely to take action on climate change. However, if one talks about the problem of climate change and proposes a solution, people are more likely to act,” Ettling said.

The specific solution that Ettling has in mind is meant to spur the action of current right-wing politicians by proposing the Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) carbon fee and dividend market based economic solution. This economic solution is built on three policy initiatives. The first one is to place a steadily rising fee on fossil fuels. This fee would look like a $15/metric ton fee on CO2 emissions that rises by $10 every year. This fee functions as a way of destabilizing the monopoly fossil fuels have on the energy sector now. This would give more credence to cleaner forms of energy.

The question still remains of how will people afford cleaner energy because while fossil fuel prices will be increasing, other forms of energy still are just as expensive. This is accounted for in the second initiative of giving 100 percent of the net fees from the carbon fee directly back to households as a monthly dividend. This initiative has many functions including boosting the economy, spurring innovation and eliminating economic barriers to clean energy.

The third and final initiative part of CCL’s plan is to disincentivize corporations from relocating company operations to countries where they can emit more CO2. The plan to avoid this necessitates import fees on products imported from countries without a carbon fee, along with rebates to US industries exporting to those countries.

Projections of the effects of this plan while in place have been very encouraging.

“A study from REMI shows that carbon fee-and-dividend will reduce CO2 emissions 52% below 1990 levels in 20 years and that recycling the revenue creates an economic stimulus that adds 2.8 million jobs to the economy… Additionally, Carbon Fee and Dividend is projected to prevent over 230,000 premature deaths over 20 years from improved air quality,” according to the Citizens Climate Lobby.

With returns like this on simple economic modifications, Ettling truly believes that this is not only a plan we should be considering but a plan we need to be considering. In fact, Ettling wants his life to serve as proof that we must be evaluating solutions to climate change.

Taking action gives me the most reward with the serious problem of climate change. I live by the Joan Baez quote that ‘action is the antidote to despair,’” said Ettling.

Ettling also believes that his time attending Jewell was especially formative in his life. He was instilled with values of leadership and perspective. Seeing issues from a different angle is what ultimately motivated Ettling to do what he does now.

“I learned back around 1998 that sea level rose eight inches along the mangrove coastline in the Everglades in the 20th century, which is four times more than previous centuries. This century, due to melting from Antarctica and Greenland, sea level could rise over three feet, if not greater. The highest point on the park road is three feet above sea level. Thus, climate change could swallow up most of Everglades National Park. Here I was, showing park visitors alligators, crocodiles, dolphins, manatees and wading birds. I was also canoeing out to see wild flamingos on my weekends, and I became concerned that all of this vital, world-class biological hotspot, could be lost forever,” Ettling said.

Now his mission is to get people like Jewell students to recognize this problem and take effective action. Ettling believes positive action can be taken in a multitude of ways. The clearest way is simply by voting. Politicians are the one wielding the ultimate power of changing policy so we should ensure we are choosing the correct ones. Even if we don’t have the right ones, as taxpayer’s we have a right to lobby our congressmen and congresswomen to make climate initiatives a priority, this is another effective way of taking action.

You are not mistaken in thinking you don’t have to do much to take action on the issue of climate change, that is exactly what you are supposed to think.

Cover photo courtesy of Yale Climate Connections.

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