Middlebury Must Endorse Federal Carbon Pricing


This is the first in a series of three op-eds from the carbon pricing campaign at Middlebury. This week’s is focused on the federal level, next week’s is focused on carbon pricing in Vermont, and the last week’s endorses a carbon pricing mechanism at Middlebury College. To learn more or to get involved, come to Sunday Night Environmental Group at 8 p.m. at Hillcrest.

It is unacceptable and irresponsible for Middlebury to further delay joining the other colleges and universities that have endorsed carbon pricing. If you have ever watched “An Inconvenient Truth,” “Before the Flood” or another climate documentary, you were probably left with a bitter taste of dread and a sense of helplessness. While these documentaries do a great job of highlighting the danger of climate change, they often stop short of presenting real, practical policy to address climate change. Middlebury College, a long-time leader in environmental activism, must stand by its values and students by endorsing carbon pricing policy.

The idea behind a carbon price is simple: the government collects a tax for every ton of carbon dioxide which is emitted. A commonly held misconception is that this tax would disproportionately harm the pocketbooks of lower-income people; however, most proposed plans include rebates and tax returns to account for the increased cost on consumers. Funds can also be used to invest in building and researching clean energy solutions.

Carbon pricing is not radical, nor is it flashy. But it works. It is an equitable and science-based first step in combating climate change which accounts for the real cost of burning fossil fuels. This tax would work within the market to incentivize replacing fossil fuels with clean energy. A carbon tax is rooted in neoliberal economic theory –– it has also been shown to work in markets around the globe. According to Vox, over 40 countries currently have or are implementing carbon pricing.

British Columbia, Canada, has had a carbon tax since 2008. From 2007 to 2014 the province decreased carbon emissions by 5.5 percent despite an 8.1 percent increase in population. Over this same time, the province’s real GDP increased by 12.4 percent. Sans economic jargon, a carbon tax improved both the economy and the environment. According to The Globe and Mail, British Columbia’s carbon tax has been so successful that the Canadian government is instituting a national carbon tax by the end of 2018.

Support for carbon pricing spans the political spectrum. Carbon pricing has been endorsed by Barack Obama, Lindsey Graham, Angela Merkel, Rex Tillerson and even our very own Bill McKibben. These endorsements make it easier to have a national conversation about carbon pricing. In 2009, the American Clean Energy and Security Act passed the House but was never brought to a vote in the Senate. This bill would have instituted a national cap-and-trade market like that found in the EU. The bill was never brought to a vote due to a lack of enthusiasm from lawmakers to do so at the time. In the midst of the financial crash and the efforts to pass Obamacare, potential carbon pricing legislation was ignored. In order to let legislators know that there is public support for carbon pricing, we must continue to gain nonpartisan support from our institutional leaders.

This year, Sunday Night Environmental Group (SNEG), along with the Environmental Council, partnered with Our Climate’s national Put A Price On It campaign. One of the goals of this campaign is to gain endorsements from college presidents to demonstrate to lawmakers that institutions shaping tomorrow’s leaders are committed to solving climate change. In the past year, over 35 colleges have officially endorsed Put A Price On It, including UC Berkeley, Swarthmore College and Wesleyan College. We have collected over 1,200 signatures from Middlebury students asking the administration to also endorse carbon pricing. Given that the new Middlebury College mission statements aims to “foster the inquiry, equity, and agency necessary for [students] to practice ethical citizenship at home and far beyond our Middlebury campuses,” it is our sincere hope that our educational leaders will lend their support in this critical struggle.

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