By Rachel Weneck
On November 19th members of the CALC staff attended the “Carbon Pricing” panel discussion held at Babson College. The event was sponsored by the Wellesley Women League of Voters in order to educate the public about what a carbon tax would do for Massachusetts.
The event was moderated by Steve Curwood from NPR’s “Living on Earth.” Guest panelists included Joseph Aldy (Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School), John Reily (Center for Environmentsl Policy Research, MIT Sloan School of Management), Gary Rucinski (New England Coordinator of the Citizens Climate Lobby), Theda Skocopol (Professor of Government and Society, Harvard University) and Fritz Fleuschmann (Willism R. Dil Governance Chair, Babson College).
In the lobby outside the auditorium a couple of companies and organizations had their own booths and we’re talking with event-goers. Some booths included the Women League of Voters, Next Step Living, and, for their debut booth and poster, the Climate Action Liaison Coalition.
The small theater was quickly filled with people at 7pm. Latecomers were pointed to the balcony which the college had to open due to the unexpected amount of visitors. The event started off quickly with an introduction by Jessica Langerman. Then the panelists dive right into the topic.
The overall theme of the discussion was that no matter what we do the earth will be fine, but humans won’t be. The discussion started with how a carbon tax will tax things we don’t want as opposed to a tax on things we do like. The fear of poorer communities having a price on carbon was brought up. The carbon tax in British Columbia was used as an example of how the money collected in a tax can be given back to businesses and residents.
Much discussion was given on how to include citizens and get policies changed. Aldy suggested that for our state we have a modest initial tax on gas and oil that would increase over the course of 4-5 years. Such as starting at $5 a ton and then increasing it $10 each year. A gentle approach would not hurt the economy and a gradual change would help shift jobs from coal to renewable energy. Skocol suggested that the carbon tax could also help transition coal workers into other fields.
The panelists also emphasized that the public needs to understand what a carbon tax would do for the economy in simple terms. Americans are distrustful of complicated, opaque policies. If it can be made visible to the public the more accepted it will become. But that wasn’t to say that the public is not aware of climate change. As Aldy pointed out “cities such as Miami and Tampa know that the sea level is rising” and they are actively trying to prepare it. Further inland places such as North Dakota are seeing farmers plant corn, which historically speaking had never been possible.
The panelists went on to say that the fossil fuel industries know that something is coming and the coal industry knows that they are in trouble. But luckily for them they have the resources, chemists, physicists, and money to start divesting.
The biggest setbacks the panelists noticed were all in the political sphere. Theda ssid that in 2008 both McCain and Obama has the same ideas for a cap and trade system. In 2009 it was passed unanimously in the House of Representatives, but had died in the Senate. This brought the discussion to the fact that states and regions can act when Congress cannot. A reason was stated by Skocol that many people did not understand what a cap and trade system was. A greater educational grassroots movement would make people more comfortable with the carbon tax.
Massachusetts is in a unique position where it has the ability to bring in innovation to solve its energy problems. The carbon tax in Massachusetts might cause “leakage” of some industries and businesses to other states, but other industries would fill in their places.
The panelists received a loud round of applause from the crowd. Closing remarks were made and the panelists were thanked and given small gifts of appreciation. Afterwards a raffle was held for a test rides of the five electric Tesla cars that were showcased outside the building. Many people leaving the event were visible excited at the prospect of change in Massachusetts. And if more events such as these happened across the state a change might come sooner than expected.