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Climate Advocates Need to Embrace Carbon Tax

OP-ED: “Forget cap-and-trade. It’s too complicated to resonate with the public, and too prone to manipulation and gaming.”

By Charles Komanoff

Sep 22, 2014

Charles Komanoff directs the Carbon Tax Center in New York.

This story was updated at 1:15 PM EDT.

Which is mightier—the obstacles to enacting a U.S. carbon tax, or the tax’s unique capacity to drive down global-warming emissions quickly, massively and equitably?

At the Carbon Tax Center we’ve bet on the latter. And our bet will only get better if the climate movement coalesces its advocacy and organizing around a carbon tax.

Making polluters pay to emit carbon isn’t just textbook economics and basic fairness—though it is those things. A carbon tax is the only way for the climate damage caused by burning fossil fuels to be brought inside the arc of individual and societal decision-making that determines how much of those fuels society uses and, thus, how much carbon it emits.

These decisions range from the immediate and quotidian:  take transit vs. car, refill at the tap vs. buy bottled water; to institutional and far-reaching: build airplane frames with ultralight composites vs. aluminum, locate in town vs. on the outskirts, contract with a wind farm vs. a coal generator.

Without a tax on carbon emissions, every choice like these―and billions are made daily―will remain so rigged that fossil fuels will never yield their central position in world energy supply—or at least not fast enough to keep climate change from spiraling out of control. But a tax gives us a fighting chance to keep climate tipping points at bay and stave off global warming’s most dire effects.

Climate Primer: Explaining the Global Carbon Budget and Why It Matters

Once the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere tops 3.2 trillion metric tons, chances dim to avoid climate disaster, according to new calculations.

Sep 22, 2014
Carbon budget graphic

For as long as scientists and policymakers have been grappling with climate change, they've been up against two critical questions: How much extra carbon has mankind sent into the atmosphere? And how much more can be added before global warming becomes disastrous? 

Climate researchers have spent decades tracking and quantifying the complex flows of carbon into and out of the atmosphere, but those questions couldn't be answered convincingly until 2009. That's when a group of European scientists published a groundbreaking and highly credible global carbon budget that filled the information void. Using a comprehensive climate model, the scientists determined the maximum amount of greenhouse gases mankind could send into the atmosphere without triggering catastrophe—and then found that more than a quarter of that budget had been spent by 2006.

NYC Climate March Tops Expectations

At Columbus Circle marchers flowed by at a rate of about 10 per second.

Sep 21, 2014

InsideClimate News spent Sunday covering the People's Climate March. This story was last updated at 4:45 PM.

NEW YORK—They took the A train—or the B, C, or D, or the 1 or the 2. They piled off buses and ambled across Central Park. All along the Upper West Side, from Columbus Circle at 59th for at least 30 blocks north, the crowd poured in for what organizers had billed as the biggest public demonstration ever to push for action on the climate change crisis.

By midafternoon on Sunday, it was clear that prediction had been fulfilled. The crowd was so thick, and moving so slowly, that marchers at the rear of the line were fretting that if they made it in time to their bus pick-up spots on 34th Street it would be a miracle indeed. They had more than 50 blocks to go, and there were an estimated 310,000 people in front of them.

The marchers had started to assemble in mid-morning, and all afternoon they marched, danced, chanted, jostled and cheered themselves along.

At Columbus Circle they flowed by at a rate of about 10 people per second for hour after hour, holding signs and boogying to brass bands. Thirteen blocks uptown at 72nd Street pedestrian gridlock reigned supreme, as people who had hiked across Central Park lined up, waiting to join those already packed in place.

ICN's Climate March and Climate Week Coverage

We started our coverage weeks ago. Here's what to expect in the coming week.

Sep 19, 2014

Next week will be a big one for climate change activity—and InsideClimate News will be there covering it. 

Activists from more than 1,000 organizations will march through midtown Manhattan Sunday, Sept. 21 to call on world leaders to act on global warming. The event, known as the People's Climate Marchis expected to be the largest gathering of disparate interests in the history of the climate movement, with estimates ranging as high as 100,000 people.

InsideClimate News will be there on the ground, providing breaking news updates, videos and pictures throughout the day. We'll travel with protesters as they stream into the city. We'll watch as the march route gets assembled and stay until the last buses leave. You can find the latest news from our reporters at InsideClimateNews.org, and on Twitter and Facebook.

Making the Great Climate March Last More Than Just One Day

OP-ED: For most Americans who care about climate, "the paralysis stems from a combination of hopelessness and deep-rooted cynicism about our government..."

By Mark Reynolds

Sep 19, 2014

Mark Reynolds is executive director of Citizens Climate Lobby, a grassroots organization campaign that favors a federal tax on carbon. 

On Sept. 21, two days before the UN Climate Summit, what's being billed as a historic demonstration of support for action on global warming will take place in the streets of New York. Organizers expect over 100,000 participants to turn out for the People's Climate March, elevating it to the level of events surrounding the civil rights and anti-war movements of an earlier era.

But will the "arc of the moral universe"–where climate change is concerned–eventually bend towards justice?

That depends on what happens after the march.

Mich. Pipeline Leak Is Political Fodder in Heated House Race

Republican Fred Upton, incumbent with fossil industry ties, faces challenge from a climate action hawk.

Sep 19, 2014

If opponents of incumbent Congressman Fred Upton (R-Mich) have their way, a natural gas pipeline leak that displaced 500 people earlier this week could take center stage in one of the nation's most heated Congressional races.

The contest for Michigan's 6th congressional district pins fossil fuel champion Upton, a 14-term U.S. Representative and chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, against Democratic newcomer Paul Clements, a political science professor at Western Michigan University and an advocate for climate action.

Early Tuesday morning, residents of Benton Charter Township, in southwestern Michigan, were evacuated from their homes after a natural gas pipeline operated by energy giant TransCanada ruptured. They were allowed to return within 12 hours of the leak, but there are still questions about how much natural gas escaped, and whether nearby soil and water were contaminated.

Q&A: One Baptist Minister's Long, Careful Road to Climate Activism

Progressive Baptists' Rev. Dr. Baltimore discusses how climate change became a moral issue not a scientific argument; and the power of the clergy.

Sep 18, 2014

When thousands of activists descend on Manhattan this Sunday for the People's Climate March, faith-based groups will be among them. Dozens of religious organizations and churches have signed up to join in demanding action to fight global warming. But as the Rev. Dr. Carroll A. Baltimore, former president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, says, religious groups' road to the march has been slow and rocky.

State Department Draws Fire for Allowing Tar Sands Pipeline Detour

If any other federal agency did this, "there would be no question it would be illegal," one expert said.

Sep 17, 2014

A Canadian pipeline company's plan to bring more tar sands oil into the United States without waiting for a federal permit is drawing resistance from environmentalists who say it's skirting the law.

Last week, 18 green groups sent a letter to the U.S. State Department asking the agency to "take immediate action to halt this illegal increase in tar sands crude oil imports until it completes its ongoing environmental review." Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) expressed similar concerns in a separate letter to the agency

The issue highlights uncertainties in the way international pipelines are regulated, and the growing opposition to tar sands oil, which releases 17 percent more greenhouse gases than conventional crude and is harder to clean up when it spills into water. 

$2.9 Million Fracking Verdict Against Texas Oil Company Survives Another Challenge

Judge denies Aruba's request for new trial in case involving Texas family suffering from noxious air emissions. Aruba says it will appeal.

Sep 16, 2014

The stage has been set for an appeal of a high profile verdict against a Texas oil and gas company after a judge refused to grant a new trial in the case of a family sickened by noxious air emissions.

Judge Mark Greenberg has denied a motion by Aruba Petroleum for a new trial, letting stand the $2.9 million jury award to Lisa and Bob Parr who sued the company after gas and oil wells surrounded their once rural ranch south of Dallas.

Greenberg's one sentence order didn't offer a reason for his decision. It simply said: "Aruba Petroleum's motion for new trial is ... denied."

NYT Reports on a Global Clean Energy Reckoning for Dirty Utilities

Germany's energy transformation is the most ambitious undertaking of its kind on the planet, with ripple effects being felt across the globe.

By Osha Gray Davidson

Sep 15, 2014

Osha Gray Davidson is the author of "Clean Break: The Story of Germany's Energy Transformation and What America Can Learn From It," an InsideClimate News e-book published in November 2012. 

The German energy transition, or Energiewende, has been covered sporadically by the U.S. media, often with little regard for nuance, despite the fact that the German project to move from carbon and nuclear-based energy to renewables is the most ambitious undertaking of its kind on the planet. A front-page article in Sunday's New York Times is an example of the kind of quality reporting that has been all too rare. The longish piece (approximately 2,400 words) uses the construction of new wind farms in the North Sea as a point of departure to report on the Energiewende and the ripple effects being felt globally.

"It will be another milestone in Germany's costly attempt to remake its electricity system," writes the Times' reporter, Justin Gillis, "an ambitious project that has already produced striking results: Germans will soon be getting 30 percent of their power from renewable energy sources. Many smaller countries are beating that, but Germany is by far the largest industrial power to reach that level in the modern era. It is more than twice the percentage in the United States."