Commentary: Climate change bill would prevent catastrophe worse than the pandemic

People hold protests sign during the Climate Strike climate change protest in Laguna Beach.
A large group of people hold protests sign during the Climate Strike climate change protest at Main Beach Park in Laguna Beach in September 2019. A climate change bill before Congress holds hope for positive change, columnist Curt Abdouch writes.
(Raul Roa / Staff Photographer)

There appears to be a prevailing thought that nothing important will get done until the pandemic and its deadly effects have passed. When that will happen no one knows. It is instead a time of dreams delayed and dreams denied. Because of a conspiracy of unfortunate circumstances, the country has earned the dubious distinction of being the most infected on Earth. Miles-long testing lines and free food lines beg the question: Is this America? Reporting frightening statistics only adds to disillusionment and desperation.

There have been several comparisons between the pandemic and the other looming planetary emergency — the ever-warming climate. One comparison is the negative effect of the pandemic — bodies piling up in hospitals, morgues and cemeteries, while planet-killing greenhouse-gas emissions are piling up in the atmosphere day after day, being the other negative effect with no end in sight. Make no mistake: There are two global crises, but given the outcome if nothing happens, the coronavirus pandemic pales in comparison to the effects of climate change.

We have attempted to patch up this and that, unemployment being one of the issues. Stimulus payments helped a bit, for a bit. But like the case rate and death rate from the disease, unemployment is still on the rise. But consider the relationship — the possibility of lessening unemployment and arresting climate change at the same time. There is not only a connection, there’s hope. And hope is in desperately short supply.

The source of this hope is legislation pending in Congress. It’s HR 763, formally known as the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. If it is enacted without delay as a national priority, it could have far-reaching positive effects. These could be felt before a lab-proven vaccine is ready.

Describing the features of this bill should convince everyone of its benefits. First of all, it seeks — expects — support from Democrats and Republicans alike. Driving down the country’s carbon footprint by 40% and replacing it with climate-saving technology and ingenuity in the first 12 years of its life is one of its benefits. By its design, the act will improve people’s health and save lives. Atmospheric pollution has its own large claim on lives beyond what the pandemic is doing.

Flying directly in the face of the job-and-business killing pandemic, the act will be good for the economy and is projected to create 2.1 million jobs that will usher in a new green, clean energy economy and way of life.

It has another important economic provision: It provides a monthly dividend, putting money directly into people’s pockets to spend as they see fit. It will especially help low- and middle-income Americans, including those who are presently unemployed.

One of the features of the bill is that it is “revenue neutral.” That means the fees collected will not be kept by the government but will be passed directly to the intended recipients — all of us.

Where do all these funds come from? From companies that deal in fossil fuels that have made them rich by selling these finite natural resources that have ended up as carbon dioxide, methane, oxides of nitrogen and other greenhouse gasses that are causing global warming. We can call these funds “carbon fees.”

Yes, we’ve all benefited from the ride. It has come at a steep price to the climate, and now payment is due. Fortunately under this plan American individuals and families are not taxed but get dividend payments from these carbon fees instead. What a novel idea!

So how can this happen? Congress holds the key. If Congress members are stakeholders, not gatekeepers, then there is no time to waste. The faster this legislation is passed and put into action, the faster the money will flow. This is certain. We cannot say the same for a vaccine at this time, despite the best efforts of medical science.

Medical science is doing its best to solve the pandemic crisis. The legislative prescription for solving the climate crisis has already been written. This is the time for real leadership and Congressional climate-saving heroism just as we celebrate those fighting the coronavirus war. Not only will this be economic assistance, climate-solutions assistance and humanitarian assistance but also environmental and social justice.

If you answer “yes” to getting a monthly check not availableuntil now, be sure your representative in Congress knows. Here’s the chance of a lifetime to save the planet and get paid for it.

The writer lives in Costa Mesa.

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