Episode 37, Carbon Tax: How it Works with Lina Bird
Todays guest is Lina Bird who is very active in the Washington DC branch of the Citizens Climate Lobby. The Citizens Climate Lobby is a non-profit, non-partisan grassroots organization with chapters all over the country, with the aim of lobbying for national policies to address climate change. One of their primary policies is a Carbon Tax and Dividend.
Keep listening to learn all about the Citizens Climate Lobby and the nuts and bolts of how a Carbon tax and dividend works. As well as what YOU can do to have a positive influence.
Be sure to check out CitizensClimateLobby.org where you can find your local chapter and get involved.
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Thanks again for listening. I look forward to sharing the next episode with you.
- Lina’s job as a Microbiologist
- Using microbes to generate electricity
- What is the Citizens Climate Lobby
- Carbon tax plus dividend – how it works
- Economic effects on the cost of fossil dependent goods/services
- How it would impact our everyday lives
- Real world example of where a carbon tax has been applied
- Implications of a carbon tax on imports and exports
- How it incentivizes other countries to apply a carbon tax as well
- Localizing effect for commerce/trade
- Does increased economic cash-flow increase fossil fuel consumption?
- Massive habit change through awareness/altruism vs. economic incentive
- Effects of carbon tax on businesses/corporations
- How to get involved in the Citizens Climate Lobby
- Permaculture whole systems design applied to policy/governance/economics.
- Productive ways to approach our congress-people and elected leaders
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Red Dust – Zero 7
Levi: So are you working for the Citizen’s Climate Lobby? Is that your full-time gig?
Lina: No, I’m a member of the Citizen’s Climate Lobby actually. It’s a strictly volunteer thing that I’ve been doing for some years. I’m actually a microbiologist so I’m working on the Navel Research lab right now.
Levi: Whoa, that’s really fascinating. I could probably spend a whole hour or more wanting to learn about what you’re doing there but…I guess…what are you doing there?
Lina: So right now, I’m part of a research team that is looking at microorganisms that are able to produce electricity. We’ve got various types of bacteria that are able to transfer electrons to and fro electrodes and they produce current by doing that and so I’m looking at different applications. Some of the most obvious applications and sort of the easiest to get excited about is they’ve been, for a while, using microbes on the ocean floor as a power source for probes that are measuring like ocean currents and collecting other data so they can actually put this on the ocean bottom and use the microbes that are already in the sediments that will then transfer electrons through the wiring onto the oxygen in the ocean itself and they can get enough energy from this to power their devices pretty much indefinitely.
Levi: So this is a living… You’re not killing them or digesting the organisms. They’re actively just producing and you’re getting energy from them.
Lina: Exactly. So microorganisms, like bacteria, they have so many different ways of producing energy for themselves and one of those ways is…I don’t know what your background is in science and microbiology but basically all life works by transferring energy around. Humans take their electrons from sugar and dump them onto oxygen—that’s why we can’t live without food and we can’t live without air, we can’t live without oxygen. So microbes have a much wider range and there’s a significant number of bacteria that can actually live by transferring electrons to or in some cases from a solid metal, and in nature, they’ll be using things like iron and manganese. You give them a platinum wire or graphite or anything that’s conductive and you give them a chance and they will just dump their electrons onto that, which allows it to go through a wire like your lightbulb and then dump it into oxygen ultimately. So these are the kinds of things we’re looking at.
Levi: Are you exploring it for the potential of scaling it up and having that be a legitimate power source for cities or something?
Lina: At this point, probably not. The actual amount of power you get, they are very good for powering, say devices that are in the ocean that don’t need a lot of power, like they basically just need a battery to log data or one thing that I’ve always been interested in is if you have a situation where you have to remediate—so if you have like a mine drainage or if you have a really contaminated site, if you can set up a system that helps cleans that site while powering itself, you won’t have to run extra batteries out there. Stuff like that is becoming more and more doable. As far as getting the kind of power that can actually run a city at our current levels, the members aren’t quite working on that now. Of course, more research will eventually find a way. But for the moment, we’re talking much lower power levels than you would need.
Levi: Sure. So maybe by that time the cities and infrastructure will be much more efficient and require less energy.
Levi: So it won’t require as much on the engineering side of that but that’s so cool. I guess there are risks but I’m imagining it when we want to, like, send more machines to different planets or like asteroids or something, robots. And the robots and their sensors can be powered by a little globe of microbes or something except you wouldn’t want to contaminate it.
Lina: Oh right, this is already the issue with the planets. Although if you’re thinking of ever calling us on our part of planets, you had better take your microbes along because humans are very mutually dependent on bacteria than they’d like to admit.
Levi: Sure. Sure.
Lina: But the definite possibilities and the need of…I mean, of course, the navy is looking at a lot of different ways to use them, you know sensors or another, another thing that we’re looking at…Can you get a bacteria in that can sense a chemical that you’re interested in, explosive or whatever, and have it give you maybe an electrical signal as an output and just ways of detecting things that are actually difficult to detect otherwise without a lot of long-term tests. There’s a lot of different possibilities. You always hope that you’ll be able to power the world this way, but so far, that hasn’t quite panned out but again, you never know. I guess that’s the exciting part about research.
Levi: Yeah, that’s still really interesting. It’s something that I didn’t know was really happening, so very cool. Thanks for sharing that.
Lina: Absolutely. I love my work. I enjoy talking about that as well.
Levi: Cool. So the Citizen’s Climate Lobby, can you explain what that is and what’s your relationship with it?
Lina: Yeah, absolutely. So the Citizen’s Climate Lobby is actually really well-named. It is an organization now, actually international. It started in the US but it has chapters in Canada, Sweden, and India. It’s really springing up all over the place. It’s basically just an organization of citizens that literally lobby their governments to institute a carbon tax. Their mission, their motto is to create the political will for livable world, and by livable world, of course they mean one in which we don’t have a runaway climate change, runaway global warming. We started back in 2007 by a retired real estate broker named Marshall Saunders and he is still the chair of the board and very energetic, very compelling speaker. I was lucky enough to have an introductory chapter start in which he spoke about his experiences, and basically his story was that back in 2006, he realized what a problem climate change was and he wanted to do something about it and he started giving talks to community organizations, talking about what a big problem it was and what individual actions people can take and he realized that there was a disconnect there, and that the people in his audience were actually feeling it as well was that the actions that people were suggesting and of course, I think on your part, you’ve probably gone beyond what the typical suggestions are, but the individual actions were not adding up to the climate change that we meet. And so, at that point, he realized that policy changes at the government level were going to have to be part of the puzzle, and so that’s when he started this group, the climate citizen’s lobby, and they are very focused, especially at the national level. Now it is grassroots, so individual chapters have their own ideas, their own programs as well and things that they’re involved in. But the national level, they’re very focused. They want to institute a carbon fee dividend. They’ve looked at various possibilities for policies and they’ve decided that this is the one that is actually going to be the most effective of all the ones they could think about. You know there are a number of studies. There’s a lot of thought that has gone into this, there’s actually a book called the case for carbon tax, so we can talk about thEse resources but this is what they decided. This is where their energy goes. They have a draft bill. They do a lot of lobbying. Individual members come to DC every year. They have a big convention in June, where hundreds of people come from around the country, of course, a lot of people come from the DC area ’because it’s easier for them. You know, people actually will, everyday citizens will pay money, sometimes funded by their local groups to come to DC, take part in this and actually go to dozens of meetings with congress members and aids of congress members to talk about this idea, so you’re actually being a lobbyist in DC. So I joined in the group just as a member when I was living in Pasadena. Actually I was getting very worried about climate change and was looking for a group that was doing something, and I stumbled upon just the very beginning of the Pasadenan chapter of the Citizen’s Climate Lobby and attended the opening and started attending their meetings. The format and I think one of the reasons Citizen’s Climate Lobby is…that I’ve stuck with and a lot of people have—they tend to have very strong groups—is that although they’re grassroots, although you go to a local chapter, they stay connected through conference calls. So the meetings are once a month. They’re always the second Saturday of the month, and the first hour of it is a conference call which partially keeps you in touch with what groups from around the world, around the country, are doing. Usually the US and Canada, the different time zones, they have a harder time just jumping in on it. But you get to hear what people are doing, you get to hear how many letters to congress have been written, you know if individual members publish letters to local newspapers, you know they can report those and those can be tracked, and of course you know you’ve got these big lobbying days. And then at least half an hour of that conference call is actually educational. They will invite people, experts from various aspects of climate change, so sometimes we’ll have scientists talking about the state of the climate change science, they’ve have economists, they’ve actually had someone from the navy talking about the military perspective because climate change is in fact considered a large problem, a large destabilizer in the world, and we’ve got a lot of people thinking about it. And so it tends to be a very exciting meeting because you get to hear a lot of cutting-edge research and you feel like you’re learning something as well as just writing letters and doing these other activities. So it’s a very nice combination of action and education. And the last thing that really makes me like it is that I prefer sort of a cooperative approach and the CCL is really focused on building relationships and being…basically appreciating that being in congress is not the easiest of jobs. You may not agree with what congress people are doing but they’re not working not just when they’re in congress but they face a lot of pressures from our political system. You know, the amount of money that they have to raise, the constant fight for reelection and so appreciating that and approaching them with a bit more sympathy than lot of the more-angry groups usually do. And for some people, that feels a lot better than taken to the streets. So I hope that answered the question about what they are.
Levi: Yeah, that sounds great. That sounds like a really awesome organization doing awesome things. I’m actually amazed that I haven’t heard of it but I’m very grateful so thank you. Sounds like your cats are quite the supporter as well.
Lina: Yeah, he’s probably asking for food right about now. He’s also basically a long-haired Siamese so he tends to be a bit more vocal than many cats. So he’s fed so we should be able to go on without any disturbance.
Levi: Okay. Well, of course, if he’s got something to say, he’s welcome to chime in.
Lina: He might.
Levi: Okay. So I’m coming at this from very little policy and that kind of political organization experience. I’m very much a newbie, but it’s really cool to hear how you explain it. I think that it really helps me understand what is happening and what the process is for making those changes and how people are engaging in it. And I love that education is a big component of that. That’s very, very awesome. So I’m very curious to learn more about the specific solution of the carbon tax plus dividend. If you could flesh that out a little bit, about how that would get applied and how that would work, that’d be helpful.
Lina: Absolutely. So there are a number of different of this idea of carbon tax. The one that CCL supports is basically you would price carbon. Their proposal starts at fifteen dollars per ton of CO2, so we know how much CO2 is produced when a ton of coal is burnt, when oil is burnt, when national gas is burnt, so we can very easily put a price on that CO2, so the idea is the producers of the fossil fuel, the extractors of the fossil fuel, would basically be required to report which they already do. They keep careful track of how much they pull out of the ground. They would be required to pay this fee. And presumably then because this fee apply to all producers in the US, and I’ll get to how this would work as far as foreign stuff goes in a minute, but since it would be applied evenly to all producers, the presumption is that they would pass that on to the consumers. They would have to in order to maintain their profits. So that in itself would basically raise the cost of everything related to fossil fuel, so anything that is fossil fuel extensive would be more expensive; things that are not fossil fuel extensive would be less. And I’m sure that you could immediately see an issue here and that it would aid increase the cost of living for Americans considerably.
Levi: Yeah, coz almost everything is dependent on some degree of fossil fuel, if even just to transport it.
Lina: Exactly. So they’ve actually done a fair amount of modelling. The CCL actually commissioned a study from a group. We called it the Remi Study. It was basically done by an economic organization that does these kinds of models. They’ve done it for the government. They’ve done it for private companies. Basically, they’re very good at creating models and they predict the carbon tax; they model it out for about fifteen years. So the idea is that they would start at fifteen dollars a ton and it would go up by ten dollars a ton per year until we get to the levels of carbon emission that we want, which they’ve placed at 10 percent of ninety-nine levels, so you know, very drastic cuts and it would get expensive. So after fifteen years, the study predicts that the overall cost of living for people would go up by about 2 percent, so maybe less than you think but still quite significant for people who are struggling. So the way to get around that is the second half of it. So we’ve got the carbon C, and now we get to the dividend. So the idea here is that aside from some administrative costs, fairly low percent would have to go…This could be administered to the IOS but you assume that it’s going to cost something. Aside from those, all of the money would go back to citizens—to taxpayers, no, just citizens. So everybody whole files a tax return with the IRS would get a share of the dividend, so you would basically take all of the money that you’ve collected from the fossil fuel company. You would divide it up. The CCL has each adult in a household getting a full share and up to two children getting a half share. So that means that a family of four would get 3 full shares. The CCL favors a monthly return. You might remember some of your stack. There was that stimulus payment, so basically everybody got something like $600 from the IRS as part of a tax return, so this could be administered through the same administration. So the IRS would be making payments to all US taxpayers. And that monthly, or if you have to do it quarterly, that money would actually offset the increased cost of living. And we think about cost of living as often by area, but when you really think about it, it tracks pretty closely with income. The more money you make, the more money you tend to spend—the higher your cost of living. And so if you assume people’s cost of living tracks well with their income, what you come out with is 58 percent of individuals would actually come out slightly ahead with their dividend vs. increase cost of living. So you would actually be protecting 60 percent, roughly, of income brackets. So they would actually not be feeling the pain of the increased cost of living. Now, where the genius comes in is that it’s not connected. It doesn’t matter how much money you spend on fossil fuels; you still get that same dividend back. So if you realize as the cost of say heating goes up, that you can save a lot of money by putting solar panels on your roof, by putting solar hot water heater up. You still get to pocket that dividend. So it basically means that the cost of fossil fuels has come up so alternatives and actually taking the time, money, and energy to save on energy has suddenly become a much bigger deal but you’re still getting that dividend for as long as people continue to use fossil fuel.
Levi: Yeah. Cool. That makes a lot of sense to me. It seems like a lot like every step of the process was really well-thought out and how many people do you think experience this, and specifically experiencing the change, the transition in their everyday lives?
Lina: Right, so they see prices go up…There’s no question to that. The estimate is that for every dollar per ton of CO2, you’d basically see an additional penny per gallon per gas pump. So gas prices are an easy thing to think about. So the first year, you would actually see your gas prices go up by about fifteen cents a gallon, so that’s significant. Well, rural areas, where people have to drive more even if they don’t make more money are going to get hit harder, and of course, that is true. You know, where people are more rural, the point of which they break even is probably going to be somewhat lower than in highly urban areas. So it will depend on where you’re living. So gas prices would go up, industrial food prices would go up, and this is where, as someone who been interested in permaculture for a while and thinking about agriculture and the difficulties that local and ethically produced food, restoration agriculture, runs into is often very hard to compete with larger producers who had the advantage of basically producing food from cheap fuel, from artificial fertilizers and all this stuff. So the price of conventional food is going to go up. I would argue that if you’re producing via permaculture techniques, you’re not going to be using as much fuel in the first place, so your cost is going to go up less as a farmer. I could actually say that it would even the playing field for a lot of these alternatives, and of course that’s true all around. So electric cars would make more sense as gas prices went up. We’ve already seen that happen whenever you do see a spike in gas price happen, you know that. I actually did just buy an electric car, and the car salesman was telling me that they watch as gas prices go up, their sales of electric and efficient cars also go up, and when gas prices crash, people start buying SUVs again, so we know that this is going to happen, and the people are going to start paying attention to how much gas they’re using, and this is going to be true across the board. As the cost of living goes up, you’re going to be incentivized to insulate your house better, cut down on your electricity costs, cut down on all of these things. And this might be jumping ahead of it but it actually did seem to happen in the one place that this kind of task has been instituted, which is in British Columbia.
Levi: That was what I was supposed to ask. So I’m glad you’re going there.
Lina: Yeah. British Columbia actually put in a carbon tax starting in 2008, and it started at ten dollars a ton and it went up to thirty dollars a ton, where it is now frozen. And they basically found that fuel use relative to the rest of Canada went down by almost 19 percent between 2008 and 2012, then they froze the tax. Greenhouse gases also dropped slightly less; they don’t have the data. At the study I was looking at, greenhouse gas data wasn’t all in yet. It lags behind, but basically, they saw that people were using less heating fuel. They were using less gasoline. They were getting less of this stuff coz it’s more expensive. In that case, they didn’t do a direct dividend; they did tax cuts. So they cut income taxes. I think they might have cut payroll taxes. They did various tax cuts that the government did not take any more money out of it. It went back into the economy, and as a matter of fact, their economy tracked pretty well with the rest of Canada that did not have any of this. And I think that it actually do slightly relative to the rest of Canada. So basically, after a couple use of this, even business were not really complaining about this. They were, like, this isn’t actually affecting our ability to do business in British Columbia. So it’s not a perfect study because the problem is when you have a relatively small economy institute this without the power to influence anybody else, you’re getting a lot of effects from the outside, so they’re kind of afraid. They’ve frozen it at thirty dollars a ton, and they’re afraid to raise it any more because they are going to start making their businesses uncompetitive. Given the import situation, given the global situation that we’re living in, you can only push this so far, making sure that you’re protecting your home and industries.
Levi: If we apply this on the scale of the whole nation, how would that affect our relationship with other places that are not potentially putting this in and so their products would be theoretically cheaper? How do you get around that?
Lina: Right. The ex shot is that the trade agreements that the US has…You know, the world trade organization actually does have provision for these kinds of environmental tariffs, so the US could legally impose border tariffs on goods coming from any country that did not have a carbon tax in place, and that pretty much, at the moment, that’s everybody. And they could also give a rebate to exporting companies to lower the prices of their goods so they are comparative to other countries. So at the border, you would make these adjustments to make sure that both companies that are importing don’t have an unfair advantage because they’re manufacturing at a company that doesn’t have a carbon tax and refunding to US companies that are exporting so that they are not penalized for having to pay this tax within the US. And the beauty of it is, given the size of the US economy, this could be a real push in other countries to actually institute their own carbon taxes. So China had already been making noises about doing a carbon tax. They’re seeing the effects of climate changes like everybody else, and so here’s another big economy that’s also talking it. So if the US takes the lead in this, I would say that there’s a good chance that other would start following suit and you can end up with this situation where you are around the globe really lowering emissions, thanks to putting a price on carbon.
Levi: I guess I didn’t fully understand how it encourages other countries to do this because from my understanding, the tariffs on imports and kind of like the…I don’t know what the other term would be…helping to decrease the costs of exports for the people who are purchasing them seems like it would kind of nullify the effects at the border. How would that then still encourage other countries to get involved?
Lina: So the tariffs. You’re looking at a country that is importing something to the US. The idea there is the US is imposing tariffs so that those foreign companies are having to pay the US this extra fee coz their country does not have a carbon tax. So if they’ve instituted their own carbon tax—you know, they can do that in a variety of ways—then they’re not going to have to be paying the US extra money and they can find their own ways of reducing their costs within their own country. So let’s say, China or India or whatever country you wanna choose also puts on a carbon tax, it basically means that their citizens will get the benefits rather than having to pay the US that extra money.
Levi: Okay, so that makes to me now. I understand that in general, there’s going to be a shift in the cost of things that are produced and sold and bought and that in general, things that involve more fossil fuel use are going to become a little more expensive. I know that inherently, I think it will naturally create a more localized economy because, maybe I’m wrong here, but it seems logical to me that it would cause a reduction in overall imports and exports and more ongoing local commerce—local meaning, it could be at a national scale, within the country—or it could also be even at a smaller scale. Is that correct?
Lina: So that is not something that’s been addressed in the studies I’ve seen, you know the CCL has put up, but logically that is something that I have also thought. The way I view it is that, the reason that local goods, local foods often struggle is that they just can’t compete price-wise. And the reason they can’t compete is they have this network of highly subsidized fossil fuel transport. Once you take that away and you raise the price of the things coming from outside, I don’t see why you wouldn’t get more local production. It stands to reason as far as I’m concerned. Like I said, it’s not formally mentioned in the studies that I’ve seen but I think it certainly shift the economy that way. So the other thing that I wanted to mention about, this study that the CCL commissioned, was that it actually suggests that the overall effects of this would be positive on the US economy because you’re basically giving everybody an extra jolt of cash. Well, while some of that would go to increased cost of living, some of that—really all of that—is going to be recycled back into the economy and that means that there’s going to be an increase in jobs. There’s going to be an economic stimulus coming from this tax. The economic term for it is, I believe to go beyond tax, on the idea that you’re taxing something that you don’t want and you’re putting back money into something that you do, which is people circulating the money. So as far as thinking about local stuff, I know that sometimes I have to make choices…I would like to buy something that is local and high quality and I just don’t have the money right now, so at least as far as I’m concerned, I think of anybody else who values the local stuff. You know, when they get that extra money, I suspect some percentage of it is going to go back into the local economy. It should be stimulated along with everything else.
Levi: Yeah. So far, I’m fully with you every step of the way. But I think I may have something. I can play my double’s advocate card here. I’ll talk about my personal experience. I try to be pretty conscious in my day-to-day choices for being very energy efficient coz I’m really concerned about this issue, of course. And still though, I think my carbon footprint is pretty significant in comparison to someone in the third-world country and if I had more cash, more income, it would still probably lead to more consumption to goods and services that are, in general, still burning a lot of fossil fuels, and that, by not having that cash, by having to live frugally, it kind of forces me to take part in that monetary economy less and encourages me to take part in the non-monetary economy, whatever you wanna call it—the core economy—of just helping each other and giving gifts to each other and you know, getting by. I don’t know if I conveyed that fully well but the question is, is an acceleration or an encouragement of the economy—as it is, the cash economy, the US dollars and other currency economy—what we want and is it a good thing? Or how do you get around some of those increase, like consumptions issues?
Lina: Okay, so there’s a couple ways to approach that. One is that I am actually totally with you on the wanting to live more frugally, wanting to do more for myself. That is unfortunately not necessarily the overall direction that the bulk of the US citizens are going in and have the desire to go and while I would say it’s great to try to push that, try to increase education, try to make that a value, the speed of which that’s going to happen is not one that the climate is going to wait for. So that’s one thing. The other thing I would say is that we…I aspire to the lifestyle that you’re talking about, but I know that quite often, it’s not easy. It takes more time. Often, when you’re talking about buying higher quality, it also takes more money. It takes more trouble and as long as the alternative is cheap and easy, a lot of people are going to take that, even people who know that it’s a problem. Well, my transportation issues are gonna be a perfect example. I’ve lived all of my life without a car until the last couple of weeks. I did that because when I did my evaluation of the amount of trouble it took to live without my own car vs. the cost, savings, and trouble of owning a car, I decided for a very long time that I was better without one. That changed once the cost of living without a car went way up and the amount of time to get where I needed to go without a car went way up. So basically, because owning a car is relatively cheap in the current economy, that caused benefit for me. The tipping point was sooner than it would have been had carbon tax been in place. So the more expensive you make the thing that you don’t want, which is a carbon intensive economy, the more people are actually going to start looking at alternatives and I think to some extent, the kind of alternatives you’re talking about. So yes, people will have more money to spend as they get this dividend back, but at the same time, they’re going to start seeing the most carbon intensive goods get pricier and I think it’s part of human nature, just because you’ve gotten an extra influx of cash, that doesn’t mean the increase in prices aren’t going to give you a pause. And I’m sure there will be some percentage of the population that will say, “Yes, that stuff has just gotten more expensive but I got more money so I’ll buy it anyway.” But I will say that a lot of people are going to say, “Well, I’m sort of calibrated to a certain cost of goods and when I see the price of something go up high enough, I’m going to think twice before getting it.” So I think that as the prices of things go up, just because people have somewhat more affluence but because of the dividend and maybe if the economy behaves as predicted, that doesn’t mean that people aren’t going to notice price increase and then potentially adjust their spending accordingly. Does that make sense? Does that sort of answer your question?
Levi: Yeah, okay. Cool. I can totally see that. For the time being, actually this kind of ties…I don’t know if you remember a few episodes ago, I was talking about the hierarchy of needs and basically doing something out of altruism or just feeling like it’s a right thing is awesome but is not always the choice but is something that comes into the choices of someone who is just trying to survive and just get by like they have to do whatever they can and access whatever resources they can for the least amount of money.
Lina: Exactly. I was going to say that for those who do care and worry about these things…Again, the more expensive you make, let’s say the bad alternative that is…Just being a consumer, buying what you need instead of making it, the more you can justify the amount of time it often takes to make your own clothes, grow your own food. They’re not predicting that it would go up this much but if the price of food at the grocery store doubled, I suspect you’d see an awful lot more gardens in the suburbs. And it doesn’t matter if people get that extra money in their incomes, they’re still going to see the economic benefit of growing some of their own food.
Levi: Totally. And what’s exciting too, in, like, corporations and businesses, you could say, using more of the resource base or how have more…Their decisions affect a lot, a larger amount of them generally speaking, specially big corporations, franchises. These effects, the incentives and disincentives and alternating pressures will also affect them in how they make their choices and push the entire system from fossil fuel use.
Lina: Absolutely. And I think that is actually where you’ll see potentially a very large shift. So before moving, I actually worked for the University of Southern California for a couple of years as a researcher and what I was doing, I spoke a little to the student environmental group and one of them, I think, mentioned is that they had approached the university, the administrators, about putting up some solar panels and basically what they were told was that the way the university operates is that when it comes to financial decisions, they look over a I think it was a five-year time line. Well, right now, solar panels do pay for themselves, but it takes more than five years. If the cost of electricity went up, to a carbon tax, it wouldn’t take long for that five-year mark to be reached, and I suspect that quite a lot of larger institutions, a lot of businesses, they probably use a similar kind of timeline and if you can get an alternative energy solutions within that timeline, I think that you would see a huge spike in the use of alternative energy and also in savings. When you look at the bottom line and you realized that the cost of retrofitting to fixing your heating system, fixing the cooling system, will actually pay for itself within a year or two. You know, you’re gonna do it just like that.
Levi: Is there anything else that we missed that you really wanted to share about this topic or anything in general?
Lina: I think we covered the idea of the dividend pretty well. It sounds like you got most of what I was trying to get across. I guess the only thing would be in terms of if people want to be involved in this aspect.
Levi: How can people get more involved and learn more about what you’re doing?
Lina: So the Citizen’s Climate Lobby website—that is citizensclimatelobby.org—has a lot of really good information. It has both the Remi report. That’s the regional economic model incorporated. They’re the company that actually ran a lot of these models to suggest how our economy would actually be affected. It has just a lot of background. It also has a “get involved, join the organization,” and if people decide to become active in this, basically what they can expect is they would spend about two hours a month going to meetings. Each local group will have its local flavor, of course, but they will sit through a conference call, in which they will hear an interview on an expert from some aspect of climate change of carbon fee dividend. And then hopefully they will have a chance to exercise their own lobbying muscles. For some people, that’s just writing letters; for others who have the time and scheduling flexibility, that might mean actually making a meeting with the local congressional office then talking to the aid and introducing them to some of these ideas. And again, the really great thing about CCL in particular is that they’re very good at offering all the support that you need, so there’s other people there. You can contact the national leaders quite easily. And if you want to give presentations to local community groups, they have slides, they have monthly conference calls and they can answer any question if you have. They offer a lot of support. It allows you to become more politically and often more civically active and I think that’s actually the other big advantage is that you know…Especially in the current, somewhat crazy political climate, you know you’re getting bombarded with all of these stories from different media sources. Of course, it is so easy to just say, “Well, I’m more focused on doing individual action.” And I think that’s what’s absolutely important. But I also think that forming community and making sure that you reach out and taking active part in the government and the community that is shaking, you know the context is what you live is also important, and this is one way of really getting those tools to do so and extending your comfort zone a little bit, so I would say start by going to the website. You should be able to find that the local groups are very thickly dispersed over the US and I think Canada is pretty well represented as well. In some areas, of course, there are better than others. I think West Virginia has one or two groups. California has many dozens but hopefully there’ll be one that’s close enough and if not, then starting one is also an option. They give you a lot of support in that as well. Actually, there was a point that I wanted to get across, which was that as permacultures, we all think a lot about individual action, and I think that is entirely right. I mean it’s going to take lifestyle changes. It’s going to take a big shift in the way we live our day-to-day lives to tackle this problem but the problem comes in when you realize that your perspective is very, very…You know, it might seem like it’s the ultimate world view, but America’s a very diverse place and it’s got a lot of diverse viewpoints, and expecting that everybody’s going to take those individual actions on their own accord because they believe it’s the right thing is not something I see happening in the near future, and so this kind of tool, carbon fee and dividend, this kind of policy, you know even if we don’t like to get into government policy, it’s basically a push to change individual behavior by increasing the prices of the stuff we don’t want by giving everybody a push to find ways to live that don’t involve using as much fossil fuel. So I’d like to think of it as very complementary to the idea of individual action. You know, you’re not saying the government’s going to take care of things for you. You’re saying they’re going to make sure that we have the right incentives we need to change our lifestyles.
Levi: Yeah, I think it’s important. I agree. My fascination is definitely with like farming and all the intricacies of that: plants, animals, and that stuff. And permaculture focuses on a lot, but our policy and legal structures have a huge impact on everything at the current moment, so it’s important to look for solutions and all these different levels and different layers and also understanding how they work and that’s where, you know, don’t have any experience, but I’m very interested in learning more on what some successful processes and projects have been in this sphere, like the lobbying and policy sphere. Yeah, it’s just another system that we need to use our permaculture, whole systems, thinking to redesign that system. So yeah. Thanks.
Lina: Yeah, exactly. And I think the real shift for me in this, and this organization helped a lot, is that people, when they’re thinking about politics—it’s kind of become a dirty word now and people really kind of love to hate their representatives. They love to hate their government and see themselves as separate from it. And unfortunately, there’s a lot of truth to that. We’re kind of called on to vote every two or possibly four years, and other than that, just sort of live our lives and just ignore what’s going on. And I think that we can’t necessarily afford to do that. We have to actually view our government as something that we need to know about and affect when it’s necessary. It’s not a system that we can sorta just leave alone and expect for it to run well. We have to put in a little bit of work, at least at the front end and make sure that it’s well designed, just like any other system in permaculture.
Levi: Yeah, and I really love that point you made a little bit ago about that we have to sympathize with our congressman and the people in these positions of policy and making these decisions because they’ve got a lot of pressure, and they’re trying to do their best but it’s very, very difficult, so having someone come at them with a lot of anger and aggression is probably you’re not gonna get the response that you want. Just approaching your congressman with sympathy instead of aggression and anger and try to work with them than attack them.
Lina: Absolutely. There are some great stories. So I admit I’ve done less on the lobbying end. I mean when I was living out in LA, it seemed a little crazy to fly to DC for a week to do the lobbying. I mean I’ve done a little at local offices, but one of my favorite stories was there was a group from CCL that went to meet with the conservative lawmaker, and his aid met them. He was not going to meet with them. They were told he was busy. They sat down with his aid, and they opened up with thanking him with a piece of legislation that they appreciated and then they heard his voice from the next room, and he said, “well, thank you. I’m very proud of that.” And he made it and he sat down and he spoke with them and they had a really great meeting. And you know, all it took was basically appreciating something that he had put a lot of work and thought into. You know, it had nothing to do with the CCL per se, but it was the good piece of legislation and if you educate yourself about some of the good things that they’ve done, everybody, every human being response well to that, right? And they get plenty of negativity. There’s no question over that.
Levi: Yeah, now that was a great story. That’s a very good point.
Lina: So yeah, I think just kinda bring some of the idea cooperativity, that, you know, we love to think about in our gardens. You know bring a little of that to the relationships or hopefully can build with our representatives, and it’s a way forward, right?
Levi: Yeah, definitely. Cooperation is a much better way forward than fighting and arguing aggressively. Well, thank you so much for sharing your time and sharing all this interesting and very useful information that we can take action on and explore further. Thank you.