It seems we’ve been hearing the topic of climate change a lot more in the media these days, and it’s awesome that these conversations are sparking up. Sometimes, these advocacy talks are a little vague and they require the audience to do a little more digging on their own to find out what they can actually do to stop climate change.

Mitigating the impacts of climate change require an eclectic approach as this is a complex dilemma that cannot be solved from just one angle. However, the government plays an instrumental role in hammering the framework for initiating change. Over the next few decades, the major changes that the U.S. will need to undertake are reducing its dependence on fossil fuels and accelerating the development of a clean energy economy. Therefore, this post will discuss three climate policies that the United States should consider implementing to accelerate this transition.

1. A Carbon tax is one strategy that has seen success. A Carbon tax is essentially a tax on carbon, thought sometimes other forms of green house gases as well. It puts a price on each ton of GHG (greenhouse gas) emitted, in hope of eventually bringing about a market response across the economy and result in an overall reduction of emissions. Like many kinds of taxes, it acts as an incentive for businesses and individuals to cut down their emissions with their own preferable strategies; whether it be using cleaner fuel or solar panels. Then the government uses the tax revenue to either benefit taxpayers by lowering their tax in other areas, or by funding eco-friendly initiatives to make the area’s infrastructure more green.

One concern of this tax is that it may financially hurt low-income individuals who might not have the resources to immediately switch to more eco-friendly alternatives in their households. However, that can be easily solved with the way carbon tax is implemented in British Columbia, Canada. In BC, the tax revenue collected has to be returned to the taxpayers through tax reductions and it is prohibited to be spent on any kinds of government programs. This practice, if done correctly, would dismiss the concern that people have about the tax negatively affecting low-income individuals.
The reason that British Columbia is the only region in the entire North American that is using this strategy as a part of their climate plan is that the economic impacts of the carbon tax is still highly debatable and controversial. Bipartisan tensions within Congress in D.C. and the efforts of niche lobbying groups are preventing the U.S. from enacting the tax on a national level. In fact, there are hidden subsidies that benefit all carbon-producing activity. According to the International Monetary Fund, there are about 5 trillion dollars delaying any substantial change from happening for the carbon tax. The U.S government should stop subsidizing fossil fuel companies and pour more money into clean-tech companies so there can be a shift in the way energy is being generated in the states.

2. Cap-and-trade is a strategy that aims to create an incentive for a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions through a market-based system. California started its cap-and-trade program (AB 32) in 2013 and it has been going strong for the past two years. This program aims to reduce the state’s overall greenhouse gas emissions to the 1990 levels by 2020, which is essentially a 16% emission cut from baseline level. Covering that year’s emission cap, the CA Air Resources Board hands out or auctions credits to businesses that emit greenhouse gasses. Then, businesses can buy allowances that they need to continue operating and sell their leftovers. As time approaches the target year, the emission bar is lowered and less allowances are available for auction. The comprehensive program charges every industry a price for emitting carbon, covering 600 facilities that include oil refineries, food processors, paper mills, cement manufacturers and electricity providers.
This program has actually generated $969 million in revenue for California from 2013-2014, and thus shows that the state’s economy has continued to flourish nonetheless.

California is the only state in he U.S. who has a cap-and-trade program. It’s unsettling that none of the other states have decided to follow suit, probably due to the lack of motivation. Other states should integrate this program into their required climate plan when Obama’s Clean Power Plan takes effect.

3. Divestment is a strategy that the public can use to demand academic institutions to divest their holdings from fossil fuel companies. Divestment has shown itself to be an effective strategy throughout history in movements such as the dismantlement of the tobacco industry and the apartheid movement in South Africa in the 70’s and 80’s. Divestment from fossil fuel companies is crucial in weakening the oil industry’s political dominance in the capitol, and is seen as more of a stepping stone to leverage the possibility of creating impactful nationwide policies. In fact, based on a number of calculations, divesting from fossil fuels is unlikely to harm any school’s endowment. According to a study done by the Aperio Group, there is only a estimated 0.0034% theoretical return penalty from full divestment. Moreover, the risk of further investing in this industry is severe, since the “carbon bubble” will eventually burst once the oil reserve runs out.

Solving climate change, or more realistically, mitigating the impacts of climate change, requires the world to work cohesively to the collective goal of reducing emissions. After all, it is the atmosphere that the world all shares. However, because it is unlikely for other developing countries or countries in conflict to make any substantial change in their emissions due to economic instability and lack of infrastructure, the countries that are globally influential and capable of making this change should do it. The U.S. should pass and implement Obama’s Climate Action Plan, an aggressive climate agenda that has already been created.

Collaboration between professionals in varying disciplines such as economics, sociology, government, and climate are essential in illustrating the overarching, multi-faceted impacts of climate change to decision-makers. Societal momentum in demanding actions, whether through implementing a carbon tax, subsidizing renewable energy usages, or pushing for fossil fuel divestment are crucial steps in debilitating the industry’s regime. There is still time, thankfully, to treat the frail earth and prevent its symptoms from progressing even more. Planet Earth sustains us, and if we continue on our current trajectory, we would topple Earth’s perennial mechanism and exacerbate another dimension of societal issues. The citizens of the 21st century are the first generation to feel the impacts of climate change and are the last ones that can do anything about it. So take action and talk to your politicians today!