Everyone knows that Obama will give a speech on Tuesday regarding climate change. Based on his history, the speech has the potential to be quite moving - for those who dote on his every word, while ignoring what he actually does. In the past, I have been greatly moved by his speeches, but now I am constantly struck by the chasm between his words and his actions. And I have avoided anything at all about what will be contained in this speech, because I expect nothing but disappointment.
I thought, what do I want in a climate change speech?
So I wrote my own speech. You are hereby forewarned.
"I stand before you to speak not about a political argument, but about an unfolding apocalypse which we have brought upon this planet. The vast dumping of carbon on to the face of the planet, from coal, oil, gas, tar sands, hand in hand with the rapacious destruction of nature, has precipitated a great extinction. Countless species of plants and animals, of entire natural worlds, are gasping out their last breath. And the destruction continues. If anything, it's accelerating.
We have a choice. We can leave blasted landscapes and dead seas to our children's children, people for whom the magical richness of a healthy landscape are not even a dream, people for whom the The Road is an everyday travelogue. Or we can take immediate action to mitigate the destruction we have wrought upon the world. Not next year, not 20 years from now. Now.
Tweaks to the system won't get the job done. Higher mileage cars won't do it. The Energy Star program won't do it. Subsidies for conservation won't do it. And education certainly won't do it; there is a sizable minority of the population which absolutely refuses to do anything but double down on the destruction. As soon as they learn that “environmentalists” want something, they look for a way to do the exact opposite.
We need to make a beginning. We need to acknowledge that everyone is a part of this. George W Bush liked to use the phrase “ownership society”. For me, those words do not mean what he thought they meant. We live in an “ownership society” only if we recognize that the earth is owned by everyone. Air and water do not pay any attention to property lines. A coal-fired plant in Ohio affects people in Vermont. Cars in Montana eventually affect beaches in Florida. Every time gas is burned, coal is burned, oil is burned, the natural world is degraded. That natural world belongs to you.
I propose that every ounce of carbon that is harvested from the ground beneath our feet, from the sea floor, under mountains, anywhere, any carbon that is added to the world system, be assessed a fee. Not at the pump, not on a factory invoice somewhere, but at the wellhead, or at the port for imports. Not a tiny bit that no one will notice, but a large enough fee that it hurts. But unlike a typical tax, the proceeds from this fee must be returned to the owners. This money must be returned in equal portions to every legally resident adult in the country. None should be retained by the federal government or any state or local government.
Everyone pays for the damage they cause. And everyone gets compensated. But the compensation has no connection to your personal usage. That means that if you use half of what a typical person uses, you nevertheless get the same amount as a jetsetter with a mansion gobbling up huge amounts of energy. You know, Al Gore.
This proposal provides an economic incentive for everyone to at least use no more than the average. Which means, as people begin responding to the fee, the average usage will decline. And it must decline.
Along with this, it only makes sense to eliminate the subsidies that encourage more drilling.
I said this is not about a political argument, but I'm sure you also realize that this fee has zero chance of passage in today's Congress. We can't even get rid of the subsidies for increased drilling. Yet, if you want it, it can happen, and no later than January of 2015. That's when the next session of Congress will be seated. If your congressman or senator has failed to act on this by spring of next year, then you have the power to replace them with someone who will. And if no one from the current Democratic or Republican parties steps forward to support this approach, I hope that concerned citizens across this nation will be courageous enough to throw themselves into the mangle of political campaigns.
The world is at stake. Let's get to work".