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Carbon is Forever

A new video spoofs James Bond to make a serious point about the best way to curb climate change

In the U.S., grassroots groups are campaigning for a commons-based climate solution called “cap-and-dividend”. In this model, carbon is capped where it enters the economy rather than where it is emitted. That’s because there are hundreds of millions of emitters, but only a few thousand ‘first sellers’ of carbon — the big oil, coal and natural gas companies. These companies would be required to buy permits for every ton of carbon they sell. Each year the number of permits would decline, until eventually the flow of carbon through the economy is reduced to a safe level. The premise is: if carbon doesn’t come into the economy, it can’t go out — a basic mechanical fact. Another premise: polluters must pay for dumping their wastes into the commons — a key commons principle.

Of course, fossil fuel companies will raise prices to cover the cost of pollution permits, and those higher prices will be passed on to all of us. That’s where a second commons prin ciple kicks in: shared gifts of nature, like the atmosphere, belong to everyone equally. So the money polluters pay — nature’s rightful rent — belongs to all of us equally, one person/one share. We can distribute it in dividends and/or invest it in public goods. If we distribute it in dividends, that will offset the higher prices that arise from paying nature’s rent. As carbon prices rise, so — automatically — would dividends. Light carbon users would come out ahead while carbon gluttons would lose. And we’d have a simple, enforceable and even popular way to reduce carbon emissions.

Following the collapse of cap-and-trade legislation in the U.S. Senate, interest is shifting to a bipartisan cap-and-dividend bill co-sponsored by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME).

Meanwhile, in Britain, a similar plan called cap-and-share is gaining momentum. It’s identical to cap and dividend except that, instead of cash dividends, people would receive “shares” that they could sell to fossil fuel companies for cash.

Last week, the British campaigners released a brilliant James Bond-themed video explaining their plan. “See it here”:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSUuFjAOZUo