How The Legislature Can Help Fight Climate Chaos - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Authors

Jaymen Laupola

Jaymen Laupola is co-lead of the Honolulu (Oahu) Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

Doug Hagan

Doug Hagan is co-lead of the Maui Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

Ron Reilly

Ron Reilly is co-lead of the Hawaii Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

A House resolution urges a national carbon fee and dividend policy.

The U.S. is facing multiple challenges: increasing levels of poverty, greater economic and social inequity, an unaffordable housing crisis, large/growing government deficits, and the underlying threat multiplier of climate chaos with its immediately obvious multibillion dollar weather disasters including hurricanes, tornados, fires, and floods.

Longer-term damage includes biodiversity loss, coral reef destruction, ocean acidification, melting ice sheets and rising sea levels. Everyone in Hawaii is already being adversely affected to some degree or other. Hawaii must play a role in addressing these statewide and nationwide problems.

The Hawaii State House responded by passing resolution House Resolution 125 urging the Federal government to adopt a national Carbon Fee and Dividend policy.

While it seems daunting to simultaneously tackle all these challenges, it must be done for the health of our planet, the people, and our government. The single most effective solution, one of many, that will directly address these challenges is a carbon fee and dividend policy.

Without burdensome rules and regulations, without increasing the national debt, and while protecting the purchasing power of lower income folks, a fee or tax on fossil fuel emissions can accomplish much:

  • help achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and a 50% reduction by 2030;
  • encourage increased production of affordable clean energy;
  • put money in people’s pockets via a monthly dividend payment; and
  • save tens of thousands of lives by reducing fossil-fuel particulate air pollution.

The policy is simple to implement and impactful. A carbon fee and dividend charges polluters a fee for the damage their carbon pollution does to our environment. The money collected from the carbon fee goes to the American people in the form of a monthly payment to use as they choose.

CFD And Action On Climate

Over 3,600 economists, including 28 Nobel laureates and 15 former chairs of the Council of Economic Advisers, view it as the most effective policy to address climate change. 

The economists’ statement begins with, “A carbon tax offers the most cost-effective lever to reduce carbon emissions at the scale and speed that is necessary. By correcting a well-known market failure, a carbon tax will send a powerful price signal that harnesses the invisible hand of the marketplace to steer economic actors towards a low-carbon future.” 

Oil Pumps
Fossil fuels impose on the environment and human health. (Wikimedia Commons/Damian Gadal/2016)

A fee on carbon allows us to stop subsidizing fossil fuels by incorporating into their price the true cost of their environmental impact, including local air pollution, sea level rise, weather extremes, and coral bleaching.

Sure, fossil fuel companies can pay the fee and keep polluting, but their impacts are now very public.
Including the costs that fossil fuels impose on the environment and our health complements and strengthens existing policies that address these issues.

A CFD levels the playing field by no longer allowing fossil fuels to avoid the hidden costs that arise from their use. Correcting this existing market failure will incentivize consumers and businesses to increase energy efficiency and adopt cleaner technologies.

CFD And Social Equity

The Economists’ statement concludes: “To maximize the fairness and political viability of a rising carbon tax, all the revenue should be returned directly to U.S. citizens through equal lump-sum rebates. Most American families, including the most vulnerable, will benefit financially by receiving more in “carbon dividends” than they pay in increased energy prices.”

The policy is equitable because each adult receives the same dividend or rebate, which means each adult is given the same rights to or benefits of the environment. Carbon emissions result from the production of almost all goods and services.

Since the consumption of goods and services increases with income, the more income one has, the more emissions one emits and hence the more one pays in fees. Therefore, in general, wealthier people will pay more in fees than poorer people.

But since everyone receives the same dividends, lower income people fare better than higher income people. A study done by Ummel finds that 96% of the lowest income households would benefit financially from this policy. 

CFD Can Use Existing Programs 

A carbon fee and dividend would take advantage of many existing government programs so as to minimize the cost of implementation. The government currently tracks the production of fossil fuels and taxes them so existing accounting could be used to levy fees on fossil fuels in accordance with their carbon content. 

As for distributing the revenues to people, the government can take advantage of many of the institutions that already distribute money to people such as the Department of Treasury.

In addition, because of the CARES Act, the government has experience distributing money to all households below a certain income threshold.

Hawaii Can Lead The Way

Hawaii declared a climate emergency in 2021 (Senate Concurrent Resolution 44), a recognition of the threat of global warming and the need for urgent effective action. Unfortunately,  we’re experiencing increasingly egregious climate impacts every year. We need to act now in every way possible to mitigate the emergency by lowering emissions and health-impacting pollution!  

The Hawaii House voted 49 to 1 to adopt House Resolution 124 and HR 125, urging “the U.S. Congress to adopt national carbon fee and dividend legislation.”

Passing this resolution would send a message that Hawaii is in support of carbon pricing. It would magnify the support offered by Sen. Brian Schatz, who has introduced bills supporting carbon pricing, and former Rep. Kai Kahele, a co-sponsor of a carbon fee and dividend house bill, which had 95 cosponsors in the 117th Congress.

We owe today’s youth and future generations a livable planet and an equitable society. We can achieve this by enacting policies that protect the planet and the most vulnerable. A carbon fee and dividend policy will help us achieve this.

Editor’s note: Helen Cox, chair of the Kauai Climate Action Coalition and co-lead of Kauai Citizens’ Climate Lobby; Bobbie Best, co-lead of Maui Citizens’ Climate Lobby; and Matthew Geyer, founding member of Hawaii Environmental Change Agents, also co-authored this Community Voice.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

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About the Authors

Jaymen Laupola

Jaymen Laupola is co-lead of the Honolulu (Oahu) Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

Doug Hagan

Doug Hagan is co-lead of the Maui Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

Ron Reilly

Ron Reilly is co-lead of the Hawaii Chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

Latest Comments (0)

Regarding the effect of carbon fee & dividend on the prices of goods and services, one needs to first recognize that because fossil fuel companies are not paying for the damage their products do (such as air pollution, ocean acidification, and global warming), which is referred to as the social cost, their products are being implicitly subsidized. Furthermore, we are subsidizing the fossil fuel ndustry by paying more for many goods and services: for example in healthcare, insurance of infrastructure because of climate related weather events (such as increased intensity of hurricanes, fires), and in food because of reduced supplies caused by ocean acidification. The carbon fee & dividend policy works to correct this market failure, causing the price of fossil fuels to include some of the cost of the environmental damages they cause. Prices of fossil fuels would increase leading to less demand for them and therefore less environmental damage, which means lower healthcare prices, lower insurance prices, and lower prices for seafood. Reductions in healthcare costs would be felt soon, as a recent NASA study shows.

sleepingdog · 1 month ago

A carbon tax and dividend sounds like the holy grail of economic models. How practical is it in reality though? Is it effective if only a few governments participate? Or does it become like a price cap on Russian oil? Or a symbolic promise like the Paris accord? It sounds great in theory, but things are much more complex in the real world which makes me skeptical. On the other hand, we may not have a choice but to start trying things to see what sticks.

justsaying · 1 month ago

Makes sense. This program would shift the entire economy away from fossil fuels toward clean energy, and it would give everyone choices about how to do it.

sleepingdog · 1 month ago

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