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Ethan holds an M.S. in nuclear engineering from North Carolina State University and an M.S. in ecological engineering from the SUNY School of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syarcuse, New York. He grew up Presbyterian and joined the Mennonite Church in 2007, being re-baptized at Raleigh (North Carolina) Mennonite Church. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and blogs at www.ethanbodnaruk.com.
Climate change is complex, but its cause is simple: burning fossil fuels. Humanity’s choices and actions are upsetting God’s finely tuned and marvelous works. As Mennonites, we pray for God’s Kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on earth. We therefore have a responsibility to act and an opportunity to witness our love of God, neighbor and creation.
For many, our country’s decision to leave the Paris climate accord was disheartening and a step away from global cooperation on an urgent issue. Not only that, but it’s hard to know what can be done as just a single person on this huge topic. I’ve personally felt overwhelmed at the scale of the problem and solutions needed to put a dent in our emissions. After all, much more is needed than changing lightbulbs or turning down the thermostat in the winter.
The good news (hallelujah!) is that there is a way to make a difference on climate change at the national and global levels. Even better, this approach aligns well with our Mennonite curriculum on Creation Care and our values of reconciliation, justice, and stewardship.
A major factor driving climate change denial is the lie that action on climate change will cripple the economy and concentrate tremendous power in the government. This fosters a spirit of fear, helplessness, and frustration. Fortunately, there’s a superior solution that will drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions while helping the economy and creating jobs. Further, it doesn’t grow the government, it protects the poor and middle classes, and doesn’t involve regulation. This creates the common ground to build trusting relationships and work together across political divides. Religious voices such as ours are needed to spur action, model reconciliation, and build consensus while highlighting the moral and spiritual dimensions of climate change.
What is this solution that almost seems too good to be true? A steadily rising carbon fee, with all revenue returned or refunded to households. Fossil fuel companies pay the fee, which is proportional to the emissions of all the fossil fuels they take out of the ground or import. Chemistry tells us exact emissions so this method is simple and accurate. The fee would start small at $15/ton of CO2 equivalent but rise steadily by $10/ton each year, giving society, businesses, and individuals time to plan and adjust while avoiding any shocks. This corresponds to a price increase for gasoline of 15 cents initially and 10 cents per year annually.
The policy would have a major effect immediately because it would create the right incentives for development of low-carbon alternatives and would curtail investment in new fossil fuel plants that would be unprofitable within a matter of years. The refund or dividend would shield us from price increases, with a typical household receiving about $300 monthly by year 10. Studies show that the poor and middle classes would break even or actually gain income overall.
Because all revenue is returned to consumers, this truly is not a new tax or an increase in taxes overall. You could think of it as a tax swap, replacing some income tax with a tax on greenhouse gases instead. It’s more effective and efficient to tax something “bad” (emissions) than to tax something “good” (income). Implementing this policy would create about 3 million new jobs over 20 years and would decrease our emissions by 50% in the same time period.
This type of plan finds solid justification and backing in our own Mennonite Creation Care curriculum, specifically Chapters 8 and 9 which discuss the need and scriptural context for Mennonites to engage our government (Chapter 8), and the economic and scientific background for putting a price on carbon (industry paying for pollution) (Chapter 9).
Two Scriptures in particular motivate and inspire me to act on the carbon fee. One is Jesus’ parable about counting the cost of discipleship. In it, he tells the story of a builder who begins building a tower without first figuring out how much it will cost and how much money he has to spend. He runs out of money halfway through and is the laughingstock of the town. In the same parable, a king wants to go to war. It would be prudent for him to learn the size of the opposing army, and make peace if the opposing army is larger.
These very simple, accessible stories give a clear message – if you don’t fully consider the costs of your decisions, you’re much more likely to make bad ones and be caught off guard by them.
This has happened to all of humanity because our political and economic systems ignore the costs of fossil fuels: air pollution and related deaths, as well as contributions to climate change. The carbon fee is a meaningful, practical, concrete way of making the economy itself count the cost. In the parable, once the costs are counted the right decision becomes obvious. But right now, so many major economic and energy decisions are made without counting the cost so we continue to make terrible decisions.
Second, the parable of the persistent widow (Luke 18) inspires me to keep speaking about this topic and never to give up. The judge in this story had no compassion or empathy for the widow, but eventually ruled on the side of justice just to get her out of his hair. Climate change is something we should all care about, if not for ourselves, then for our children and grandchildren. If the judge’s mind could be changed, then I know it’s possible for us to come together and make a difference on this if we remain persistent. God promises if we cry out day and night (not just in private but in public!), God will provide justice.
One great way to get involved is to join the non-partisan group Citizens’ Climate Lobby which is working to convince Congress to pass the carbon fee legislation. CCL has local chapters all over the country so there’s a good chance there’s one right by you. CCL has a wonderful model of trust building and reconciliation, building relationships with our elected representatives, focusing on empowering people to engage the political process, and building trust across the party divides. To me it feels like Mennonite peacemaking in action, geared toward solving climate change.
Please prayerfully consider getting involved in this Kingdom work, and find a CCL chapter near you. Or, feel free to email me and I’d be happy to look up local contact information for you.
Let’s shine some light on this topic, speak up and help heal the planet–as well as some of the polarization that plagues our country.
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