Climate Awareness Initiative Petitions for Carbon Pricing

“Colleges have always been the face of movements,” Tommy Erb PO ’18, director of Know Tomorrow Claremont, said. 

With that logic in mind, Erb and Juliana Rossi de Camargo PZ '16 drafted a petition expressing support for carbon pricing. As of Nov. 11, 412 people had signed the petition, including Pomona College President David Oxtoby and Pitzer College President Thomas Poon.

“We, the undersigned, call upon the Presidents of the Claremont Colleges to publicly support a national price on carbon. Climate change is the greatest threat to current and future generations,” the petition reads.

The petition goes on to claim that carbon pricing is an effective solution for climate change because it has been proven to work on smaller state and city levels and in other countries.

Erb said that Know Tomorrow will ask the presidents to follow up on the petition by writing an op-ed piece about why carbon pricing is good solution, traveling to Sacramento with a group of students to speak with Governor Jerry Brown about carbon pricing on the national level, and participating in a press conference. 

If students and college presidents sign the petition, it will send a strong message to political leaders, according to Erb.

“The point of the op-ed piece is to create political discourse around this and within the public sphere and get it on the radar,” Lindsey Burkart-Lima PZ ’16 said.

David Gelber, co-creator and executive producer of the television series “Years of Living Dangerously,” a documentary series on climate change, said that he hopes the petition will help create a “national consortium of colleges and universities to advocate for a price on carbon.”

Gelber said that it is important to bring carbon pricing to the attention of national leaders. We need “meaningful action,” he added.

“Initially our Know Tomorrow was just kind of an overall environmental climate change awareness campaign, and then the 'Years of Living Dangerously' documentary really pushed for it to be more carbon priced,” Grant Steele PO '18 said.

In the second season of “Years of Living Dangerously,” Erb will appear in an episode focused on carbon pricing as a solution.

“One of the single most important things that can be done is to make the fossil fuel industry… pay for the garbage which they are putting into the atmosphere,” Gelber said. “Right now, they are able to dump pollutants into the atmosphere with no regards to the costs that the general public must shoulder.”

Gelber said that he created the documentary series because other major media outlets were not covering “the most important story facing the planet right now” in an effective manner.

According to Erb, a price on carbon can come in two forms: a cap-and-trade system or a carbon tax. A cap-and-trade system sets a limit on how much carbon can be emitted. Companies and corporations receive credits for carbon, which can be traded and sold if one company chooses to invest in renewable resources and others do not. Erb said that both the state of California and the European Union have instigated this kind of program. China has also committed to implementing a cap-and-trade system.

Erb said that this is “a charge on the amount of carbon dioxide that is emitted by a polluter.” In order for them to stop, Erb believes that these companies need to see their profits being actually affected.

A tax on carbon emissions would cause the price of oil and natural gas to increase, but the money raised by the tax could be given back to households to offset the raised costs of energy. This option would also make renewable energy more cost-competitive, both for consumers and for the fossil fuel companies.

“If we put a realistic price on carbon, there is a chance that more people will be persuaded to curtail emissions because they’re too expensive, and that investment will be directed toward renewable energy,” Gelber said. “We are not going to get to where we need to go without putting a price on carbon.”

Oxtoby said that he has “actually been a strong proponent of carbon pricing for some time.” He said that he signed the petition not just as a president, looking out for the wishes of staff and students at Pomona, but as an individual.

“Carbon pricing is the one thing we could do, if we had the will to do it, right away, that would have a big impact,” Oxtoby said. 

On Nov. 6, several students from Know Tomorrow met with Poon.

According to Burkart-Lima, Poon was “more than happy to show his support for the campaign,” as it aligns with Pitzer’s core goals and values. 

Erb’s goal is to build support among colleges across the nation in favor of a price on carbon in order to pressure politicians to act.

“We have a ten- to fifteen-year window, where if we don’t do something, the feedback loops are gonna kick in and it’s not going to matter. It’s going to be too late,” Erb said.

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