The High Price of Not Putting a Price on Carbon

“If you were looking for a green school, you should have gone somewhere else.”

This is what a member of the Claremont McKenna College administration told me when I asked why we have not taken any major steps toward environmental sustainability beyond state mandates and rebate, like cutting water usage and installing energy efficient fixtures. The administrator’s lack of support for environmental sustainability is one example of the larger disconnect between the CMC administration and its students. Recently, administration members, like Melissa Schild, have been working diligently to erase this disconnect. Nevertheless, in this instance, the administration is not fulfilling its role in creating a livable world for its current and future students.

Without a thriving environment, our health, our economy, and our national security will crumble. By curtailing the use of fossil fuels, we can maintain a sustainable planet and mitigate the impacts of increasing global temperatures.

In our modern world, the most effective way to cut the use of fossil fuels is through a “price on carbon.” The goal of carbon pricing is to internalize the negative externalities that emissions have on society—costs that all people, especially those with lower incomes, are forced to pay due to the negative effects of climate change. Already 79 countries, 23 cities, states, and provinces representing 52 percent of global GDP, and 788 large companies either support the implementation of carbon pricing mechanisms or use internal carbon pricing mechanisms. Additionally, 409 investors, with more than $24 trillion in assets, support a price on carbon. Polls show that a majority of Americans support a price on carbon if the revenue is given back to citizens as a dividend or is used for investment in renewable energy.

Not only is a price on carbon supported internationally, but it is also supported by students here at CMC. As part of an initiative by Citizens Climate Lobby Claremont Colleges (CCLCC), fellow members and I gathered hundreds of digital and paper signatures from CMC students, and hundreds more from students at the other Claremont Colleges, who support a price on carbon. The initiative is part of a broader strategy to garner support for a price on carbon from college presidents and students throughout the country. We believe that a united academic voice supporting a price on carbon will encourage substantial national and Congressional discussion surrounding this policy.

Students in CCLCC approached CMC president Hiram Chodosh with the initiative in December. Not only did he decline to support a price on carbon on behalf of the college or as an individual, but he also proceeded to attack the strategy behind the initiative.

Five CMC students and one Pomona student each prepared a short statement in support of the initiative. Before the first statement was finished, President Chodosh cut the speaker off and began to talk about why he thought the initiative was inadequate. He called the term “a price on carbon” vague, and he compared it to supporting justice in America and peace in the Middle East.

I asked him if he would support the initiative if it had a specific mechanism and an emission reduction goal. President Chodosh said he would not because it would be too political, too divisive, and some people may not be pleased with the school.

President Chodosh proceeded to tell us college presidents do not support issues like climate change due to their lack of expertise on topics outside of higher education. We tried to explain that gaining support from college presidents would be an important factor for passing carbon pricing legislation, since they are a powerful segment of society who have not historically supported environmental initiatives. According to The Wall Street Journal, the higher-education industry, in some cases led by college presidents, has influenced dozens of government proposals, which illustrates that the support of college presidents has the power to facilitate change on a national level. We believe that a large coalition of college presidents supporting a price on carbon will increase the probability of constructive discussion about a price on carbon in congress.

Upon hearing our thoughts on why his support would be valuable, President Chodosh reiterated that he, both on behalf of the college and as an individual, would not support any initiative that has to do with climate science, even increasing the use of solar energy, because he is not an expert in climate change.

Finally, President Chodosh told us we should not focus on the initiative because petitions are ineffective. He recommended we change our direction and facilitate a summit on climate change where students could write policy papers for different environmental organizations who may publish them.

President Chodosh’s lack of support for a price on carbon aligns him with the segment of society who are content to ignore one of the most important issues of our generation. We do not need to be experts in science to understand the overwhelming data and scientific consensus that climate-warming trends over the past century are likely due to human activities. We just need to act as conscientious citizens by mobilizing our collective voice to accomplish what is just for current and future generations. To mitigate climate change, members of society, including college presidents, must publicly support a price on carbon.

Sam Becker CM '19 majors in EEP (Environment, Economics, and Politics) and Legal Studies. He is passionate about environmental sustainability and wants to provide future generations with an earth that is not depleted of natural resources, filled with pollution, and void of natural beauty. 

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