Connecticut College has historically been recognized as a pioneer of environmental protection and boasts the creation of one of the first environmental studies programs in the nation. However, as a college we have failed to continue this legacy by neglecting to support a carbon tax, an initiative publicized by the National Geographic documentary series Years of Living Dangerously.
The carbon tax campaign titled “Put a Price on It” has encouraged local, state and federal politicians to recognize the harmful externalities that stem from carbon production. The movement asks for support from colleges in order to put pressure on governments to adopt public policy that discourages high carbon output. Although “Put a Price on It” is nonspecific in its exact policy aims, it recommends cap and trade, carbon taxes and regulations all as possible solutions to address the global carbon crisis we face.
Environmental Science and Government Professor Jane Dawson insists that our reliance on carbon is a pressing issue. “Climate change is real. The science is not disputed,” she said. Professor Dawson added: “This really is an issue even if we have an administration in Washington that would like to deny that it is an issue.” Carbon is directly linked to severe storms, coastal flooding, water scarcity, food insecurity and disappearing island states. These concerns offer a superficial glimpse into the massive environmental effects of carbon output that will undoubtedly lead to social worries in the form of climate migrants and environmental injustices. In order to limit global warming to a two degrees Celsius rise, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that the US will have to cut current carbon emission levels to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.
This is a tall order, but on a more optimistic note, the state of Connecticut has made progress utilizing a cap and trade strategy. Nine New England states are members of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI); CT signed on in 2005. Cap and trade works in terms of incentives. Essentially, the program begins with the power industry. Companies in the sector purchase carbon allowances through auctions or from other corporations. Due to the added expense of purchasing allowances, energy demand goes down and companies are incentivized to find greener solutions. As time passes, the amount of carbon allowances offered decreases, effectively lowering total emissions. Since the program’s implementation in 2008, $4.67 billion dollars in auction profits have gone to the RGGI states and 60% of those funds have been invested in energy efficiency efforts. This includes providing citizens with more efficient appliances and assistance in winterizing their homes. Professor Dawson explains, “While we have had the cap and trade system going, energy demand has gone down and the economy has grown. It makes a lot of sense.”
The disconnect in progress made by the state and the College is obvious. Connecticut has already jumped on board and reaped the benefits of the environmentally and economically sound initiative. The fact that Connecticut College remains hesitant about simply supporting the campaign seems irrational. Perhaps the College is afraid to play a leadership role in the current environmental movement, but we shouldn’t be. Environmental protection is our legacy.
Beginning on April 3, the Goodwin Niering Center for the Environment and the Environmental Studies Department will co-sponsor showings of three episodes from the Years of Living Dangerously series. The Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night viewings will be open to the college community and public. They will take place in Silfen Auditorium beginning at 7pm and cover rising sea levels, increasing energy demand around the world and ocean warming, respectively. On Thurs. April 6, former “60 Minutes” reporters and co-creators of Years of Living Dangerously, Joel Bach and David Gelber, will host a conversation about climate change and its impacts in Palmer Auditorium at 7pm. Additionally, an online petition urging the College administration to support “Put a Price on It” is available on Facebook. A paper petition will circulate after each Years of Living Dangerously event in order to allow the public to voice thoughts as well. Let’s start the conversation.