Climate change is often seen as a leftwing issue. Those on the left are more likely than those on the right to see climate change as a major problem.

Labour voters are twice as likely as Conservative voters to be very concerned about climate change and to accept that it is caused by human activity. Conversely, Conservatives are twice as likely to be unconcerned, feel that climate change has been “exaggerated”, or believe that this is a natural process.

One of the core values of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby is non-partisanship and a major feature of the work of CCL has been appealing to both sides of the political spectrum, particularly in the US where the issue is more polarised than elsewhere.

Here in the UK, whilst nowhere near as extreme as in the US, there is still considerable polarisation around this issue, exacerbated by the mostly leftwing climate activists’ focus on their own preferred solutions which appeal to those of a similar political perspective but can be alienating of others. For instance, the characterisation of corporations, consumption, economic growth and in some cases capitalism as enemies responsible for the problem and needing to be defeated.

Perhaps the most well known proponent of the idea that capitalism is the problem is Naomi Klein, whose book and film, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, has been widely read and seen, probably mostly by those already sympathetic to its message, but for some it may have simply reinforced views they already held about climate change being an issue of the left or it may have pushed them towards conspiratorial ideas of climate change being a hoax perpetrated by the left. Or, if not a hoax, then the left are using it as a justification for the taxes and regulations they’ve always favoured and to attack big business the way they always have.

Naomi Klein in Seattle

Naomi Klein in Seattle, photo by Joe Mabel

When arguing for fee and dividend within the Green Party, I found a number of people objected to the policy on the grounds that it merely tinkers around with capitalism, whereas what we need to do is overthrow capitalism. If capitalism is the problem, it can’t be part of the solution.

A post on Greenpeace’s Greenwire blog  takes a similar view, describing fee and dividend as

too free market, too consumerist, allows nuclear & too slow

In response to that, fee and dividend can be as fast or as slow as it needs to be. A rapidly escalating price on carbon could reduce emissions very rapidly. One of the great strengths of the policy is that it has this lever of control.

On the point about allowing nuclear, yes, like any carbon pricing mechanism, fee and dividend puts a price on carbon emissions which levels the playing field, making low carbon energy generation by nuclear power more viable. But it also makes energy generation by low carbon wind, solar and tidal power more viable. Whether the UK should decarbonise using nuclear or wind or solar or tidal or a combination of those technologies is a separate issue and one on which CCL has no position, though as individuals we of course have our own view. CCL’s position is that we need to decarbonise and fee and dividend provides the fairest and most effective way of doing that.

A carbon fee and dividend is not a complete solution, but according to many economists and climate scientists, it’s the “best first step” we can take. One of the world’s leading climate scientists, Dr James Hansen, who alerted the world to the dangers of climate change back in 1988, says

Most impressive is the work of Citizens’ Climate Lobby… If you want to join the fight to save the planet, to save creation for your grandchildren, there is no more effective step you could take than becoming an active member of this group.

Hansen giving testimony before the US Congress in 1988

Hansen giving testimony before the US Congress in 1988

No more effective step

Putting an escalating price on tobacco has been a major factor in the reduction of smoking rates in this country. According to a report by the UK Government and the World Health Organisation (PDF)

evidence shows that price increases have a major effect on reducing both smoking prevalence and consumption

It’s basic economics. Not rightwing economics or leftwing economics, just basic economics. If we want fossil fuels to go the way of tobacco, we need to put a price on them the way we put a price on tobacco. We didn’t just do that once: at virtually every budget each chancellor, no matter what side of the political fence they were on, increased the duty on tobacco, and that was usually the least surprising item in the budget. Doing the same for fossil fuels won’t be as easy since when it comes to fossil fuels, we’re all essentially heavy smokers – though as with tobacco, it’s our children we’re hurting the most.

And the fossil fuels industry has some powerful lobbyists (as did the tobacco industry). They’re powerful because we’re all hooked on their product and because we’re hooked on it we don’t really want it to get more expensive. Not until there’s an alternative at least, as it’s not really the fossil fuels we’re hooked on, it’s the energy they produce. Mostly we don’t care what generates the electricity that makes the lights come on when we flick a switch (or shout “turn the lights on” at Alexa), we just care that they come on and we can can afford to pay the bill, so what if instead of keeping the money raised by increasing the price, the government were to distribute it in equal dividends to each of us? That way, we’d all be able to afford to pay our bills.

Those whose carbon footprint is smaller than the UK average, which will be most of us since the highest emitters emit considerably more than the average person, will get back more in dividend than they pay out as a result of higher fossil fuel prices. This will boost investment into low carbon forms of energy generation, accelerating their development.

That’s fee and dividend and that’s what we’re lobbying our MPs for, whatever party they belong to.