By Jeremy Deaton
What do Bernie Sanders, Lindsey Graham, and Jack Black have in common? They have all, at one point or another, called for a price on carbon.
That wonkiest of climate policies has a fresh face thanks to a new campaign from the the Emmy award-winning TV series Years of Living Dangerously. Cecily Strong and Jack Black, both correspondents in the upcoming season, are calling for a price a carbon in a pair of new videos.
A price on carbon would increase the cost of fossil fuels, incentivizing the use of renewable energy. The proceeds could be invested in clean energy research or returned to taxpayers in the form of a rebate. Because energy is needed to make everything from toaster ovens to toilet paper, a price on carbon would impact the cost of most consumer goods.
“Do you want to be able to eat the biggest tub of mayonnaise you’ve ever seen in your entire life and stop global warming at the same time? You do?” asks Strong. “There’s a way to do it. Put a price on carbon.”
Years of Living Dangerously is partnering with activists to mobilize support for the policy. The #PutAPriceOnIt campaign will target college students, providing campus organizers with tools to lobby university presidents to endorse a price on carbon. The campaign will be featured on the upcoming season of Years of Living Dangerously, which premieres on the National Geographic Channel this fall.
“Climate experts, business leaders, economists, and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that putting a price on greenhouse gases is the solution to climate change,” said Camila Thorndike, co-director of the campaign and founder of Oregon Climate. “It’s past time to reveal the true cost of pollution and level the playing field for clean energy,”
For advocates, young Americans are an underutilized political resource — climate-conscious citizens waiting to be mobilized. Ask them if we are causing climate change, and the large majority of Americans under 30 will say “yes.” Among those old enough to collect a Social Security check, less than a third say that humans are driving the rise in temperature.
Young Americans are also more worried about climate change and more likely to believe it will threaten their way of life. For those in their teens and twenties, global warming is a salient threat. For older Americans, the issue feels more distant.
According to a recent report from NextGen Climate, three in four millennials in battleground states would be more likely to vote for a politician who wants to transition to clean energy. Historically, however, young voters have been scarce on Election Day. In the last presidential election, around 45 percent of eligible voters between 18 and 30 went to the ballot box . For their parents and grandparents, that number was closer to 70 percent.
In an effort to get voters who care about climate change to the polls, NextGen Climate has committed $25 million to mobilizing young voters in battleground states. The campaign from the Years of Living Dangerously follows a similar tack, targeting a group that sees climate as a top-tier issue. More than 50 community and student groups have signed on in support.
Notably, the campaign’s website offers a price on carbon as “THE SOLUTION to climate change.” But, as others have argued, a price on carbon alone would not spur the rapid transformation of our energy system. David Roberts, writing in Vox, notes: “Large-scale energy transitions of the past have generally been driven by industrial policy and technology innovation; none have been driven by increases in the prices of existing energy sources.”
That is not to say a price on carbon would not be effective in cutting carbon pollution. States that have implemented carbon pricing have seen measurable reductions in emissions. A national price on carbon would be a major achievement and central pillar of the larger effort to stem global warming.
As for the campaign, expect more web videos in the weeks ahead. Other members of the Years of Living Dangerously cast will join Strong and Black in calling for a price on carbon, including actor and activist Nikki Reed, who will highlight the work of climate advocates from California to Texas for an upcoming episode.