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Columnists Alexandra Golikov and Darcy Glenn: Earth Day reminder to support carbon pricing

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Before 1970, there was no real limit on the kind or amount of pollution being released into the air.

Lethal haze from cars and industries hovered above cities, and raw sewage was dumped into streams. In 1969, the Santa Barbara oil well blowout spilled over three million gallons of oil into the ocean, polluting — and in some areas destroying — the California coastline.

That same year, Ohio’s Cuyahoga River appeared to burst into flames when oil and chemicals floating on the surface caught fire, shooting flames more than five stories high.

Young activists inspired Congress to address these environmental problems. Sen. Gaylord Nelson and Congressman Pete McCloskey worked with 25-year-old Denis Hayes and a few recent college graduates to coordinate a national “Environmental Teach-In.” Thus, Earth Day was born.

The first Earth Day celebrations took place in 2,000 colleges and universities, roughly 10,000 primary and secondary schools, and hundreds of communities across the United States. An astonishing 20 million Americans took part.

Congress responded to this citizen activism. The Clean Air Act was passed, followed by the Endangered Species Act. The Environmental Protection Agency was formed. The modern environmental movement had begun.

For the generations born after the 1970s, it’s easy to take these political victories for granted. But they truly changed our world. On behalf of all millennials, we want to say thank you. Because those 20 million Americans took action, we grew up with cleaner air and cleaner water, and our lives have been immeasurably better.

Now it’s our turn.

Our generation recognizes that a stable climate is essential to our future. Scientific consensus firmly holds that catastrophic climate change is taking place and that burning fossil fuels is to blame.

We know that climate change threatens our lives and the lives of future generations, here in Massachusetts and all over the world. We also know that the longer we put off action, the greater the risks become. Yet our elected officials still haven’t taken the necessary steps to protect us. They are risking our safety and well-being. We say, “No more!”

Young Americans are willing to lead the way on combating climate change just as they are on combating gun violence. In 2015, youth plaintiffs filed Juliana v. U.S., asserting that the federal government has violated young people’s rights to life, liberty, and property not only by failing to safeguard the climate, but by actively creating a fossil fuel economy. The trial is set for Oct. 29.

What do we want from our elected officials? A price on carbon. It’s the single most effective thing the government can do.

Carbon pricing is designed to lead the economy away from fossil fuels in a way that’s predictable. It’s a means to start including the true cost of carbon in the price we pay for those fuels.

The concept is simple: Greenhouse gas emissions are causing climate change. So we make the price of emissions reflect the cost they impose on society. We put a fee on fossil fuels at the mine, well, or port of entry.

Prices will increase as those costs are passed along, so we protect consumers by sending the revenue collected to every American household in the form of rebates. For most households, the rebate will more than compensate for the increase in prices.

Meanwhile, alternative forms of energy will become relatively less expensive, accelerating the transition to renewable energy that is already underway. A revenue-neutral price on carbon is a politically viable, bipartisan solution that will allow America to come together to protect future generations.

You can help make this a reality. We are in an exciting time in Massachusetts, with multiple pieces of carbon-pricing legislation in the Legislature. Call, email, or send a letter to your legislators and say, “I’m a constituent, and I want you to actively support a price on carbon.” (You can find your legislators at malegislature .gov/Search/FindMyLegislator).

Call your friends in other districts and ask them to tell their state legislators to support carbon pricing. Join groups that are working to pass carbon pricing legislation, like Climate Action Now and the Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

Whether this is your 48th Earth Day or your first, take this opportunity to get involved. As citizens of a democracy, we are able to use our voices to generate political will for a livable world, the kind of world that earlier generations of Americans had the privilege to enjoy. Let’s pass it on. It’s our turn.

Alexandra Golikov is a junior at Smith College in Northampton studying philosophy and climate change. Darcy Glenn received her master’s degree in climate change from the University of London and lives in the Pioneer Valley. They are both members of the Pioneer Valley Citizens’ Climate Lobby.