Petition asks Liebowitz to endorse carbon pricing

November 29, 2018

The Senate Sustainability Committee (SenSus) delivered a petition asking President Ron Liebowitz to endorse a Massachusetts carbon tax earlier this week. The petition, which was endorsed by the Student Union, is said to have garnered 161 signatures.

A group founded at Amherst College called Students for a Massachusetts Carbon Tax helped coordinate the petition, according to the SenSus Chair Kent Dinlenc ’19. “Their goal is to collect the signatures of college administrators and…higher level education leadership,” he said.

The petition included a link to the group’s website, which stated that the group does “not endorse one specific plan for a carbon tax, rather we support any Massachusetts plan to tax carbon emissions and drive those emissions down.”

The petition is part of a Higher Education Carbon Pricing Endorsement Initiative started by Our Climate, an organization that aims to mobilize the “support of students and young people to put a price on carbon pollution.”

“As leaders of higher education institutions, we call upon our elected representatives to act collectively on behalf of current and future generations by putting a price on carbon,” reads the Google Form which the petition asks Liebowitz to “sign” by filling out. It continues to state that carbon pricing—also known as a carbon tax—creates an economic incentive to reduce greenhouse gases. “If revenues are used wisely,” the letter states, carbon pricing could “benefit low-income households while stimulating job growth.”

Last June a bill which would institute carbon pricing passed the Massachusetts Senate with a unanimous vote, but no bill including carbon pricing has yet passed in the House.

Professor Sabine von Mering (GRALL/WMGS/ENVS), a member of Faculty Against the Climate Threat (FACT) who talked with Dinlenc about the petition, explained the concept of carbon pricing in an interview with The Brandeis Hoot.

“Normally when you create any form of waste—when you create garbage, if you create pollution of water, whatever, you have to clean it up—but with respect to carbon, with respect to carbon emissions, that has not ever been done,” she said.

She explained that a carbon price is a fee put on fossil fuels such as oil, gas or coal at the moment of extraction, which makes them more expensive. “The idea then is that consumers will thereby be incentivised to avoid paying that fee by trying to avoid purchasing fossil fuels,” she said, “and businesses will be incentivized to produce things that are fossil free so that they don’t have to make their products more expensive with this fee.”

“Scientists have said for a long time—and economists who know this—that this would actually be the only way to really get to a reduction of carbon,” she said. “Basically if a product becomes more expensive people will avoid buying it.”

She said that the money raised from this fee on carbon emissions could be either “revenue neutral” or “revenue positive.”

“A revenue neutral carbon pricing system basically takes that money and gives it back to the people based on a certain calculation,” she said. This method is appealing because it avoids defining carbon pricing as a conventional tax, which people might say hurts people who are poor, according to von Mering. “Because poor people tend to actually pay a larger percentage of their income on things like, say gas for cars or heating oil or so on, they would get money back because everyone would get money back,” she said.

On the other hand, “a revenue positive carbon tax actually says we need this money to invest in change so that we can solve the climate problem,” she said. “So then you have people suggesting, let’s take a certain percentage of the money we raise with the carbon tax and invest in public transportation, for example.”

“What happened in Massachusetts this summer was very disappointing,” von Mering said, referring to the process playing out in the legislature. She described the bill passed in the Senate as “very ambitious” and containing “all the ingredients which climate activists like myself had been asking for for forever.”

“When the House came out with its bill, it was way less ambitious,” and did not contain carbon pricing, according to von Mering.

Presidents at more than 30 universities including Amherst, Emerson, and Wellesley have endorsed the creation of a carbon tax by signing a petition similar to the one sent by the SenSus to Liebowitz, according to the Our Climate website.

Elianna Spitzer contributed to reporting.

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