Yesterday I sat in on a presentation from Jon Clark and Steve Izzo, members of the York chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby, a nonprofit organization that works to effect legislative action to promote a sustainable climate.
The group’s purpose is summed up in its slogan, or catchphrase, if you will: “Political will for a livable world.” They’re focused on the big picture, on government policy and legislative action.
One bill they talked about in particular is called “fee and dividend,” which would charge a certain dollar amount per ton of carbon dioxide that is generated by burning fossil fuels. That fee would then be returned to Americans. The idea behind the bill is that by adding this fee to CO2 emissions, fossil fuel-based energy becomes more expensive, and clean energy starts to look more competitive. The dividend returned to Americans would help offset the consumer’s increased energy costs.
Whatever your beliefs on the Obama administration’s environmental record may be (and the opinions are varied, as displayed during a Yale Environment 360 panel held in July), and however you may view this new fee and dividend plan, my question is this:
How far does personal responsibility go before we need wide-sweeping policy changes?
Many groups are quick to note that if every person in the U.S. walked to the grocery or biked to work instead of driving for one day, it would be the equivalent of taking x number of cars off the road permanently. Or if every American switched to CFL bulbs, we could save x number of dollars on our electricity bill. The statistics are always staggering, but I often think, “Oh, if it were only that easy.”
In my family of five, we often find it hard to agree on which restaurant to eat at (and a strong-willed 9-year-old seems to get his way more often than not). How do you get an entire country — even an entire town or family — to agree to quit using plastic water bottles, or use their bicycles more than their cars, or start buying local foods instead of ones that have been trucked across kingdom come to get to your grocery store? I’m not saying there haven’t been movements in the right direction: reusable bottles are now sold everywhere, cars are getting better gas mileage and multiple farmers markets are popping up, often in the same town.
But at a certain point, do we also need legislative actions to make a larger difference? To push companies and corporations to comply with restrictions that will reduce CO2 emissions? To create incentives for clean energy, bigger investments in alternative fuels, cars that run on electricity or biofuel instead of gasoline?
I don’t have these answers, and in fact, I’m not quite sure what I believe myself. But it’s an interesting point to think about: Does a “green” revolution start from the top down, from government action — or does it start from the ground up, from consumers and everyday Dick and Janes making small lifestyle changes that begin to snowball? Or really, is it both?