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Carbon Fee – a call for action on a national level

gray tower covered by smoke

Photo by Ion Ceban @ionelceban on

I was “in” the fossil fuel industry for years, so I know a little bit about it. They have been very successful in meeting our energy needs – which is great. They have accomplished this because we helped them to meet our energy needs. The Federal government helped out the fossil fuel industry by incentivizing them to a great deal. That is how corporate socialism works. But let’s all acknowledge that we and the fossil fuel companies have been getting away with dumping their/our combustion waste products into the air for free for over 100 years. This may have been understandable and beneficial when there were far fewer people on the Earth. Today this practice has caught up with us and we are now severely damaging our health, our economy, and our future. 

Fortunately, there are other economical and cleaner energy options available to us today. We can stop burning these valuable resources and either use them for other purposes or keep them in the ground as a strategic resource in case we need them in the future. Hopefully, by then we will have learned how to use them with less harmful effects to our health and our future.

One way to accomplish a transition from our current, near total dependence on fossil fuels to a much greater use of clean and renewable energy alternatives is to implement a national “carbon cap” or a “carbon fee” to pay for the real and hidden costs to society of using these dirty fuels. Applying true costs to fossil fuel usage will allow the market to implement a smooth transition to alternatives. Last year we saw the majority of economists across the political spectrum endorse this strategy. After many years of debate they have concluded that “a carbon tax offers the most cost-effective lever to reduce carbon emissions at the scale and speed that is necessary”. They went on to say that “by correcting a well-known market failure, a carbon tax will send a powerful price signal that harnesses the invisible hand of the marketplace to steer economic actors towards a low-carbon future”.

What are we waiting for? We just need to do it. Even Exxon/Mobil has supported this approach – of course the devil is in the details… the speed that the fee is implemented  will be hotly contested. But the first thing we need to do is to get all the voices at the table to encourage the passage of one of these macro-economic tools ASAP. To get involved you can join/support the Citizens Climate Lobby, Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, The Nature Conservancy, or others and keep pushing your representatives to support the passage of one of these carbon emission solutions (bills). This needs to happen now and we need to hold our representatives in DC accountable. I hope that each of you will get even more active today and then vote with climate issues foremost in your mind.


Major Accomplishments of 2015 – The Slinky Effect

slinky on stepsThere have been numerous articles over the past few weeks suggesting the high points of 2015.  Many of these are looking at national or global issues. Some of the ones I have been reading summarize environmental initiatives and others discuss the progress in the adoption of  sustainable practices by business and government. Clearly the Paris Accord is a big step as is the movement on addressing carbon from multiple sources including the burning of fossil fuels. I was also pleased to see the progress and more competitive nature of the clean energy industries and the bipartisan support of continuing incentives for clean energy installations for the next 5 years.

I was equally interested, however, in local and state progress so I contacted people at both levels of government. I am awaiting their responses. If you have suggestions please send them to me and I will compile a list for a future blog.

The one things I have noticed over the past 8 years and it showed up more this past year is that there has been a shift in our culture that is reflected in our actions and even in the words of some of our elected officials as well. More people are thinking in terms of using less energy, polluting less, and considering cleaner forms of energy.

I was recently collecting my mail and I was approached by a neighbor who said he was interested in installing more insulation in his attic and was wondering who I used as a contractor. He had heard that I had cut my energy use in half and wanted to lower his costs as well. Another person joined us and asked why we had not installed solar collectors on our roofs. He then went on to discuss the need for Electric Vehicle charging stations in our condominium complex. These are all things which were not commonly discussed in the past around the mail box.  They are all on the table today.

Slinky in boxSo yes I think there were some dramatic events that happened in 2015 and they should be celebrated. But the shift in our collective understanding of our priorities and the slow shift in our behaviors may be just as important. I recall that in researching for my second book, Saving the Places We Love, I learned that behavior change often takes decades. I think that the environmental awakening of the 1960s may finally be going mainstream. It seems to me that progress is often like a slinky going down the stairs – if you remember that toy. Parts of our society push ahead, then other parts push back, and then all of it moves forward, but only one step at a time.

Take-a-way: Keep pushing ahead. Whether we change our wasteful energy behaviors for economic, health, or future environmental impact may not matter. What matters is that we do our best to understand our impacts and we take the steps to change.

The Daily Behavior Change Challenge

Using portable computer on Refrigerator in Interet Wired Kitchen

Put this on your refrigerator!!!  All great changes require many small steps. We here at have created a simple, daily calendar of actions that you can take to help improve your health, the health of your neighborhood, and the health of the planet. These goals are achievable if we are deliberate in our commitment for a more sustainable and healthy world. Please pass this Behavior Change Model on by (more…)

The New and Enhanced Office of Sustainability

IMG_26152The Howard County Council recently passed a bill introduced by the Kittleman administration to upgrade and enhance the seven year old Office of Environmental Sustainability (OES).  The vote was unanimous. This is the result of a thorough assessment of the effectiveness of the OES over the past seven years during Ken Ulman’s Democratic administration and the important role it will play in Allan Kittleman’s Republican administration. It is a clear sign that (more…)

Defeating the Frederick Incinerator – Guest post by Don West

incinerator2large[1]The (Frederick) Board of County Commissioners struck down plans Thursday for a regional waste-to-energy incinerator … by canceling the contract and related permits.“   Frederick News Post Friday, November 21, 2014

 How on earth did we get to this point, when as recently as April 2014, both Carroll and Frederick Counties were under contract to build this 1500 ton per day incinerator and all the necessary permits had been issued?

Many people worked (more…)

Threats to the Blue Ridge Mountains – guest post by Mark Southerland

Mary Julia Pjordani on treeEight acres on the south side of Sugar Mountain in western North Carolina, remain in my family from the first permanent Scotch-Irish (and Welsh) settlement of the mountain by my ancestor Martin Banner and his brothers in 1848. Our family, as well as our adjacent relatives, retain most of the land in its natural state of forest and streams. As a result the biodiversity of the land remains such that 13 species of salamander can be found on it, enough for me to complete a doctoral dissertation on their communities. (Photo of salamander on tree -Plethodon jordani). This homestead remains our connection to the natural and cultural history of one of the most beautiful regions in the United States, the southern Blue Ridge mountains.

The forces threatening this and other southern Appalachian ecosystems include (more…)

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