An American In Paris For COP Twenty-One (+ Elon Musk VIDEO)

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Views of the UN COP21 climate meeting in Paris from correspondent Jessica Langerman, with Sandy Dechert.

Jessica Langerman, her mother, and her brother (family photo)A little over a year ago, my mother passed away after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. Incredibly, she left my brother and me a small nest egg – incredible because our mother was a single mom long before the phrase came into vogue who worked countless hours as a secretary to keep a roof over our heads and the wolf from the door.

Somehow, over those long, lean years, Mom was quietly and determinedly putting the money away that would eventually pay for her own nursing care, and for me to do something neither of us could have imagined: attend the UN’s COP21 climate talks in Paris this December.

Mom cared about politics, and she cared about the environment. At her core was a deep passion for justice and a love of the natural world – values she effectively instilled in us children. I remember how dutifully she wrote out her $10 or $15 checks to particular presidential candidates during election season, or to the Sierra Club when her subscription came due.

As the decades passed and concern about global warming came to the fore, however, we became increasingly aware of how little effect our actions were having. Mom wrote her checks, swapped out her lightbulbs, and bought a Prius while Rupert Murdoch and the Koch Brothers established their conservative empires, launched their disinformation campaigns, and hacked away at the environmental movement. Mom volunteered weekend and evening hours campaigning for candidates who promised to stand up to powerful entrenched interests, only to suffer defeat after defeat.

An insidious sense of powerlessness began to settle on us all. I began experiencing real grief, not only for our beautiful planet, but for the system of government in which I had believed so passionately. Then I discovered some hope within a grassroots organization — the bipartisan Citizens Climate Lobby — which teaches ordinary citizens how to lobby on behalf of a powerful environmental policy, the revenue-neutral “fee and dividend.” The idea is to put a predictable, gradually increasing price on carbon pollution, and then, in order to protect citizens from the rising cost of fossil fuel energy, return every dime to the public.

CCL in Washington (ccl.org)

It seems counter-intuitive – how could steadily rising fossil fuel costs coupled with equally higher citizen income help drive down emissions? The answer is that when the cost of a commodity rises predictably, even if people should happen to make commensurately more money, they choose to spend it on things other than that original commodity.

Eventually, sustainable alternatives arise (because the market is primed for them to do so) and consumers begin to invest in them. Elon Musk explained the subtleties of carbon economics and renewable energy this fall in an hour-long discussion with Sigmar Gabriel, Minister of Economy & Energy and Vice Chancellor of Germany (see video at 19:32). The fee-and-dividend cycle stimulates the economy, creating jobs and boosting GDP.

Basic elements of carbon fee-and-dividend pricing (ccl.org)Carbon pricing is an essential component of a growing number of comprehensive plans to drive down emissions. The cap-and-trade idea has historically dominated international dialogues rather than the simpler and more transparent carbon fee-and-dividend mechanism. CCL started in the US with the intention of changing the status quo by pricing carbon according to three principles: effectiveness, efficiency, and equity. It has now expanded to include international efforts.

So, with the funds that my mother left me, I am going to Paris, where I will shadow Joe Robertson, CCL’s global strategy director, as he makes the case for effective carbon pricing with UN delegates. CCL will launch a far-reaching “ground game” there to allow ordinary citizens input as well as official delegates and nongovernmental organization representatives. CCL will also be active from the COP21 Civil Society Villages, as well as from other points around Paris. I plan to watch and relate how these efforts change the conversation, and in so doing, help to better the world.

In future posts for Important Media (some of the posts will be published on Planetsave rather than CleanTechnica), I will report back on what it is like to travel to Paris amid fears of terrorism, apprehension about climate change, and hope for the future; my impressions of CCL activities at the conference; observations of negotiators, national positions, and how citizen participation is affecting the process; and plenty of pictures of Paris. Please offer any suggestions in the comments section below. I’m here for you.

Jessica Langerman's mother and son (family photo)
Jessica Langerman’s mother and son (family photo)

And… thanks, Mom.

Jessica Langerman is a freelance writer with a masters in education from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. With energy economist Cathy Carruthers, Jessica commissioned a seminal econometric study analyzing the impact of environmental tax reform in Massachusetts. Subsequently, she organized, founded, and assembled the board for Climate XChange.


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