Pricing Carbon Initiative (PCI) is a broad network fostering dialogue and encouraging viable solutions that would put a price on carbon pollution in the U.S. We have partnered with PCI to hold national dialogues among stakeholders since 2011, when Karuna Center director Olivia Dreier helped plan and facilitate the Summit for Environmental Leaders that led to PCI’s formation. PCI currently organizes four Pricing Carbon Dialogues per year, with typically 60-70 people in the room, all of whom all working on their own different initiatives in different ways.
Over the past several years, PCI has successfully maintained a space for dialogue, where people from very different political perspectives have found common ground in their shared concern for our planet and our future.
“We’re trying to help people see that what keeps us together overshadows what separates us--at least when it comes to climate change."
Tom: We are a broad network of stakeholders, largely environmental groups--but also business groups, labor groups, social justice groups, both progressive and center-right think tanks, and other varied stakeholders.
It’s essentially a gathering of opinion leaders who have all different kinds of views on political priorities but who concur on 3 basic things: (1) that climate change is serious and needs to be addressed; (2) that pricing carbon emissions is a good way of addressing this problem, likely an essential way; and (3) that we convene always under the Chatham House Rule, which means whatever is said is confidential and even who the participants are remain confidential.
Karuna Center: What are some of the challenges your dialogues address?
Tom: We currently have challenges from all sides: from conservatives (like the Trump administration), and from some progressives and liberals who think that carbon pricing is an inadequate fix and in some cases, the wrong fix.
With growing inequity in our society, equity issues are taking a growing sense of importance, as they should. The environmental justice movement, largely organized by people of color and other communities that have been disproportionately harmed by pollution, are saying that you have to recognize climate change as not just an ecological issue, but as a social justice issue, too. They emphasize that climate policies must first and foremost address economic inequity.
This issue is important, and it also reflects some divisions within the environmental movement, particularly around pricing carbon.
“A lot depends on who bears the cost of the carbon price, and what is done with the revenue from carbon taxes or fees--how the billions of dollars generated from putting a price on carbon would be distributed."
Tom: We are trying to create more space for environmental justice activists and carbon pricing advocates to have dialogue. Putting a price on carbon can take a lot of different forms. All these different approaches affect climate justice and environmental justice concerns very differently, so it is important to talk it through.
A lot depends on who bears the cost of the carbon price, and what is done with the revenue from carbon taxes or fees--how the billions of dollars generated from putting a price on carbon would be distributed. For example, they could be disbursed as a dividend to every citizen, or through social programs, or as tax cuts.
We’re in extremely challenging times now given the Presidential administration and the Congress that we have. I think it’s also a very interesting time, because we don’t know what the political dynamics will be a year from now. We don’t know what policy proposals will have traction. For example, there are quite a few people within our group--the more conservative and business-oriented people--who have felt that a very good idea of what to do with the revenue from pricing carbon would be to reduce corporate income taxes. Now, Trump has already done that, so the question is whether they will still be pushing for that at the next dialogue.
"Our dialogues are not about debates or trying to convince one side that they’re right or wrong."
Most of us don’t see it as the answer: it is one answer, and it works in conjunction with other policies and solutions. For example, with fracking gas, there is a problem with leakage in the gas lines. That pollutant may not be addressed through a carbon tax, but through regulation, it can be. There are also co-pollutants that are not carbon dioxide; some of them are greenhouse gases, but they won’t be addressed by pricing carbon.
Our dialogues are not about debates or trying to convince one side that they’re right or wrong. It’s about creating further understanding, and through that understanding, hopefully finding ways to build on the inter-connectivity, rather than focusing on issues where there might be disagreements.
Karuna Center: How has PCI been able to advance an agenda? Has there been progress toward specific policy measures that have come out of the dialogues?
We’re not trying to hammer out agreements that everyone will sign on to. We are more about enhancing communications, and leaving others to hammer out agreements or build coalitions. It’s a little difficult to point to concrete successes because of our confidentiality rules. We are having different people talk to each other, but: sorry, we can’t tell you who they are!
That said, the interest in our dialogues continues to be very strong, and as long as that interest is there we are motivated to continue. People tell me there is no other forum quite like us, where people regularly sit down and share thoughts and speak candidly.
"People tell me there is no other forum quite like us, where people regularly sit down and share thoughts and speak candidly."
I think every challenge represents an opportunity for us, and I think that almost because things are looking so bad, there seem to be more opportunities for us as a network than there ever have been. There is an opportunity for us to rebuild from the ground up, to form new networks and coalitions, and have candid discussions about things like why equity is so important to so many of us.
I don’t think we’re going to resolve whether the best climate change solutions should be regulatory or market-based, but I think we can further an understanding that these two solutions can work in tandem. We’re not even trying to change people; we’re trying to help people see that what keeps us together overshadows what separates us--at least when it comes to climate change.
Karuna Center: Given the immensity of the problems your network is facing, what gives you the hope to keep working for solutions?
Notwithstanding the current administration, the rest of the world continues to push ahead with the Paris Accords, and communities around the world are saying, “even though the US is not living up to the guidelines, we are.” So are various U.S. states, cities and towns. A number of local and state initiatives have given people hope. They are concrete accomplishments.
The renewed vitality of candidates with strong environmental beliefs now running for office is also hopeful. Finally, the desire to connect social and economic equity with climate and environmental equity, even though that in itself presents challenges, presents more opportunities that I find encouraging as well.