For years, our planet has shown us the need to move away from fossil fuels. Extreme weather conditions, driven by excessive greenhouse gas emissions, continue to become more frequent and more costly to recover from. But today, it’s not just the climate that’s driving us away from fossil fuels. Our geopolitical and economic realities now demand the same.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was quickly condemned by world leaders and President Biden announced a series of sanctions aimed at cutting Russia off from global economic activity. But Biden initially halted ahead of direct energy sanctions, in part because limiting oil and gas supplies would ultimately drive up prices, to Putin’s benefit. These higher energy prices would add tension in Europe and here at home, at a time when people are already struggling with inflation. Already, it is clear that America’s – and the world’s – reliance on fossil fuels is hampering our ability to respond to Russia’s attack.
“Russia is incredibly insignificant in the global economy, except for oil and gas,” said a Harvard economist.
The American Petroleum Institute, a trade association representing American oil and gas producers, jumped at the chance to capitalize on this momentum. They renewed their calls for American energy independence. And yes, energy independence is an important goal. But this energy independence cannot come from an increase in the national production of oil and gas. In fact, the United States is a net exporter of energy, but our energy prices are still affected by the actions of other major players like Russia and Saudi Arabia. Thus, the “solution” of additional fossil fuels would simply be a trade – an attempt to solve one major problem while exacerbating others: climate change and price volatility.
But imagine an America fueled by abundant clean energy, driving the world away from fossil fuels. Our leaders could impose heavy sanctions on Russian oil and gas companies because rising fossil fuel prices would not hurt us here at home, and global demand for these fossil fuels would decline. Clean energy would mean that our domestic energy prices are stable and affordable, freeing us from the volatility of fossil fuel prices. And of course, clean energy wouldn’t dump tons of heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere, continuing to destabilize our planet’s systems. The clean energy transition would bring more geopolitical, economic and climate stability, keeping us safer and more secure on many fronts.
So the question is not, “Should we give up on fossil fuels?” The only answer to that is yes. Indeed, the EU is already taking steps in this direction, spurred by the Russian attack. The question now is how can the United States make the transition?
A well-designed carbon price – which the US Senate is already seriously discussing – would meet all the needs here. First, imposing an ever-increasing price on carbon would accelerate the transition to cleaner energy options across the economy, from larger industries to individual consumer choices. Second, carbon price revenues can be allocated to Americans in the form of a regular dividend or “carbon cashback,” protecting Americans from higher costs and fighting inflation. Third, a carbon border adjustment can be used to impose international pressure, which would break the grip of oil states like Russia. The EU is already considering implementing a tariff like this, and Republicans in Congress are voicing support for a similar idea.
At the height of the Build Back Better negotiations last fall, this idea was prevalent. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has called on the Finance Committee to develop carbon pricing legislation. Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden said: “I’ve had a carbon pricing bill sitting in my desk for the past three years, just biding its time. Republican Senator Mitt Romney – who, it should be noted, identified Russia as a threat in 2012 – said in January: “If you’re serious about climate, put a price on carbon.
It is time for our elected officials to return to these policy discussions with renewed commitment. We can no longer wait for the transition to clean energy, and we largely agree on the policy that can get us there. Our climate, our energy prices and the stability of our world are at stake.
Madeleine Para is Executive Director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization. It has a Southern Finger Lakes chapter, which draws members from Steuben, Chemung, Yates, Schuyler, Tompkins, Tioga, and Seneca counties.