What is Carbon Pollution Pricing? It Could Be The Answer to Climate Change

January 10, 2017

Skyline with 2 stacks with steam and smoke

Fact vs. Fiction

Let’s recap: despite what the president-elect says, climate change is real. And we don’t mean real like it’s a thing that could happen someday. No: real as in it’s happening right now.

Also, saying that a real thing isn’t real doesn’t make it any less real. If you leave a pint out on the counter all day, it’s going to melt. Repeating “it won’t melt” out loud to anyone who’ll listen will not change a thing.  As Neil deGrasse Tyson has said, “The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it.”

And whether we’re talking about pints or polar ice caps, if they’re melted, they’re ruined. So we need to act—now.


One Solution That Can Make a Big Difference

Carbon pricing is one powerful way that economists, environmentalists, governments, and corporations alike agree could help us keep climate change in check. And, like the problem it addresses, carbon pricing isn’t just a theory or some kind of academic abstraction. It’s a real thing that’s already being used, and it works, and we need more of it.

But you’re probably wondering at this point what carbon pricing is and what it actually does. Let’s go over some of the basics together.


What is carbon pricing?

So, let’s say it was your roommate who left that pint out on the counter. You’re the one who buys the Ben & Jerry’s (can’t live without Cherry Garcia!), so you’re losing money AND scoops of true happiness. Not cool. And since they’re not paying, they don’t really feel the pain. But what if you charged them for the portion of every pint they melt? That would get them to change their behavior in ways that asking nicely never did.

Carbon pricing is, at its heart, also a strategy for altering bad behavior—except instead of pints, we’re dealing with the fate of the world.

The truth is that carbon polluters basically pollute for free. They profit from spewing CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, exacerbating climate change and leaving the rest of the world to bear the consequences. It’s like if that pint-wasting roommate of yours threw a huge party at your local park, sold tickets, made a profit, and then didn’t clean up the mess. Most of the cost of carbon pollution will be shouldered by future generations, because the world keeps growing warmer and warmer and the worst effects of climate change are still to come.

Currently, the costs and risks of this unfolding environmental catastrophe are not felt by most companies’ bottom lines. Carbon pricing changes the equation, forcing polluters to factor those costs and risks into how they run their businesses. Any rational business will want to minimize these extra costs, meaning that polluters will seek to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases they emit, which in turn will help slow down the impacts of climate change.


How does carbon pricing work?

There are a few different ways to establish a price for carbon. These are the main ones:

  • A government can enact a carbon pollution tax, where they tax fossil fuel use, sale, distribution, etc. This increases the cost of the fuels and all goods and service associated with them, encouraging businesses to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels and get people thinking about greener and cheaper ways to live their lives. Bottom line: greenhouse gases decrease.
  • The other main approach is called cap-and-trade. Carbon emissions, in a country or region, are capped at a certain level. Valuable pollution ‘credits’ are auctioned off or allocated to businesses, who can then sell or trade them—greener businesses, for example, might sell their allowances to a power plant for a hefty profit. Overall, as the market establishes a price for carbon, emissions would go down.

To us, the exact mechanism for pricing carbon doesn’t matter too much. We just want to see this proven method of reducing emissions implemented—according to a fair set of principles developed by our partner, Ceres—on as wide a scale as possible so that it can have the greater possible impact.


So how do we show our support?

For us as a business, we were among more than 365 businesses and investors to call upon President Obama, President-elect Trump, and other leaders here and around the world to support the Paris Climate Agreement and its vision for a low-carbon, clean-energy future.

We love this world, and we love coral reefs and polar bears and coastal cities. We love winter and frozen pints and all our flavors. So we need everyone to step up and support carbon pricing. And we need you, all of you, to join the fight against climate change. Whether it’s pricing carbon or supporting a transition to renewable energy, the solutions are out there. Sign the petition below to keep the pressure on world leaders to make renewable energy a priority and end climate change!