Sans Carbon Tax – Years of Living Dangerously

01 October 2014
Author: T. Todd Elvins
copyright (c) 2014 T. Todd Elvins

SHOWTIME and ‘The Years Project’ have created nine one-hour  TV episodes of a climate- and science-related documentary series called, “Years of Living Dangerously” (‘Years’). Here’s my synopsis of a typical episode:

  • Hollywood luminaries and other influencers: travel to places impacted by severe weather due to global warming, visit scientists studying the environment, and talk to locals suffering from climate-related problems
  • The climate situation is getting worse faster than expected
  • TV viewers are mobilized to do something

But what are viewers supposed to do?  The ‘Years’ call-to-action is not in the episode, its on the show’s web site, under the Years of Living Dangerously - Robert Reich Videoheading, “What can we do“.  The web page says that renewable energy is good, efficiency & recycling are important, and reducing our carbon footprint is virtuous.  However, the big bold top-of-the-heap solution to global warming is to put a price on carbon.  This solutions’ simplicity, effectiveness, and importance are explained in a whiteboard presentation by US Labor Secretary Robert Reich and in an interview with President Obama about pricing carbon.

In a sidebar is a textbox labeled, “Tell your elected officials to put a price on carbon, you canTake Action take action on climate change in jut a few clicks“.  Viewers are invited to enter their zip code to identify their elected officials, and then to tweet and/or email the members of Congress, asking for a price on carbon.  I happened upon this mobilization campaign when one of the ‘Years’ producers tweeted that its generating a lot of twitter traffic at Congress.

Let’s apply the CarbonTax Workshop (CTW) metric to ‘Years’ put a price on carbon campaign.

  1. The Years campaign does a good job communicating the need for a price on carbon.  The Reich video explains how a carbon tax works, and that it is a market-based approach.  There is no mention of cap-and-trade.  Score: 10.
  2. The Years campaign makes it simple and painless to lobby Congress using familiar tools like email and twitter.  The campaign tells viewers to ask Congress for a, “Price on Carbon”.  This could be interpreted as cap and trade.  It would be better if viewers were instructed to ask for a revenue-neutral carbon tax, as explained in Reich’s video.  Score 7.
  3. The ‘Years’ tweet/email campaign is easily accessible on the ‘Years’ website, and the Reich video was released on Vimeo on 9/21/14.  As of 10/1/14, the  video has a respectable 4,400 views.  We don’t know how many tweets/emails have been sent. CarbonTax Workshop believes that ‘Years’ should move the “Put a Price on Carbon” section to the center of the home screen above the fold, and advertise the Reich video to push view counts up into the millions.   Score: 7.

Overall, ‘Years’ earns an excellent score of 24 on the CTW metric.  CTW urges ‘Years’ to: (1) devote an entire one-hour episode to the topic of a  revenue neutral carbon tax, (2) use the episode to mobilize viewers to lobby Congress via tweet/email/facebook, and, (3) give hope and a call-to-action to viewers.  The format of the carbon tax episode could be:

  1. Celebrity interviewer talks to university researchers who have polled citizens with the questions, ‘should companies pay a fee to pollute the air’, ‘should the government implement a national climate policy’, ‘should there be a national fee on greenhouse gas emissions’.
  2. Celebrity interviewer talks to corporation CEOs who have lobbied US Congress for a carbon tax, and incorporated a carbon tax into their internal accounting
  3. Celebrity interviewer talks to economists and elected officials in countries where a carbon tax has been in effect for ten years.  Voila. It works.
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