Category Archives: Feature article

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.

People versus Carbon Reality

29 September 2014
Author: T. Todd Elvins
copyright (c) 2014 T. Todd Elvins

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore’s The Climate Reality Project (TCRP) is an umbrella organization with nine major initiatives.  One PeopleVersusCarbonTCRP Initiative, ‘People versus Carbon‘, mobilizes individuals to build inertia for the Environmental Protection Agencys’, and other local, state and federal efforts, to regulate carbon pollution.  “People versus Carbon” asserts that regulation is an important first step towards putting a price on carbon.

TCRP “People vs Carbon” web site is divided into seven sections, five of which are informational and petitions.  The remaining two are videos that analyze and advocate a path to a market-based #PriceOnCarbon.   The one-minute “Cost of Carbon” video discusses the political price of climate denial – voters have the power to elect and re-elect candidates running on a bold climate action platform, and to not vote for climate policy blockers and deniers of science.  The price of climate science denial could and should be expulsion from public office.

The Way Forward” is a six minute video that examines two market-based policies for reducing carbon emissions (solutions to pollution), a carbon tax, and cap-and-trade.  A carbon tax and cap-and-trade seem interchangeable in this video, which we know from Hsu’s seminal book, “A Case for a Carbon Tax“, they are not.  A carbon tax is simpler, cheaper, quicker, and vastly more effective than cap-and-trade.  Attractive to conservatives in Congress, a revenue-neutral carbon tax refunds 100% of proceeds to citizens, so the funds cannot disappear into special interests or a larger government.  As the carbon tax increases stepwise over time, the refunds increase proportionately, so higher taxes do not cause pain and protest.

Let’s apply the CarbonTax Workshop (CTW) metric to TCRP’s “People versus Carbon” initiative

  1. TCRP “The Way Forward” video does a good job communicating the need for a price on carbon.  The video explains how a carbon tax works, and that it is a market-based approach.  The TCRP video mistakenly gives cap-and-trade equal weight. Score: 8.
  2. The TCRP “Cost of Carbon” video does a good job explaining that deniers of science do not belong in elected office.  If you, Mr./Ms. Member of Congress, are not helping to reduce carbon pollution, you are not doing your job, and your cost is that I will vote you out of office.  A carbon tax ultimatum would be even better.  Score: 8.
  3. TCRP videos are freely available on youtube and as of 9/26/14, the two short videos have a respectable 10,000 views each.  CarbonTax Workshop believes that TCRP’s highest priority initiative should be, “People versus Carbon” and a big media marketing campaign to push the two video view counts up into the millions.   Score: 8.

Overall, TCRP “People versus Carbon” earns an excellent score of 24 on the CTW metric.  To make the initiative more powerful, TCRP should combine the key messages from the two TCRP videos, “The Way Forward”, and “Cost of Carbon”, into a single video.  The key message of this new video would be, “in your election, or re-election, Mr./Ms. Congressman, my vote is contingent upon you introducing or supporting a carbon tax bill”.

Eject Elected Climate Deniers

To keep errors of fact off of the letters page. submissions that say, “… there’s no sign humans have caused climate change“, do not get printed, says Los Angeles Times editor Paul Thornton.

Elected officials should have a similar statement in their job description.  “In this job, you will determine the future ability of the earth to support human civilization. If you don’t believe in global warming and that people are the primary cause, resign now, this job is not for you”.


Tom Steyer’s NextGen Climate Action is a political action committee (PAC) that funds campaigns for congressional and gubernatorial candidates who will prioritize development of global warming solutions once in office. NextGen COO, Dan Lashof, says that he, “doesn’t care how we reduce carbon, but we have to do it.”

NextGen applies polls, data mining, and social media to identify climate-sensitive citizens and then launches television attack ads,  door to door canvassing, and other media campaigns to mobilize these voters. To receive support from NextGen, candidates must support “bold action”, to battle global warming.  NextGen is focused on  elections in seven states, Maine, Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Colorado.

NextGen’s definition of, “bold action”, is vague, but the only scalable options proposed in past Congressional sessions were a carbon tax bill and a cap and trade bill.  The 2014 Managed Carbon Price Act by Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) is a carbon tax, and the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (also known as Waxman-Markey) was cap and trade. Charles Komanoff’s op-ed in today’s InsideClimateNews argues beyond all reasonable doubt that cap-and-trade is not bold action.  At the state level, renewable portfolio standards, fossil fuels regulation, solar subsidies, and increased funding for renewable energy research, are important, but are not of sufficient scale in the time frame available. A carbon tax is the only bold action that scales to the monumental size of the fossil fuels problem. Moving on.

Let’s apply the CarbonTax Workshop (CTW) metric to NextGenClimate.

  1. NextGenClimate does a good job communicating the need for bold action on global warming, but does not define ‘bold action’, which, to be quickly effective at the global scale, must be a carbon tax. Score: 4.
  2. NextGenClimate has mobilized thousands of voters to support bold climate action candidates.  Score: 10.
  3. NextGenClimate is highly visible in the press, on the web, and on TV, and has raised awareness among thousands of voters.  The organization has a paid staff of twenty and hundreds of volunteers, mostly in the key election states, mentioned above.  Score: 10.

Overall CTW score is 24.  NextGen reportedly has a budget over one hundred million dollars, which calculates to approximately $14M per candidate.  Let’s hope that is enough.

A Nice Bucket Challenge for the Climate

16 September 2014
Author: T. Todd Elvins
copyright (c) 2014 T. Todd Elvins

Nice Bucket Challenge
Recordable and easily replicable. But not sufficiently funny or daring.

Originating sometime in the past year or two, the history of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is a bit murky.  We know that somehow self-refrigeration evolved when a few nutty individuals challenged their friends to benefit one deserving charity or another,  and millions of soaked philanthropists later, we have perfect hindsight on the tsunami of viral fund raising.  What do you suppose were the key factors that melded and ignited viral growth in the historical blink of an eye?  And could these factors be combined again to bring attention and donations to another cause such as global warming?

Let’s review the factors that melded to make the ice bucket challenge go viral.  The ice bucket challenge is:

  • Fun, funny, clever, and marginally daring – The ice bucket challenge is fun to do, funny to watch, and judging by one’s heartrate, seems a little bit dangerous.
  • Accessible, simple, and easy to copy with materials on hand requiring no preparation or shopping,  An challenger can recruit a camera man, fill a bucket with ice water, and post the video for all the world to see in less than ten minutes.
  • Compelling cause, doing the right thing.   ALS disease is bad. Everybody knows it. Any small donation of time, money, or video gives the challenger a warm feeling.
  • Recordable, automatic social proof.  High resolution video cameras are so ubiquitous, one might expect a free one with a tank of gas.  A youtube video is proof beyond doubt that the challenger fullfilled their side of the bargain and made a positive contribution to a compelling charity.
  • Associates the challenger with influencers and the right crowd doing a positive thing.  Millions of people have taken the challenge.  Not self soaking is almost weird.  Counting one’s own name among the names of neighbors, friends, family, influencers, and celebrities, creates a sense of community.  An on-line meetup with everyone the challenger knows and potentially others the challenger would like to know.

To investigate further, I wrote a script that mimics the ice bucket challenge — with climate as the cause — and recorded a video viewable here.  I achieved a couple of the factors above, but i clearly missed the fun, funny, and daring factors.  And until someone copies it, I have no sense of community bucketeership.  How did i miss the fun, funny, and daring factors ?

  • Social media is almost always fun.  Making movies, taking photos, and sharing those with friends, relatives, and sometimes a large network of followers is fun in itself.  Watching other peoples’ clever, thoughtful, well-planned, or well-executed media offerings is fun.  Simple is better than complex.  Mustn’t require much background.  Better if the watcher can relate the media to their own life.  My video is too complex and insufficiently clever.
  • A slightly embarrassing or awkward situation is funny.  Self deprecation is funny.  Sea level rise devouring a large polluting company might be funny.  Or maybe just ironic. My video is too serious; I don’t get soaked or embarrassed.
  • Daring seems easier.  An individual sharing a selfie photo or video of the individual advocating a carbon tax to a stranger could be daring.  Wearing something carbon tax related or dressing as a carbon atom for a month is daring.  Daring is absent in my video.

There will be some trial and error required to add the factors above, but analysis of what has worked for others will help to reduce the number of errors.  To be continued…

Message Congress from Your Phone

Three Ways to Send a Climate Message to Congress from Your Phone

18 September 2014
Author: T. Todd Elvins
copyright (c) 2014 T. Todd Elvins

“Congress” app for android

1.  Install the free Android Congress app or the iPhone Congress app


2.  Post on their Facebook page.  Go to your House of Representatives Facebook page or your Senators’ Facebook page.


3.  Open a web browser on your phone and follow these instructions to send a message in a webform

  • Click here and enter your zip code to get a list of your congressional representatives
  • Click the ‘name’ of one of your congress persons
  • Click on their “Contact webform” (upper right corner) and compose a message that hits these four points
    Honorable _______

    • I live in your district
    • Companies should not be allowed to pollute the air for free.
    • Global warming is a problem.
    • I strongly encourage you to support a fee on carbon pollution with 100% of proceeds returned to taxpayers.