John B. Cobb, Jr: What Keeps Us Trying?

John B. Cobb, Jr. , born in 1925, graduated from the University of Chicago Divinity School with a PhD in 1952. I believe Cobb entered the University shortly after the departure of Henry Nelson Wieman, who had infused the school with the thinking of philosopher Alfred North Whitehead.
John B. Cobb, Jr.
John B. Cobb, Jr.jpg
In 1958, Cobb began teaching at Claremont School of Theology, and Claremont Graduate University in California. In 1971, he and Lewis Ford established the Process Studies Journal, and soon thereafter co-founded with David Ray Griffin the Center for Process Studies, which became “the center of Whiteheadian process thought” according to Wikipedia. Wikipedia also states that Cobb has been characterized as “one of the two most important North American theologians of the twentieth century (the other being Rosemary Radford Ruether).[1] Cobb is often regarded as the preeminent scholar in the field of process philosophy and process theology—the school of thought associated with the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead.[2] Cobb is the author of more than fifty books.[3] In 2014, Cobb was elected to the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Sciences.[4]
Another distinction of John B. Cobb Jr. is that he published, in 1971, again, according to Wikipedia, “the first single-author book in environmental ethicsIs It Too Late? A Theology of Ecology—which argued for the relevance of religious thought in approaching the ecological crisis.[7] In 1989, he co-authored with Herman Daly the book For the Common Good: Redirecting the Economy Toward Community, Environment, and a Sustainable Future, which critiqued current global economic practice and advocated for a sustainable, ecology-based economics. He has written extensively on religious pluralism and interfaith dialogue, particularly between Buddhism and Christianity, as well as the need to reconcile religion and science.”
Indeed, ecological interdependence has been an important theme throughout his long career. I read “Is It Too Late?” a number of years ago, and it made a great impact on me (I posted an excerpt on my blog here: https://integralpermaculture.wordpress.com/2012/04/22/the-titanic-on-earth-day/ )
Why am I writing now about John Cobb? Because at the age of 92, Cobb is still actively engaged – still writing, still working to make the world a better place.  In recent years he founded the organization Pando Populous, with an aim to create an ecological civilization.
Just a few days ago, after Trump’s announcement about pulling out of the Paris Climate Accords, he posted an article in which he shares from his years of experience in the ecological movement within the academic community. He speaks honestly about the roles of hope and optimism in the face of the “manifold disasters” the world is heading toward.
“For those of us fortunate enough to have an optimistic temperament, distinguishing optimism from hopefulness is not always easy. But it is important because optimism may fade while hope remains. What I am calling “hopefulness” is grounded in faith and faithfulness. It is because the Cosmic Spirit’s aim can be our aim, that we are never alone. The Cosmic Spirit seeks through us to save this little planet. It has no hands but our hands, as I sang as a boy, but it can direct those hands beyond simply our personal wisdom. That I cannot know what good consequences may follow from some act to which I feel called does not mean that none do. Hope is a kind of trust that we can be partners of a Spirit that guides us, and that can sometimes transform even our sins and failures into stepping stones to something positive.”

Perhaps you’ll take the time to read the entire article, “What Keeps Us Trying?” by John B. Cobb, Jr.

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Michael Dowd, Part 3: Grace Limits and Big Picture ‘Apocaloptimism’

Check out Part 1 of this blog post series here, and Part 2 here. Part 3, below, features the third video in a series on the theme “Standing for the Future” by Rev. Michael Dowd.

michaeldowd“These three videos are the culmination of my life’s work to-date and, by far, my most important legacy contribution.” ~ Michael Dowd

Part 1 is about “The Evidential Reformation: Facts as Scripture, Ecology as Theology.” Part 2 is “Reality is Lord: A Scientific View of God on a Rapidly Overheating Planet.” Part 3 is on “Grace Limits and Big Picture ‘Apocaloptimism’: The Great Reckoning as Great Homecoming.”

theo-kitchenerWhat is ‘Apocaloptimism’? Michael Dowd first heard Theo Kitchener call herself an ‘apocaloptimist’. I’m guessing Kirchner is author of this post discussing the term, and she first heard it from NASA scientist Peter C. Griffith. She describes it this way:

Apocaloptimism is embracing the unknown, is embracing transformation. It is being okay no matter what the outcome is, but fighting like hell to steer it in the direction that you want.

Dowd has described himself as an ‘apocaloptimist’ because he is a short term pessimist (or realist), but a long term (big picture) optimist. Listen to a great interview with Terry Patten here.

I provide below some teaser screenshots from this third video, to entice you in and to reinforce some key points.

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the-next-minute-on-the-cosmic-timeline

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teilhard-we-are-not-separate-from-the-universe-and-earth

The quote from Teilhard de Chardin above is important.  Dowd believes that one of the most important systemic changes that needs to happen in the world is for us to learn to align self-interest with the well-being of the whole. My wife and I found the following quote from the presentation to be very meaningful:

“[One of the] most important systemic things we need to do is to align self-interest with the well being of the whole. That’s how evolution has proceeded to create greater complexity over time.

When the self-interest of the parts and the well being of the whole are aligned, then when the part does well for the whole, it [the part] benefits. And when the part harms the whole, then it harms itself in some way.

So it is in its own self-interest to do the right thing to the whole. It’s called “consequence capture” – the impact of individuals and groups, for good or ill, must be reflected back to them.”

The following introduction to the video is copied and pasted from the webpage “Standing for the Future.”

Standing for the Future (Part 3 of 3) — “Grace Limits and Big Picture ‘Apocaloptimism’: The Coming Great Reckoning as Great Homecoming”

Given our impact on Earth’s climate, the seas, and other species, humanity is already beginning to experience The Great Reckoning. The good news is that this is also The Great Homecoming: the prodigal species, after squandering our inheritance, coming home to Reality (God).

Big History — the Epic of Evolution or Universe Story — is humanity’s first and only inclusive, globally produced, evidence-based creation story. In this culminating episode, Dowd shows how this Great Story provides clear and compelling guidance to help our species ‘obey’ (honor) physical and ecological processes that have been at work for hundreds of millions of years. He offers both practical tools of resilience and an empowering vision of collective action in response to climate chaos and other large-scale systemic challenges.

Michael and Connie are currently engaged in a speaking tour in the northwest U.S., with upcoming vists to Edmonds, Whidbey Island, Seattle, Orcas Island, and Bellingham, WA, in January 2017.  Check out their itinerary here. Our Transition Whatcom event listing is here – Jan. 22nd (Sunday morning) and Jan. 23rd (Monday evening), both at Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship.

 

Michael Dowd: Standing for the Future, Part 2

As a follow-up from last week’s post, I share with you Part 2 of Michael Dowd’s video series, “Standing for the Future.” You can view Part 1 here.  The text right above the video is just copied and pasted from Dowd’s website.

There are two quotes from this video that I found especially important and meaningful. First on The Importance of Personification.

The words ‘God’ and ‘evolution’ are both pointing to the same divine creative process. Both answer the question ‘How did we get here?’ One uses the mythic language of religion, the other uses the literal language of science.  Arguing whether it was God or evolution that created everything is like debating whether it’s Uncle Sam or the U.S. government that insists we pay taxes every year, or like quarreling over whether it was Gaia or plate tectonics that created the oceans and mountains. Such silly and largely unnecessary confusion will remain the norm until we get and celebrate what I think is the single most important scientific discovery about religion in the last 500 years: personification. – Michael Dowd

The second quote is in support of Michael Dowd’s conviction that Ecology is the new Theology

Every characteristic that we attribute to the divine derives from our experience of Nature. If we imagine God as beautiful, gracious, loving, awesome, powerful, majestic, or faithful, it is because we have known or experienced beauty, grace, love, awe, power, majesty, or trustworthiness in the world. – Michael Dowd

“If we lived on the moon and that’s all we and our ancestors had ever known, all of our concepts and experience of the divine would reflect the barrenness of the lunar landscape.” – Thomas Berry

Standing for the Future (2/3) — “Reality Is Lord: A Scientific View of God on a Rapidly Overheating Planet”

“We each have experienced times of trouble that threaten to overwhelm our individual lives. In such times, a vision of possibility is essential. The same holds for the punctuations in history when whole societies face troubles of an immense and uncharted variety. Truly, we have arrived at such a time. Humans, unwittingly, have become a planetary force. We are irreversibly changing the very climate of our world. Henceforth, any actions we take as individuals and societies will be done in the new light of climate change.

What vision will carry us forward through such times and inspire us to work together? How shall we frame the need to shed our business-as-usual outlook on life and take on a new vision of possibility that can unite us as a species in joyful self-sacrifice and service? What vision will charge us with a sense of heroic purpose that the future is, indeed, calling us to greatness?”

In the video above, Dowd includes some of the amazing examples of nature personified that have been created by Conservation International in collaboration with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars, all available at the Nature is Speaking website, which emphases the point that nature doesn’t need people, but people need nature. Here is Kevin Spacey as the Rainforest:

 

 

Michael Dowd: Standing for the Future

Michael Dowd

The former pastor, Rev. Michael Dowd, is best known as the author of the best-selling book, Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World. Dowd is a religious naturalist (“Religious naturalism (RN) combines a naturalist worldview with perceptions and values commonly associated with religions”), an eco-theologian and a pro-science evangelist. His passion for proclaiming a nature-honoring message of inspiration – what he calls “Right Relationship with Reality” – has earned him the title “Rev. Reality.”  Michael and his science writer and climate activist wife, Connie Barlow, have dedicated themselves to an itinerant life of permanent travel across North America, speaking out about our sacred responsibility to future generations.

According to their website, their core message is this: “What matters most now, individually and collectively, is to honor Grace Limits, and be a stand for the future, in word and deed.”

What does it mean to honor Grace Limits? Dowd considers Grace Limits to be “the inescapable, geological, ecological, and thermodynamic constraints to which humanity must rapidly adjust.”  He explains:

Both the nonrenewable (“stock”) resources and the renewable (“flow”) resources upon which we depend I call natural grace. The one-time endowments of stock resources and the sustainable use rates of flow resources are both necessarily constrained on a finite planet. These constraints I call grace limits. These are the limits that ecologists point to when discerning carrying capacity. When we overshoot Earth’s bounty and renewal capacities, we effectively remove ourselves from paradise and put ourselves on the path to hell. To learn to recognize and then scrupulously honor carrying capacity as Reality’s grace limits is a task to which the authors included [on his Grace Limits Audios page] are devoted. I think of these advocates as prophets of sacred realism, or factual faith. Each one, in his or her own way, reveals how the future is calling us to greatness. If we hope to spare our grandchildren from hell and spare ourselves their condemnation, we must now urgently attend to, not just personal piety, but systemic piety. We must immediately begin measuring ‘progress’ and ‘success’ in long-term, life-centered ways, rather than short-term, human-centered ways; nothing is more important than this.

Dowd’s Grace Limits Audios are an amazing resource. He’s spent innumerable hours recording in downloadable audio format the best work of a wide array of the most important sustainability and resilience authors – and all available for free download. Some of the authors represented include William R. Catton, Jr., John Michael Greer, Richard Heinberg, James Howard Kunstler, Thomas Berry, JoAnna Macy, Lynn Margulis, Samuel Alexander, Tom Wessells, Erik Lindberg, Walter Youngquist, Theo Kitchener, and more.  In addition to his own audio recordings of these works, he also provides a plethora of links to online information and presentations of others. A wealth of education is available here.

standing-for-the-future

Dowd’s own recent work is perhaps best summarized in a 5 page essay, Evidential Medicine for Our Collective Soul: What’s Inevitable? What’s Redemptive?,” published in “Oneing” (Aug. 2016, Vol 4 No. 2), the quarterly publication put out by Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation.  A 19 minute audio recording of this essay is also available.

In this essay, Dowd notes that a new “Evidential Reformation” is coming into being, where all forms of evidence are coming to be valued equally and religiously. This includes scientific, historic, cross-cultural, and experiential evidence and includes, as Pope Francis has declared, ecology becoming integral to theology. Faith leaders such as Pope Francis (Roman Catholic), Patriarch Bartholomew (Easter Orthodox), and the Dalai Lama (Tibetan Buddhist) are all at the forefront of this reformation that Rev. Dowd is calling “Religion 3.0.”

However, Dowd warns us that “the noble sentiments that spawned care for Creation are no match for the crises now spinning out of control.” He writes that “It is time for a prophetic turbo-charging of our religious traditions. Foremost is the need to expand beyond the self-focus of individual salvation of enlightenment to also include vital community concerns – notably, survival.”

In the section of the essay addressing “What’s Inevitable?,” Dowd outlines a series of predicaments.  Not problems that can be addressed and solved, but predicaments that we must live through and deal with – hence, what is inevitable. He discusses climate chaos, sea level rise, the end of the fossil fuel era, political unrest, toxic legacy, biodiversity catastrophe, cultural loss, and the unraveling of worldviews. He states that to stay relevant, religions will need to foster not only personal wholeness, but also social coherence and ecological integrity. Dowd prophetically calls us as individuals to “voluntarily sacrifice [our] own comfort and security in service of safeguarding cultural treasures through a dark age.” He invites us to embark on legacy projects that are meaningful to us:

“Love something, learn something, let something go, and pass something forward.”

In the next section on “What’s Redemptive?,” he advises that we can’t compensate for the ecological devastation that has already occurred, nor can we fully reverse the ongoing effects of past behavior. He calls us, as a prodigal species, to come home to reality and set a new course.  “If we treat primary reality as anything other than primary, there will be consequences.”

To realign with Reality means that we must redefine “progress,” and learn that the success of any species depends upon learning to thrive within the limits of carrying capacity of the ecological system that we inhabit. He writes:

It is time to integrate carrying capacity into our theologies. Toward this end, I now speak of “grace limits.” The bounds that delimit safe levels of human use of other creatures and their habitats are there by natural grace. By staying within those bounds, we experience the grace of God’s nature. To venture beyond – which we have done, excessively – we suffer “God’s wrath” via storms, drought, floods, wildfires, rising and acidifying oceans, and in a great dying.

The call to action for religious adherents is this: to first learn about, then reflect upon, and finally evolve our worldviews. Henceforth, the unbending grace limits of God’s nature, combined with carrying capacity deficits inflicted by a century of human overpopulation and extravagant consumption (i.e. “overshoot”) will constrain even our noblest aims and thus the bounds of our efforts.

Dowd concludes the essay with his own ‘top ten’ list: “Reality’s Rules: Ten Commandments to Avoid Extinction and Redeem Humanity.” These are what he considers to be “the limitations on our behavior essential for human communities to persist over the long term,” or the “constraints that our species must now impose on itself while navigating crises of our own creation.” The first five commandments help to disabuse us of an unreal notion of God, and the last five offer a way back into a right relationship with primary reality. The “commandments” are framed in traditional religious language:

“Thus sayeth the Lord”

  1. Stop thinking of me as anything less than the voice of undeniable and inescapable reality.
  2. Stop thinking of ‘revelation’ or ‘divine instruction’ without including evidence.
  3. Stop thinking of Genesis, or your creation story, apart from the history of the universe.
  4. Stop thinking of theology apart from ecology: the interdisciplinary study of my nature.
  5. Stop defining and measuring ‘progress’ in short-term, human-centered ways.
  6. Stop allowing the free or subsidized polluting of the commons.
  7. Stop using renewable resources faster than they can be replenished.
  8. Stop using non-renewable resources in ways that harm or rob future generations.
  9. Stop exploring for coal, oil, and natural gas—keep most of it in the ground.
  10. Stop prioritizing the wants of the wealthy over the needs of the poor.

* * *

 A 17 minute video is available that sums up the message of the above essay: “Ten Commandments to Avoid Extinction: Reality’s Rules.”

A full and expanded presentation of the ideas presented in the essay is also available as a 3-part video series.  I highly recommend this. I feel it is well worth the investment of time.  Part 1 is below, and runs for 55 minutes.  Standing for the Future (Part 1 of 3): “Evidential Reformation: Facts as Scripture; Ecology as Theology”

Michael and Connie are currently engaged in a speaking tour in the northwest U.S., with upcoming vists to Edmonds, Whidbey Island, Seattle, Orcas Island, and Bellingham, WA, in January 2017.  Check out their itinerary here. Our Transition Whatcom event listing is here – Jan. 22nd (Sunday morning) and Jan. 23rd (Monday evening), both at Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship.

 

Chaos, Havoc, and The American Abyss

“If a path to the better there be, it begins with a full look at the worst.” – Thomas Hardy

In the final days before the 2016 American presidential election the pundits were out in force, engaged in collective hand-wringing.  Glancing through lists of commentaries and op-eds, here are some of the titles:

Don’t Trust the Future to President Havoc, America and the Abyss, An Order of Chaos, Please, Venomous 2016 Race Slithers to a Finish, Who Broke Politics?, Democracy’s Majesty and 2016’s Indignity, Final Days – Awful Choice, Europe on Pins and Needles, The First 100 Horrific Days of a Trump Presidency, America’s Descent into Banana Republican-ism, An Election is Not a Suicide Mission, Liberals Cried Wolf about Bush and Romney and We Were Wrong – Fascist Trump is Different, and The Post-Truth Presidency.

How did it come to this? And where are we headed after the election?

Many have speculated on the reasons for the current crisis in American politics, and surely there are many facets that have played a part, and there are many angles to cover.  Richard Heinberg’s recent analysis (An Order of Chaos, Please) covers much of the same ground  I was intending to cover here, and serves as a good introduction.  He begins by disabusing us of the notion that things will return to normal once the election cycle has concluded. He then shares the somewhat conventional wisdom that many Americans these days, formerly of the middle class, do not have things as well as their parents did. The “wage class” has declined in both income and political power, thanks in part to globalization and other forces. Backs are up against the wall, and people are ready for change. The same-old, same-old doesn’t cut it.

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Heinberg then takes it a step further, telling us that “American civilization was destined to unravel anyway.” He mentions Joseph Tainter’s work, “The Collapse of Complex Societies,”  and offers the sobering analysis that “social pressures from unsustainable debt levels, increasing inequality, and rampant corruption” are the new normal, thanks to “deeper infrastructural issues having to do with resource depletion, pollution (in the form of climate change), and the essential unsustainability of economic growth.” The current election cycle is merely the prelude to an unfolding spectacle of America’s fabric coming apart.

Heinberg eloquently sums up the depressing scenario that seems all too likely:

“The government of the United States of America has developed increasing numbers of tics, limps, and embarrassing cognitive lapses during the past ten or 15 years, but it has managed to go on with the show. Yet as dysfunction snowballs, a maintenance crisis becomes inevitable at some point. When the crunch comes (most likely as a result of the next cyclical economic downturn, which is already overdue and could be much worse than that of 2008), we will reap the fruits of a system that is simply no longer capable of acting cooperatively to solve problems.”

“…The nightmare of the election itself will end soon.  But we may not like what we wake up to.”

Indeed. We are now being forced to wake up today to a Trump presidency and a divided country.

There is another writer who had a perspective that I have found to be unique, timely, and insightful. His name is Peter Pogany.  One of his last major papers, written in 2013 (Thermodynamic Isolation and the New World Order) before he passed in 2014, was about havoc, chaos, and the abyss, and it was turned into a book published in 2015: Havoc, Thy Name is 21st Century.

Havoc

As dismal as his short term outlook was, Pogany wasn’t all doom and gloom. Like Michael Dowd, Pogany was a short term pessimist, but a long term optimist (Dowd calls himself an “apocaloptimist,” listen to his interview discussing with Terry Patten The New Ten Commandments and the Coming Apocaloptimism here).

Pogany was an economist who saw that “a stagnating economy is civil discontent waiting to happen – especially at a time when government spending must be curbed.” Our current world economy is structured so that it requires continued growth at unsustainable rates just to maintain our standard of living.  We’ve hit the wall, and the wage class around the world is responding – Brexit and President-elect Donald Trump are two corresponding results. According to Pogany, the world is in the beginning phase of a “nonlinear macrohistoric episode” – a chaotic transition, which he saw as a necessity to precipitate a crisis of consciousness that would eventually lead to the wide-spread “integral a-rational” consciousness structure, as based on the thinking of cultural philosopher Jean Gebser

“What will it take to go from considering tightened modes of multilateral governance a monstrous dystopia to people around the world on their knees begging for a planetary Magna Carta that is more detailed, focused and enforceable than the United Nations Charter of 1945? It will take nothing less than a mutation in consciousness, as outlined by the Swiss thinker, Jean Gebser (1905-1973). But a mutation of the implied magnitude amounts to nothing less than a break with centuries of ingrained habits, values, and expectations. It is simply inconceivable without the hard fate of macrohistoric turmoil.”

Darkness must come before a new dawn. It is Pogany’s work that we’ll continue to discuss in more detail in posts to come. An overview of his work can be found on our Peter Pogany page. Many of his older essays are archived at Resilience.org here.

Read Part 2 of this series here: Consciousness and the New World Order

The I-732 Carbon Tax: Responding to Critiques

In response to my previous post, in which I voiced my strong support for I-732, I’ve heard back from several friends who echoed and applauded my position.  I’ve also heard from three respected friends who have voted against, or are considering voting against the initiative.

This is the WA state tax swap ballot initiative that Sightline Institute has declared “would give Washington the continent’s, if not the world’s, most potent, persistent, and comprehensive incentive to move swiftly beyond dirty fossil fuels and to a carbon-free future.”

It’s an initiative that has the support of over 50 climate scientists at UW, as well as numerous economists.

So why would some of my climate change concerned friends consider voting against this initiative? Allow me to address the concerns my friends raised with me.

Argument # One is that a recent report coming out of British Columbia has shown in the ten years of having implemented a carbon tax, emission have actually gone up in the province.

My Response:

The “recent report” was not referenced to a source, so I performed a quick online search.  I found a December 2015 report by the Carbon Tax Center, British Columbia’s Carbon Tax: By the Numbers.  This report found that “The 12.9% decrease in British Columbia’s per capita emissions in 2008-2013 compared to 2000-2007 was three-and-a-half times as pronounced as the 3.7% per capita decline for the rest of Canada. This suggests that the carbon tax caused emissions in the province to be appreciably less than they would have been, without the carbon tax.

British Columbia's Carbon Tax By the Numbers

British Columbia’s Carbon Tax By the Numbers

Note that the chart above provides not only the change in emissions in BC after the tax went into effect, but puts their numbers in context, comparing to the rest of Canada, and also giving us emissions per capita, AND per GDP.

A caveat in the report tells us that “GHG emissions increased in British Columbia in 2012 and again in 2013, not just in absolute terms but also per capita. This suggests that the carbon tax needs to resume its annual increments (the last increase was in 2012; its bite has since been eroded by inflation) if emissions are to begin again their downward track.”

This means not that emissions were increasing beyond the pre-tax levels, but, as the other chart here makes clear, that the downward trajectory had reversed course and was beginning to creep up again.  Note the reason: The BC tax was frozen at 2012 levels. The proposed initiative for WA state does not have this defect – see below.

After more digging online, I think I found the report my friend was referring to.  The report above was prepared by an organization biased in favor of the carbon tax approach.  This second report, by Food and Water Watch, has a bias against market based solutions to climate change.  You can find their report, “The British Columbia Carbon Tax: A Failed Market Based Solution to Climate Change,” here.  This report skews the numbers a bit by ignoring the dramatic drop in emissions that occurred during the first 6 months of the tax, because it was not a full year, and because they attribute the decline to the recession rather than the carbon tax.  So it comes down to what period of time is measured, as they admit: “It largely depends when the change is measured: The taxed emissions decline was more than 10 percent from the 2004 peak to 2012, but that includes many falling years before the carbon tax was enacted; the decline was 2.2 percent from 2008 to 2014, but the tax was in effect only for the second half of 2008.”

In addition, this second report does not give us the context against the rest of Canada, nor the per capita and per GDP numbers.

I’ll admit that I haven’t spent a lot of time comparing the validity claims of the two contrasting reports, but the links are there for those who want to dive deep.  What does stand out to me is that the first report (“By the Numbers“) gives us a long trend comparison between BC and the other Canadian provinces, and I think this mitigates other factors such as the recession and is a more robust and fairer overall report.

However, there are others much more skilled at analyzing data than I, and they devote much more time and resources – we’re lucky to have the Sightline Institute in the Pacific Northwest for this purpose.

Like the “By the Numbers” report, Sightline agrees that the real weakness of the BC tax is that it was frozen in 2012.  In contrast, according to Sightline, the CarbonWA plan of “setting the price’s rising trajectory all the way to 2059 would vault Washington to the head of the North American pack on climate leadership. Other North American carbon prices are not yet high enough nor sustained enough to achieve climate-stabilizing pollution reductions…I-732 would give Washington the continent’s, if not the world’s, most potent, persistent, and comprehensive incentive to move swiftly beyond dirty fossil fuels and to a carbon-free future.”

“…Unlike the British Columbia carbon tax, which froze its price in 2012 pending further legislative action, I-732’s tax would continue increasing by 3.5 percent plus inflation every year until 2059 and by the inflation rate thereafter. This price trajectory sends a clear signal that clean energy is the smart choice in the Evergreen State for the rest of the century.”

The second argument from my friends is in two parts: a) oil and gas companies are supporting this initiative because it would give tax breaks to corporations and instead (b) will put the burden of a carbon tax on the low income working class (and the rest of the public consumers).

My Response:

a) I have found no evidence that oil and gas companies are supporting I-732.  Again, according to Sightline, the tax “covers pollution from burning fossil fuels, including gasoline, diesel, aircraft fuels, refinery and industrial operations, natural gas, and coal or natural gas burned in power plants in-state, and in plants out-of-state when they deliver electricity to Washington homes and businesses.”

b) Will the tax unfairly burden low income Washington residents? No. It actually makes the WA state tax system less regressive and more progressive, and has provisions to benefit those of lower income. It does this by reducing sales tax by 1%, and provides a Working Family Tax Rebate of up to $1500 to low income families. It also lowers the B&O Tax on Manufacturing so that manufacturing jobs will not be lost. Here is yet another quote from Sightline:
“I-732 hews closely to this principle [of mitigating costs to communities with lower incomes], yielding the biggest gain in tax fairness in Washington in nearly four decades, with thousand-dollar net benefits for hundreds of thousands of low-income families. I-732 does nothing procedural to increase the influence of low-income families on decision making. It does, however, put most of them ahead financially. Indeed, has any reform in the last decade, aside from the Affordable Care Act, increased many low-income working families’ annual income in Washington by more than $1,000 apiece in a single stroke?”
If you’re still unsure, read the whole meticulous analysis by Sightline (fyi, they refute the supposed “budget hole” that I-732 would create):
Cliff Mass has a good overview response to many of the other objections raised to I-732, here: Why I-732 is a Win-Win.
Are We Going to Let the Perfect Be the Enemy of the Good?
You might want to check out the conversation Thom Hartman had with Vien Truong, representing opposition to I-732. Hear the perspective of the ‘No’ campaign, along with Hartman’s own reflections, i.e. Does It Have to Be Perfect?.
On that score (does it have to be perfect?), blogger John Michael Greer has a very trenchant critique of climate change activism as a whole, partially attributing it’s failure to gain traction to 4 points he calls 1) piggybacking,  2) the partisan trap, 3) purity politics, and 4) pandering to the priviledged.
1) Piggybacking: “This is the insistence that any movement for social change has to make room on its agenda for all the other currently popular movements for social change, and has to divert some of its time, labor, and resources to each of these other movements.”  The ‘No on I-732’ campaign is guilty of this charge. Many Washington Sate environmentalists actually oppose the measure and want to kill it because it does not include some of their “climate justice” concerns. Greer gives the same-sex marriage campaign as a contrasting success, where they were able to keep their eye on the ball with their single issue and not tie it to every other issue on the left (however important they may be in their own right).
2) The Partisan Trap: “The Democratic Party is the place where environmental causes go to die,” according to Greer. “This isn’t accidental,” he says. “Both US parties have perfected the art of reducing once-independent movements for social change into captive constituencies, which keep on working to elect candidates for one or the other party, while getting essentially nothing in return.” I-732 attempts to avoid this trap by making I-732 revenue neutral and enlisting the support of fiscal conservatives who care about the environment.
3) Purity Politics: “…movements for social change must exclude everyone who fails any of a battery of tests of ideological purity. It’s been pointed out, and truly, that the Right looks for allies to attract while the Left looks for heretics to expel; this is one of the reasons that for the last forty years, the Right has been so much more successful than the Left.” Greer also observes that “capacity to bridge ideological divides and find common ground on a single issue isn’t a guarantee of victory, but refusing to do so is almost always a guarantee of defeat.”  I-732 may not be perfect, but it is a very well crafted, and sincere effort to put together an initiative that bridges ideological divides and has actually gained support from both the left and the right in true bi-partisanship. It is a practical and pragmatic approach that actually has a chance to be implemented.  It will likely be too late if we think we can wait for something better.
4) Pandering to the Privileged: “Since the early 1980s, most activists have framed their appeals and their campaigns as though the only audience that mattered consisted of affluent liberals, and as often as not went out of their way to ignore or even insult the great majority of Americans—you know, the people who would have had to be on their side if their cause was going to achieve any kind of lasting victory.” It is here that the I-732 campaign might have done a better job in engaging with advocates for the poor, minority coalitions, and climate justice folks. But the reality is that I-732 will result in a larger increase of income for low income working families than any other reform of the last decade.
“In summary,  I-732 is a chance for citizens of Washington State to make a meaningful step towards reducing carbon emissions, will make our State tax system fairer and less regressive, will foster business and economic activity, and will serve as a positive example to the nation of environmentally effective bipartisan action.” – Cliff Maas

WA State Carbon Tax Initiative: I-732 Needs a Vote from You

I-732 is an initiative on the ballot here in Washington state calling for a revenue neutral carbon tax (it lowers other taxes at the same time it raises a tax on fossil fuels), and it needs and deserves your support.  Here’s how it reads on the ballot:

This measure would impose a carbon emission tax on certain fossil fuels and fossil-fuel generated electricity, reduce the sales tax by one percentage point and increase a low-income exemption, and reduce certain manufacturing taxes.

And here is how the NY Times summarized it in an Op-Ed written in support of this initiative:

[I-732] would impose a tax on greenhouse gas emissions generated by fossil fuels like petroleum, gas and coal. The tax would start at $15 per metric ton next year, increase to $25 a ton in 2018 and then rise gradually over a few decades until it hits $100 a ton in 2016 dollars. (A typical passenger car emits about five metric tons of carbon dioxide in a year.) The money raised by the tax would go to lowering the state sales tax, effectively eliminating a business tax on manufacturers and giving up to $1,500 in tax credits to low-income residents.

Climate scientists and economists have long said that one of the best ways to fight climate change is to put a price on greenhouse gas emissions and raise that price over time, which would encourage the switch to cleaner energy sources, like solar and wind. The initiative’s approach is based on a carbon tax that British Columbia put in place in 2008. Ireland and Sweden also have such taxes.

The Washington proposal would be the first in the country and could well set an example for other states.

James Hansen, perhaps the most respected and famous climate scientist and activist, has said for years that a carbon tax and dividend program is the best way to fight climate change – much more effective than the common “cap and trade” schemes politicians like to promote. Hansen is a very strong supporter of the WA state initiative.  From his op-ed in the Seattle Times:

…The most efficient way to phase out fossil fuels is a steadily rising carbon fee collected from fossil-fuel companies and distributed uniformly to the public. The public should support this “carbon fee and dividend.” Wealthy people will pay more in increased prices than they receive in the dividend. However, economic studies show that carbon fee-and-dividend spurs the economy, increases the gross national product, creates millions of jobs and rapidly reduces fossil-fuel use. Most people would come out ahead.

So why did nations from Australia to Europe and states such as California adopt an ineffectual and bureaucratic cap-and-trade system? In a word: politics. Seven years ago, then-U.S. Sen. John Kerry admitted to me that a fee-and-dividend policy was a better approach. But in words that still ring in my ears, he said, “I can’t get one vote for that.” Instead, liberals pushed for Waxman/Markey cap and trade, with votes bought and paid for by giveaways to special interests, the bill stretching to more than 2,000 pages.

Conservatives — and I, in congressional testimony — brand cap and trade as “cap and tax,” because it raises the price of energy for the public with the money used to grow government. Australians dumped the government that adopted cap and trade and rescinded the bill. California’s bureaucratic program, after 10 years, has had a vanishing effect on emissions — worse than the average of the other 49 states.

I-732 has not been compromised by special interests. Instead of giving the funds collected from fossil-fuel companies to the public, it would reduce the sales tax 15 percent — from 6.5 percent to 5.5 percent — and funds a Working Families Tax Credit for low-income families. Energy prices would rise, but the measure would induce investments in clean energy, giving Washington a head start in technology competition.

I-732 is the product of a lean group of committed people who gathered 350,000 signatures, even in the absence of support from certain “Big Green” environmental groups that remain eager to work with special interests that benefit from cap-and-trade and tax-and-spend schemes.

For the sake of government transparency, and to provide an example for other states and the rest of the world, but most of all for young people, future generations and nature, vote “yes” on I-732.

To conclude, I’ll share a portion of an email that has been going around a bit, and that perfectly expresses my thoughts (and my frustrations) around this issue. Note the reference below to the analysis of Sightline Institute. If you have any doubts about whether or not to support this issue, please delve into the Sightline analysisFrom Kristy Royce:

“…I want to make sure you hear the whole story. We are within striking distance of passing this! And this is a BIG DEAL!

So … a carbon tax. Under normal circumstances, no email would be required. Carbon tax? Yes, of course! We’ve been waiting decades for this! We’ve known for years that this is the single most effective policy to tackle climate change.

But this is not a normal time.

You may have heard that many of the progressive and green groups are not supporting I-732. You may have seen Fuse’s Progressive Voter Guide that advises a No vote on I-732. How is this possible?

That is some crazy talk!

The politics around I-732 are complicated*, but the short version is this: The groups opposing I-732 oppose it for one main reason: it is revenue neutral. In other words, it’s a carbon tax that won’t bring in any additional revenue, because it lowers other taxes at the same time it raises a tax on fossil fuels.

These groups are so committed to the idea that a carbon tax should raise new revenue that they’re willing to kill the strongest climate policy in North America over it. They’re even willing to trot out the same lies that right wing opponents always use against environmental initiatives: in the official Voters’ pamphlet, they have the audacity to call it a “job killer” and say that “it will not significantly address climate change.”

Here’s what Sightline, the Pacific Northwest’s premier progressive think tank had to say about I-732:

“I-732 would launch Washington to a position of global leadership on climate action. By implementing a pollution price, rising steadily for four decades and keeping pace with inflation thereafter, I-732 would reorient Washington’s economy away from fossil fuels and toward low-carbon options. The price would be simple to administer and would cover most of the state’s pollution. By reducing Washington’s regressive state sales tax and funding tax credits for working families, I-732 would make the state tax code more progressive.”

“Taken on whole, for us at Sightline, and judged exclusively on the basis of policy, not politics or political strategy, the policy’s flaws are cause for concern but are dwarfed by I-732’s potential benefits.”

If you’re still unsure, read the whole meticulous analysis (fyi, they refute the supposed “budget hole” that I-732 would create):

Weighing CarbonWa’s Tax Swap Initiative
Does I-732 Really Have a “Budget Hole”?
Weighing the Critiques of CarbonWA’s I-732

You can tell from the way they wrote the piece that they’re bending over backwards to avoid pissing off all their allies on the left. But facts are facts.

Please join me in supporting I-732 and helping to spread the word. Please vote YES for climate action!

Cheers,
Kristy

* The complication is mainly around the involvement of environmental justice, climate justice, and social justice groups representing communities of color. I’m not in any way minimizing the importance of the issues they’re raising. But I deeply believe that opposing I-732 over these issues is a huge mistake. As so often, perfect is the enemy of good, and I believe that to be the case here.”