Guest opinion: The case for a carbon-free tomato
In the fall of 2013, I broke ground on a new organic vegetable farm in the Crystal River Valley at Sunfire Ranch after six seasons of growing in the Roaring Fork Valley. I even went to school for soil science at Virginia Tech. Agriculture is both my livelihood and my passion.
As a young farmer in a drought-prone Western state, I worry about water and about potential shortages in the future due to climate change. Like any good farmer, I know weather is fickle, but I also trust the consensus of 97 percent of scientists who agree that humans are changing Earth’s atmosphere and long-term climate by burning fossil fuels. Looking at the drought in California, I would rather err on the side of caution and find solutions now, rather than wait and see what happens.
That’s why I was relieved to learn from the local chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby that a policy proposal has been crafted that everyone — Republicans, Democrats and political agnostics alike — should be able to agree on. It’s called carbon fee and dividend, and our Congressman Scott Tipton and Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner already know about it. They’re waiting to hear from more of us to take action in Congress.
The idea is simple, and at less than two pages, easy to read for yourself. The U.S. Treasury would collect a fee on all oil, coal or natural gas when it comes out of the ground or across our borders, then give all the money back to American households as a monthly dividend. Since it’s not a tax, none of it will be eaten up by hard-to-track federal programs.
Fee and dividend is effective at reducing emissions because the fossil fuel companies will pass along their increased costs to consumers.
Many customers I see at farmers’ markets these days want to buy more local food, but find it’s too expensive. But with carbon fee and dividend, the pesticide-laden tomato trucked from California will suddenly bear its true cost to society and have a higher price tag.
When you have the choice to buy that or my delicious, organic, heirloom tomatoes grown right here at the foot of Thompson Creek for about the same price, you may decide it’s a no-brainer to buy local and chemical-free. A recent economic study showed that as millions of Americans change the calculus of their dozens of daily decisions, carbon emissions will fall about 50 percent within 20 years of enacting the policy. There is no other option on the table that even comes close.
“Oh, no!” you might think, “I can see what’s happening here. My whole life will become more expensive.” But actually, that isn’t the case. An economic study of the carbon fee and dividend idea found that most families, especially lower- and middle-income folks, will get more back in the dividend than they experience in price hikes. And if you make a few key moves, like riding your bicycle around town and turning your lights off, for instance, you will save a lot more.
I intend to farm in this valley for decades to come. It will be much easier for me to produce the nutritious, sustainably grown crops that I offer if there is ample water for growing thanks to reduced greenhouse gas emissions that keep climate change from spiraling out of control. And it will be much easier for the fine people of this region to afford and enjoy the bounty I grow with a carbon dividend in their pocket and a fee on the high-carbon products that make people and the planet sick.
Congress responds to the will of the people. As a farmer, my time is limited, but I fit one handwritten letter about carbon fee and dividend to Tipton, Bennet and Gardner into my schedule every month. If I don’t do it, who will?
Casey Piscura operates Wild Mountain Seeds outside of Carbondale. Learn more about carbon fee and dividend at http://www.citizensclimatelobby.org.
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