You’ve heard about the canary in the coal mine? Miners used to employ a wide variety of tools to keep tabs on the presence of dangerous gases underground, like methane and carbon monoxide. One of the most popular methods used was a caged, live canary, tied to the lead miner. The person behind watched closely to raise the evacuation alarm if the canary fell off its perch.
Like the miners, we know that birds are extremely sensitive to changes in the environment. Scientists with the National Audubon Society have found that of the nearly 600 bird species that call North America home, over half are already threatened by climate change.
When my children were little, they used to spend hours helping their grandfather feed and watch hummingbirds. As I learned more about how climate change was threatening the very existence of these beautiful creatures, I understood the profound obligation we have to take swift action, on behalf of the birds, certainly, but more importantly for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren.
While our elected politicians dither on what to do about climate change, there is a policy prescription that economists, environmentalists, and scientists all agree will make a huge difference: putting an effective price on carbon emissions.
Thanks to a grassroots effort across the State of Washington, voters will have a chance in just a few weeks to consider the nation’s very first tax on carbon, Initiative 732. It is modeled after British Columbia’s successful carbon tax policy, which was implemented in 2008 and dramatically decreased fossil fuel use, even as the BC economy continued to outpace the rest of Canada.
The policy is simple. I-732 is a tax swap, which means it won’t make our tax system bigger or smaller. Instead, it puts a price on dirty fossil fuels, but not on clean energy, and turns that revenue into tax relief for individuals, working families, and businesses in the state.
The Sightline Institute, an independent sustainability think tank, has said it “will put wind in the sails of Washington’s clean energy economy as nothing else possible.” The policy is so simple, in fact, that we think it could become a model for the rest of the country. Though it is difficult, if not nearly impossible, to get voters of either party to agree on much these days, I-732 has attracted broad bipartisan support.
While more than 20 percent of voters are still undecided about whether they’ll support the initiative, our polling suggests that those who receive an explanation of how the initiative works are far more likely to support it. Most interesting, I think, is that educated women across the political spectrum are the most likely to go from undecided to supportive.
Right now, the Yes on I-732 campaign is in the middle of the biggest voter education effort the state has ever seen, with a goal of reaching one million voters by Election Day.
Even if you’re not a Washington State resident, I hope you’ll join Audubon Washington in supporting this important effort and reaching the women we know can make a difference in this election. You can also help by making a donation directly to the campaign or volunteering to help call registered voters to let them know about this important initiative.
The world is warming at an alarming rate, and we need to listen to what the birds and our children are telling us. The climate won’t wait. We all have a moral responsibility to focus on carbon reduction now to protect our children and future generations by tackling climate change now, and leaving them a cleaner, healthier, safer world.
Gail Gatton is Executive Director of Audubon Washington. She has over 25 years’ experience ranging from high school education to conservation policy work. Gail spent eight years working as an environmental policy consultant for the firm of Ross & Associates and 15 years in Alaska included working for a variety of political and environmental organizations and serving on the boards of several organizations, including the ACLU.