More than 700 companies that drive the U.S. economy - including Microsoft, Owens Corning,General Motors, the Portland Trail Blazers and candymaker Mars - have signed a declaration calling for national action on climate change. This is a remarkable shift in how some of the nation's biggest corporations view the threat posed by climate change. Policymakers should take notice.
The nation's five biggest oil giants are among a smaller set of companies that had strongly resisted proposals to address climate change but now are incorporating its practical impact into their strategic planning. According to a new report by the environmental data company CDP, more than two dozen of the nation's leading corporations are planning for the future with the expectation that carbon emissions fees will be one of the steps the federal government will take to address climate change. In other words, some of the very companies that have strongly opposed action to address climate change are recognizing that carbon pricing - a fee based on the amount of carbon pollution that some sources of energy release into our air - is likely.
The goals of carbon pricing include curbing our fossil fuel use, encouraging lower carbon emissions, creating jobs and spurring innovation. Cutting carbon pollution will help keep our air and water clean and protect our children from respiratory illnesses such as asthma. It also will help families and businesses across America save money.
There is a growing consensus that putting a price on carbon pollution is the most effective way to fight global warming. Pricing carbon has been endorsed by people across the political spectrum, including prominent conservatives George Shultz, Nobel laureate economist Gary Becker and Mitt Romney's former economic adviser Gregory Mankiw.
The scientific community is virtually united in saying that global warming poses an enormous threat and that it is caused largely by human activity. The insurance industry, which views the costs of climate change in starkly economic terms, also has weighed in. Munich Re, the largest reinsurance company in the world, calculated that the cost of damages from natural catastrophes in the United States exceeded $139 billion in 2012 alone. "Climate change," they report, "represents a threat to our business."
National security experts, including the top American military officer in charge of Pacific security, Navy Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, have identified climate change as the largest long-term security threat to the Pacific region. As sea levels rise and food production is severely undermined by climate disruption, potentially millions of people could be displaced, conflicts over resources will be amplified, and entire regions of the globe will become destabilized.
To address this global crisis, we introduced the Climate Protection Act. Our bill would establish a fee on each ton of carbon pollution emitted from the fossil fuel we produce and import. It would return 60 percent of the revenue directly to taxpayers.
The act would use the remaining revenue to support sustainable energy research, weatherize homes, help businesses save money through energy efficiency, grow the economy, and reduce the deficit. Our bill would reverse carbon pollution and help create millions of jobs as we transform our energy system away from fossil fuel and toward energy efficiency and sustainable energies like wind, solar and geothermal.
"This policy framework would protect our economic growth while protecting vulnerable consumers by putting money right back in their pockets," Public Citizen's Tyson Slocum noted. "It rewards those who use less energy at home, and it invests in retrofitting and preparing the homes and communities most vulnerable to violent weather and high energy costs."
In addition to calling for action on climate change, many of the nation's largest corporations are incorporating carbon pricing into their strategic planning, including Microsoft, General Electric, Walt Disney, ConAgra Foods, Wells Fargo, DuPont, Duke Energy, Google, Delta Air Lines, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, BP and Shell. ExxonMobil expects that carbon pollution eventually will be priced at about $60 a ton, three times more than our bill proposes.
Climate change is the single greatest threat to our country and our planet, and future generations will look back to this moment and judge us by the decisions we make today. The scientific community, those responsible for protecting our national security, the American public and corporations increasingly are recognizing that climate change is happening now and that carbon pricing is likely to be part of the solution. It is time for Congress to act.
Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., is chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent from Vermont, is a member of the environment and energy committees.
This op-ed appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle on Wednesday, January 8, 2014