Carbon cash for all: the DC climate plan

Camila Thorndike
3 min readDec 9, 2016

What if you could solve humanity’s two most pressing problems at once? What if you had to?

Climate change and income inequality are interrelated crises in our world, and their toxic combination could seal our global fate sooner than we expect. In March 2014, NASA-funded scientists employed a new cross-disciplinary model to analyze the drivers of civilizational breakdown. They arrived at a startling yet intuitive conclusion. Two phenomena — resource scarcity and social stratification — have played a central role in every civilization collapse of the past 5,000 years. When the unbridled few overconsume, the broader populations who sustain society are pushed to destruction.

Now that we know the trends, let’s buck them. We need a holistic policy that’s sustainable for both people and the planet. Here’s an idea: What if we taxed the key driver of climate change — carbon pollution — and then progressively returned the revenue to all residents of society? Proponents of this solution call it the “Carbon Fee and Rebate Policy.” It’s simple, fair, and built to last — and it could start as early as next year in the District of Columbia, with or without White House approval.

Windmills” by Scutter licensed under CC BY-NC-ND

The Chesapeake Climate Action Network, nationally known for its promotion of groundbreaking climate policies in the mid-Atlantic region, is committed to exploring the adoption of a fee-and-rebate policy by the municipal government of the District of Columbia in 2017. Working with a broad array of stakeholders across the city, we believe that putting a “price on carbon” is an elegant policy that simultaneously shrinks demand for dirty energy and boosts the supply of clean alternatives. And we believe that revenue collected from carbon polluters should be shared equally with all. This would actually grow the net incomes of middle- and lower-income residents and create a long-term source of non-labor revenue for everyone.

The movements for climate stability and a Universal Basic Income (UBI) are thus natural partners, and in no place are they better paired than in the District of Columbia. Even under a Republican-controlled federal government, our diverse coalition can push the DC City Council to adopt a green UBI climate plan just blocks from Congress.

The timing is critical for DC residents. Automation has arrived in our city and major sources of employment — and therefore income — are at risk. There are 61,600 restaurant and food service jobs in DC and 6,300 registered taxis. A restaurant staffed exclusively by machines opened just last week. Uber and Lyft are ubiquitous. Job loss from automation will undoubtedly exacerbate DC’s crisis of income inequality, which is already the most pronounced of all US states, and therefore hinder the twin struggle for racial justice.

Time is running out to solve the twin challenges climate change and economic injustice. But it’s not too late to defy the NASA scientists and the pattern of past failed civilizations. We can take a big, new step right now with a local policy that has international implications: a DC fee-and-rebate policy.

Sign the Carbon Rebate petition to show your support!

Originally published at



Camila Thorndike

Co-Founder, // Co-Director, #PutAPriceOnIt // Carbon Pricing Coordinator, CCAN. Oregonian in DC.