It's Time to #PutAPriceOnIt

Sam Becker

Molly O’Neill

University of Delaware

It is time to put a price on carbon pollution, and yes that is possible! You are probably thinking, “How can putting a price on pollution be done and what will that do?”

Well, I talked with Sam Becker, a student from Claremont McKenna College, to discuss the importance of this topic. Sam is a Fellow for the #PutAPriceOnIt Campaign created by Years of Living Dangerously and their partners. The campaign aims to raise awareness and support for placing a price on carbon pollution, which Sam has actively been fighting for. It provides a monetary incentive for polluters to actively reduce their current emission levels. It is a flexible, cost-efficient way to help preserve the environment and build a sustainable future.


What is the #PutAPriceOnIt campaign?

"It is a campaign led by college students throughout the country to build a base of carbon pricing supporters, mainly by gathering endorsements from college presidents and other influential citizens. The idea is that college presidents are a section of society that has a lot of power but doesn’t necessarily support environmental initiatives. Our hope is that by engaging them in discussions about carbon pricing we can turn them into advocates, which will place a greater spotlight on the situation. We are not supporting a specific carbon pricing mechanism, but rather focusing on getting the message out there and helping people understand that, in our modern world, placing a price on carbon is the most effective way to cut fossil fuel consumption."

Why is putting a price on carbon pollution important?

“It is seen as the most effective way to cut fossil fuel use. The goal of carbon pricing is to internalize the negative externalities that fossil fuel emissions have on society. These are costs that all people, especially those with lower incomes, are forced to pay due to the negative impacts of climate change. So, it is an important step forward because it holds polluters accountable for their environmental impact and sets a new precedent for the business world.”

What is the goal of the campaign and what do you hope to achieve through it?

“The goal of the campaign is to get college presidents’ endorsements, to engage students and student leaders around the country, and to work with student-led organizations to mobilize their students. While we are ultimately trying to get endorsements from college presidents, it is crucial that we are also educating students along the way, trying to bring in organizations from broader communities, and meeting with locally elected officials as well as state and federal officials. We are trying to really get the word out in a variety of ways, and we are doing so by starting with college students.”

What do you think is the reasoning for the discrepancy between regions with carbon pricing and regions and organizations still fighting for it? What would you say is the biggest obstacle we face that is keeping more from adopting such laws?

“At this point, I think it is a matter of a political gridlock and misinformation. In many areas and certain cities, there has been widespread support of carbon pricing. For instance, there are a variety of large cities that have passed ordinances saying that they support carbon pricing. But when it comes to making a real impact at a state or federal level, carbon pricing becomes much more embroiled in the gridlock that we are facing now in many states and at the federal level, which makes it difficult to pass any significant environmental initiatives. That is probably for a few different reasons. The first is that a lot of Republicans are still on the fence about climate change and are unable recognize the impact we have on our environment. Second, there are a lot of Democrats who are afraid to take too large of a stand on an issue, like carbon pricing, because of the fear of losing their seat in the next election. I think it’s critical that we keep getting more and more support from the grassroots levels and influential leaders, like presidents of colleges, in order to demonstrate to our elected officials that they have our support, and that if they do support carbon pricing then they are going to be reelected and applauded for their actions.

Then there is also the misinformation that a price on carbon is going to have a negative effect on the economy. When you look at the impact in states and countries that have enacted carbon pricing there is overwhelming evidence that suggests it does not negatively affect the economy.”

The President and many of Hollywood’s most recognizable faces support the movement. What milestone changes have been brought on by their support and what can we expect for the years to come?

“I think getting a lot of big names on board is great because it allows a broader audience to come across the idea of carbon pricing and hopefully see that, “Oh there is a thing called carbon pricing” and go study up on it or watch an interview with the president, and really come to understand it. It has been great having that broad support for carbon pricing with celebrities from a variety of backgrounds because it has made the concept accessible to a broader base of people. In years to come, it would be really important, in my opinion, to see more elected officials start asking for carbon pricing. Even in the Democratic party, which is known for advocating for environmental reform, the idea of carbon pricing is still seen as something that is a very hot button issue and therefore is left out of discussions, especially right now in the general election. In my opinion, I think it is necessary that there is a discussion of carbon pricing at all levels. I really hope to see this discussion in future presidential and congressional debates, rather than just celebrities and elected officials who are no longer going to be in office because their term is about to be up or has already ended.”

What do you think is the biggest change brought on by the campaign so far?

“I can’t speak to any changes that I have necessarily seen on a larger scale, but I would say that the most important changes that I have seen so far are at a smaller level. It is the student who has never heard of carbon pricing before but now knows what carbon pricing is, is a supporter of it, and tells his or her friends about carbon pricing. It is the non-profit organizations that we reached out to and started to collaborate with. In our case, one of these organizations is now going to support carbon pricing and attempt to get their local, state, and federal members of congress on board. It has been really cool to be part of a campaign that is doing great work to educate people about the most vital environmental policy of our time.”

How did you get involved with the #PutAPriceOnIt campaign and what inspired you to take action?

“I have been doing fellowships with a group called Oregon Climate, which started advocating for an emission cap-and-dividend in Oregon. I worked with them this past summer, and then they teamed up with Years of Living Dangerously and facilitated the #PutAPriceOnIt campaign, so it was kind of a natural transition for me to jump into this work. It has been really great so far. The whole idea for this campaign actually kind of came out of work that I was helping to lead last semester at the Claremont Colleges. We had the idea that we should approach college presidents and ask them to endorse the idea of carbon pricing to try to facilitate a national discussion. It has been awesome to see our idea turn into a national campaign that was picked up by Years of Living Dangerously. So that is kind of how I got involved more recently, but I have always had a deep gratitude for the natural world. I want to do all I can to make sure that future generations are provided with a world that is characterized by the same natural beauty and economic opportunity that I currently have access to.”

Have you been able to talk to your college president about carbon pricing?

“Last year, we spoke to college presidents at the Claremont Colleges. We got endorsements from Pomona’s president, on behalf of the college and we are currently working to get endorsements from Pitzer’s president. The in-term president at Scripps supported it as an individual, as well as the president of Harvey Mudd. However, the president of Claremont McKenna was extremely opposed to the idea, which was frustrating because we tried to create a successful campaign by gathering hundreds of signatures from Claremont McKenna students in support of carbon pricing before we met with him. His primary reasons for not supporting the initiative were that he was not a climate scientist and couldn’t support any initiative that had to do with climate change. This struck us as disappointing because it doesn't take a climate scientist to comprehend the scientific consensus that climate change is happening and is, at least to some extent, caused by humans. We hope to re-approach him maybe at the end of this semester or the middle of next semester, as we get more support from college presidents around the country.”

How do you inspire other college students to understand the weight of this issue and start supporting carbon pricing?

“I think the best way to do so is to have a conversation with them. There are a lot of cases where students either don't know what a price on carbon is or are not supportive of the issue, but once we talk with them about it, even for a minute, they are able to have a better grasp on its function and the positive impacts of it. Through these discussions, it is possible to get a lot of people on board and inspire people to stand up in support of our campaign, and that has been a truly amazing experience so far.”

After reading this article, I’m sure a lot of people are going to want to get involved. How can they do so?

“Go to the #PutAPriceOnIt campaign website You can sign up to lead a campaign at your own college. If your college already has a campaign going, I encourage you to reach out to those students and help them out.”

To keep up with all things #PutAPriceOnIt, follow the campaign on social media through the links below:


Twitter: @PriceOnIt

Instagram: putapriceonit

Facebook: @putapriceonit