Here in Washington state, climate change is on the ballot. If Initiative 1631 passes in November, it will create a fee on emissions that cause climate change, with the goal of boosting the effort to stop the planet from getting disastrously warm.
You may be skeptical about this idea. I know I was. How can one state make a difference on a global problem like climate change? And unlike some supporters of the initiative, I am not interested in attacking the companies that provide the affordable, reliable energy that keeps our houses warm, our cars on the road, and our economy humming.
But I overcame my doubts. I support 1631. I will contribute to the Yes on 1631 campaign, I will vote yes when I fill out my ballot, and I am encouraging others to do the same.
It’s important to remember what is at stake. Climate change may be the toughest problem humanity has ever faced. To avoid the worst scenarios, we need to reduce global net greenhouse gas emissions to essentially zero in the next 50 years. Changing how we power our homes and cars won’t be enough. We also need to get to zero in every other major source of greenhouse gases, including manufacturing, transportation, and agriculture.
It’s a huge challenge, but it is solvable. We’ll need technological breakthroughs that let us run the economy—grow food, make things, move people and goods, and so on—without emitting greenhouse gases.
I am involved with a private fund, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, that is investing more than $1 billion to help entrepreneurs start new companies that will develop those breakthroughs.
But with a challenge this big and this urgent, startups need more than funding. Entrepreneurs also need new market structures that will create incentives to bring innovations out of the lab and into the market. That’s where 1631 comes in.
There are three reasons I’m in favor of this initiative.
First, passing 1631 would help Washington become a hub for innovative work on clean energy and climate. If you want to be an innovator in this field—whether you want to do academic research, start a company, or both—you will want to do it here. That’s good for everyone in the state and ultimately will foster the companies and industries that will create tens of thousands of jobs in Washington.
Can innovators in our state solve this global problem on their own? Of course not. But at a time when Congress isn’t focusing on this issue, states can develop their own ideas and explore what works now. This is an opportunity for Washington to lead the way.
Second, putting a price on pollution that causes climate change will create a clear market signal that will help drive adoption of the renewable sources of energy we can deploy today. Given the scale of the problem and the fact that we have at best 50 years to solve it, we need to deploy what we have now—where it’s appropriate—while innovating to find the technology we need for the future. Today, fossil fuels are often cheaper than renewable sources. This initiative will help level the playing field and make renewables more attractive.
Finally, 1631 will help the biggest sources of Washington’s clean energy today—nuclear power and hydropower—stay competitive. This is especially important, because nuclear and hydro are cheap and reliable and they don’t contribute to climate change. They will remain part of our clean-energy mix for the foreseeable future.
It is true that any fee like this may drive up the price of energy. But 1631 specifically requires that 35 percent of revenues from the fee will go back to low-income communities hit hard by pollution. Although that won’t ease the pain for everyone, it is a good step in the right direction.
If 1631 passes, it will create the first fee of its kind in the United States. Going first is never easy, but Washington has a history of pioneering new ideas. And because of all the benefits—shoring up nuclear and hydropower, enhancing the state’s role as a leader in innovation, and most of all accelerating progress on climate-change solutions—I believe it will be worth it. I am going to vote for it and, if you are eligible, hope you will too.