By Judy Wu, Anne Shields, and Aaron Tam
For Northwest Asian Weekly
Climate change is the single greatest threat facing our planet, and unlike most issues, it requires global cooperation and has a time limit on solving it. Climate change especially requires that the two biggest polluting countries, the United States and China, both work to reduce emissions and shift to clean energy.
If we want to hold the earth’s temperature rise to a safe threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius (the goal set at the Paris Climate Summit), we only have five years left to drastically reduce emissions and accomplish that goal. That’s why China has declared a war on air pollution, invested more in clean energy than any other country in the world (more than the United States, the U.K, and Japan combined), and will implement a nationwide cap and trade next year. It’s up to voters to make sure that the second biggest polluter in the world, the United States, also takes aggressive measures to reduce emissions and protect the future for our children and grandchildren.
Asian countries face the greatest threats from air pollution and rising sea levels from climate change. Air pollution kills an estimated 1.6 million people in China every year and 1.4 million people in India. Over 50 million people in China alone will be at risk from coastal flooding by the end of the century if greenhouse gas emissions remain high.
Although the impacts of climate change and air pollution may affect Asian countries far greater than the United States, we are not safe from the impacts here either. According to Zillow, 1.9 million homes in the United States and more than 31,000 homes in Washington state are at risk of being underwater by 2100.
As the Antarctic ice shelf melts, parts of Seattle will be underwater by 2050, according to projections by Seattle Public Utilities.
As things now stand, low-income working communities of color will pay the highest price for air pollution and the effects of climate change. At the same time, they’re also the least able to pay that price for it — especially here in Washington, which has the most unfair tax system in the nation. The heavy burden on the poor will only worsen as fossil fuel emissions continue to rise.
An initiative on Washington’s November ballot, I-732, is a carbon tax swap aimed at helping us reduce air pollution, avoid the worst impacts of climate change, and give a boost to clean energy.
Here’s how it works: I-732 makes polluters pay for air pollution and climate change by putting a price on carbon pollution from fossil fuels. I-732 returns the money from the carbon tax to taxpayers, businesses, and working families by lowering the sales tax by 1 percent and lowering the B&O tax for manufacturing businesses that are energy intensive and trade exposed. The average household in Seattle will spend a couple hundred dollars more each year on gasoline, heating oil, natural gas, and other carbon-emitting fossil fuels. And they’ll save a couple hundred dollars each year when they shop, buy clothes, and make major purchases. You can see how I-732 will affect you personally by using this “tax swap calculator,” created by the University of Washington and available online at carbon.cs.washington.edu.
I-732 also funds and expands the Working Family Tax Rebate (WFTR), giving 460,000 low-income working families across the state up to $1,500 a year in tax relief as a 25 percent match of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit. I-732 would be the most progressive change to Washington state’s tax code since the sales tax was removed from groceries nearly 40 years ago.
The Washington Department of Ecology estimates that if no action is taken, climate change will cost Washington state nearly $10 billion per year by 2020 from increased health costs, storm damage, coastal destruction, rising energy costs, increased wildfires, and other impacts.
We have the opportunity this November election to pass the nation’s first carbon tax, fight poverty, and build momentum for strong, bi-partisan climate action throughout the United States before it is too late.
We have a moral responsibility to protect our children and grandchildren, leaving them a world that’s cleaner, healthier, and safer. Vote Yes on I-732, so we can take an important first step towards reducing air pollution, promoting clean energy, encouraging economic growth, and moving towards a fairer tax system for middle- and low-income families. Learn more at YesOn732.org.
Judy Wu is a first-generation college student at the University of Washington. Anne Shields is a registered nurse and mother who lives in south Seattle. Aaron Tam is a campaign coordinator for Carbon Washington’s Yes On 732 campaign and climate impact researcher.