Carbon Pricing Initiatives: An Interview with Tom Erb
Tom Erb is a communications and advocacy consultant for the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition at the World Bank Group. During his undergraduate years at Pomona College, he helped with climate action initiatives such as the “Put A Price On It” campaign, and the Claremont 50 Home Challenge. Tom Erb discusses carbon pricing, and his choice to pursue climate action through policy. To learn more about the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, visit their website.
Mikaela: Tell us a little bit about you and your background. What climate justice work were you involved in during your undergraduate years?
Tom: Climate is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century, and I am dedicated to finding my role in addressing it. In my sophomore year of college, I organized an event (Know Tomorrow Claremont) as a part of the national Know Tomorrow campaign. Due to the relentless hard work of the Claremont team, we attracted over 600 students to attend and learn about climate action through speakers, booths, and art installations. From there, we wanted to move beyond education and towards solutions. So, we launched a carbon pricing campaign at the Claremont Colleges. Shortly after, the documentary series, Years of Living Dangerously started following our work for their second season on National Geographic, and we teamed up with the non-profit Our Climate to launch the “Put A Price On It” (PAPOI) campaign.
Mikaela: What is the “Put a Price on It” campaign?
Tom: "Put a Price on It" (PAPOI) is a national effort to recruit, train, and support youth leaders to advocate for effective and equitable carbon pricing policies. I was one of the original organizers of the campaign and the National Field Organizer for 2 years (mostly overlapping with my time at Pomona). We grew the campaign to over 120 campuses in about a year, and PAPOI is still leading state carbon pricing efforts across the United States. Their leadership, including Page Atcheson and Cassidy Jones, is extremely impressive and it was a pleasure to be their colleague.
Mikaela: What carbon pricing work are you doing currently?
Tom: I currently work in Washington D.C. at the World Bank Group's headquarters. I am a part of the Climate Change team and specifically focus on the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition. The CPLC has around 270 partners including governments, businesses, and civil society organizations that are all working towards greater implementation of effective carbon prices. I work on communications and advocacy for the Coalition and have a focus on higher-education and civil society. I also support the production and marketing of reports/knowledge products such as the Carbon Pricing Dashboard.
Mikaela: In your opinion, what needs to be done from a policy perspective to mitigate climate change?
Tom: Policy is key because it is the primary driver of change at scale. So, the short answer is: we need to give the private sector, consumers, and governments the incentive to move away from pollution and towards a clean economy. A carbon price is an effective way to do this because you can create an economy-wide incentive to shift away from dirty sources of energy and towards low-carbon and zero-carbon sources. The problem is that CO2 has a cost that is not reflected in our current economic systems. Essentially, pollution is free. Who thinks that is fair?
A carbon price reflects the true cost of our products, and economic actors (people, businesses, governments) are then motivated to find the most efficient ways to reduce emissions and continue to create economic opportunities. Think about it: you put a simple policy in place, and you get economic innovation, less pollution, and significant amounts of new revenue. That revenue can be given back to households to actually increase the amount of money in people's pockets, it can be invested into clean energy projects and research, or any other beneficial purpose that makes sense to the administrator of the price. To be clear, carbon pricing is not the end-all solution to climate change. However, it needs to be a part of the batch of solutions, and it will be a significant driver of the new solutions we have yet to discover.
Mikaela: What is one piece of information that you’ve come across in your work/research that you found surprising?
Tom: I am always impressed by the number of businesses that are already using internal carbon pricing in their operations. The business community gets it: we are moving towards a low-carbon world and it makes sense to prepare my business for it. It is planning for climate risk, the right thing to do for the planet, and a smart business move. In 2017, over 1300 companies disclosed that they are using or planning to use internal carbon pricing in the next two years. We recently released a report on carbon pricing in the construction value chain, and there is interesting work on carbon pricing in the maritime sector as well. Seeing carbon pricing applied across different sectors is incredibly encouraging to me. Businesses are the engines of our economy, and with the right incentives, like a price on carbon, they will innovate in ways we could never have imagined. This is one of the big reasons I remain hopeful: when given the right incentives, our ability to innovate is truly incredible.
Mikaela: How can we inspire people to take action against climate change?
Tom: I think it comes down to empowering people. Climate change is a scary problem, but it is also an incredible opportunity. It is an opportunity for all of us to work together to build a world that is more equitable, more sustainable, and more prosperous. It is a chance for each of us to shape a world that is better for us and our planet. I think it is fair to say the human race is capable of building economic opportunity and maintaining clean air and water.
We can be apathetic and cynical in the face of a difficult challenge, or we can innovate to seize this century’s greatest opportunity. I think people who are presented those choices will choose the latter because climate action is about more than just the amount of CO2 in the air: it is about the health of our kids, the safety of our families, and the opportunities we are given. It is about everyday things we all care about. We feel empowered to fulfill those duties. Climate action is just another part of that.