Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Dear Members of Congress,

I am writing to ask you to take quick and decisive action addressing the climate change crisis.  Specifically, I ask that you pass legislation creating a tax on fossil fuels based on the CO2 content of those fuels at the first point of sale.  I am a public-interest environmental attorney and have been studying solutions to climate change for years.  A gradually increasing fee on carbon is the most effective way to rein in our country’s dangerous carbon addiction.

This letter also serves as an invitation.  In addition to lawyering, I am a fiction writer.  I have recently written a novel that takes place in San Francisco in 2091 called Out of the Fog.  My story depicts a world radically altered by climate change.  I am publishing it serially on my newly created blog (http://outofthefogjh.blogspot.com/).  I will publish one chapter per week for the next 52 weeks, starting this Friday, January 24, 2014.  And here’s the twist:  the ending of the story will be dictated by your action or inaction.  Thus the fate of my characters will be decided by you, just as the health and well-being of future generations depends on your passing a rapid and robust response to the climate crisis.

Governor Jerry Brown just declared a drought emergency in California, my home state.  The Sierra Nevada snowpack is staggeringly low at 17 percent of normal.  California’s looming disaster is only one of a long list of recent climate-related tragedies, including unprecedented wildfires in Colorado and Texas and the extremely costly Superstorm Sandy.  How many catastrophes must our nation endure before the federal government is willing to take action?

Please read Out of the Fog and make 2014 the year America rises to the climate change challenge and begins leading the world toward a healthier planet.
Joshua A.H. Harris


  1. Brilliant Joshy. I hope this gets the attention of congress and that we all join you to demand action. It's on us to do so. Thanks for doing your part.

  2. I truly appreciate your passion on this subject Josh regardless of our differing views on climate change. Currently there is little option but to continue the use of fossil fuels for decades to come. I have found that if the climate change issue is sidelined and we address the root of the issue, being energy production, there may be ways to achieve common ground. So I pose this question to you, If not carbon, what? I'm all for nuclear fuel but that isn't popular and dangerous. I think wind is cool but its not efficient. Solar has potential but logistics and economics aren't there yet. Cold fusion is a pipe dream. Hydrogen fuel cell technology could get there some day. I think carbon capture technology is likely part of the future, and yes coal will be a part of that. I potentially see a place for carbon taxation but question its use unless its applied globally. I'm eager to read your blog and hear more about your ideas Josh.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts and your open-mindedness, Dave. My answer: we need to do everything we can to reduce carbon emissions, including increasing energy efficiency and creating renewable distributed generation (DG) energy production (including solar, wind, tidal . . .) near population centers. When talking about the economic feasibility of renewable energy, it is important to keep a few things in mind. First, as the recently leaked draft report from the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change demonstrates, if we do not begin to address climate change in earnest now, the costs to remedy the future climate chaos will be staggering. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/17/science/earth/un-says-lag-in-confronting-climate-woes-will-be-costly.html?_r=0. Penny wise, pound foolish, as the old saying goes. Second, fossil fuel based energy receives extraordinary subsidies from government sources. http://priceofoil.org/fossil-fuel-subsidies/. Comparing heavily subsidized carbon-based energy to renewable sources is complicated. Such an analysis must always include all of the costs, including subsidies and all external costs that are borne by taxpayers (such as, for example, rebuilding cities after massive storms intensified by climate change like Superstorm Sandy or paying disaster relief to farmers suffering a potentially devastating drought (http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/California-drought-Farmers-ranchers-face-5156184.php). In other words, carbon energy is not cheap . . . not at all. As a final thought, what we lack are not solutions; what we lack is the political will to accomplish significant reductions in a timely manner (something I am trying in my own small way to change). Our leaders in Washington need to prioritize climate change before it is too late. Not only is it in our nation's long-term economic interest, it is the only moral option.

    2. Also for your consideration:


      "Other generations have taken on great challenges. They've defeated fascism in Europe. They've put a man on the moon. But we have an opportunity to accomplish something even bigger. We could be the generation that finds a way for society to power itself sustainably and cleanly, forever. Let me repeat that: forever. We have an opportunity to create a prosperous society that forevermore gets all of its power from sources that are safe and secure and sustainable. What an amazing accomplishment, and it's actually within our grasp."

    3. I agree subsidies for ALL forms of the energy market need to go away in order to let economics sort themselves out in the market. If this isn't done, any thought of carbon taxation wouldn't work well. From my understanding of the global energy needs, conservation efforts and renewable energy will simply not be enough. If there is a viable solution on the table, there will be more support politically for political success, right? Simply trying to cram climate change legislation through doesn't engage those that are on the fence politically. There is definitely a technical and educational aspect to this that must be addressed, and you are addressing the educational aspect nicely.

      Once more comment, since I am involved in the wind industry, I find it ironic environmentalists who fight hard for renewable energy are also fighting to keep it from happening. There is an environmental cost to whatever we do and we are going to have to do a better job of prioritizing what environmental costs we are willing to accept.

    4. If we were at war... overnight the economics of energy-use would change... instead of war against a foreign nation, we are at war with our own greed and selfishness. The energy practices we currently tolerate are genocidal, suicidal, and even in the short run economically unjustifiable. At the very least the American people need to stop subsidizing private oil producers and start charging all energy producers for their embedded social costs.

  3. What a truly novel idea (pun intended) for your novel & an modernized version of socio-eco-political activism. I am proud to call you my friend & eagerly await the chapters to come with Out of the Fog. The challenge is before us & the time to act is now. You, Josh, have taken a bold & decisive step. Keep walking. See you on your blog.

  4. Well put Joshua (Tree) - you root us, you ground us. Keep on doing. For anyone who travels around the globe, it's easy to witness first-hand the climate changes our planet is undergoing. I just got back from polar vortex in NYC to a hot toasty and very dry CA and over in Dublin, Ireland (my hometown) it's been seasonably warm - almost cote d'azur like and for us fair-skinned folk, it's all very scarey. Each and every action we take will have an impact - how can it not? I'm no expert on the facts but I am so happy and proud that you Josh are. Admirable work and I for one will be watching and reading with anticipation for a great outcome.

  5. way to go Josh!! one person can make a difference.