I get a thrill out of summer travel — road trips, camping and the occasional long vacation. My wife and I enjoyed two weeks this summer in the mountains and along the coast of Oregon, where I reveled in stunning forests, riverside hikes, and the rare chance to rent a surfboard and paddle out to catch waves.
Of course, recreational getaways often reflect a lifestyle based on consumption. Food, drink, fuel, experiences — as the saying goes, “We’re livin’ large.”
I enjoy it as much as anyone — looking forward to the next great meal, fresh-roasted coffee in the morning, the latest craft brew toward evening. All that comes due when the next Visa statement arrives.
But what about the other costs?
The amount of fossil fuel burnt in our recreational playgrounds stuns me. RVs, trailers, mega-trucks, classic cars, motorcycles, off-road vehicles, boats, jet skis, air travel — it’s all high horsepower running on cheap oil.
It hit me hard: Our love affair with fossil fuels won’t end easily.
I was discouraged as we drove through the Coast Range headed back to Portland to return home. Ironically, I found roadside comfort when we pulled into a rest stop to stretch briefly. My inspiration came from signage in the Tillamook State Forest, describing what’s known as the Tillamook Burn.
“The Burn” was a series of fires that destroyed 350,000 acres of magnificent old-growth forest in four separate fires between 1933 and 1951.
The first fire started when a steel cable rubbed against dry bark, creating, in the words of one writer, “a tiny spark that blew into a hurricane of fire.” That first blaze was eventually extinguished by seasonal rains, but debris from the fire reached ships 500 miles at sea. The loss in lumber was estimated at $442 million in 1933 dollars — a serious loss as the nation struggled through the Great Depression. Remarkably, only one firefighter was killed.
Repeated burns led some to think that massive wildfires were inevitable and the land was now too damaged from intense heat to ever again sustain forests. The fires presented a scope of devastation that overwhelmed people’s thinking and dampened their spirits, leaving discouragement and doubt.
But over time, cooperation by citizens, government, land owners, scientists and others resulted in efforts to restore The Burn. Hearings begun during World War II eventually resulted in a decades-long reforestation program.
Success depended on joint public-private efforts. Volunteers included young people who eagerly hand-planted about a million seedlings over 20 years — a fraction of the 72 million total trees planted. Everything from state prisoners to newly designed helicopters played a part in that massive restoration.
Reforestation took place simultaneously with forest-industry research into better methods of planting trees and maintaining mature forests. Eventually the area began to recover and in 1973 was dedicated as state forest.
As I stood there in late June under a shady canopy of impressive second-growth trees, one fact jumped out at me: In central Oregon — when they were pressed — people, institutions and communities rallied to deal with a problem that at the time seemed impossible.
What really brought me hope was realizing that nowadays, facing an escalating climate crisis, we have similar abilities to cooperate and innovate.
Can we apply lessons from the Tillamook Burn to an Earth already damaged by climate change? Maybe. But why not go one step further and come together and prevent planetary burn in the first place?
Leaders in business, politics, and science believe there’s a way to make this happen. It’s called carbon fee and dividend. That simply means making dirty fuels more expensive (the fee) and returning that money to each household (the dividend) so we can buy cleaner fuel and better technology.
Carbon fee and dividend came to the fore through the efforts of Marshal Saunders, Citizens Climate Lobby founder. Early on, Saunders realized that climate peril, in his words, “would demand a solution sufficient to match the problem.”
The fee and dividend approach is “a climate solution where all sides can win,” says Ted Halstead, founder and CEO of the conservative-led Climate Leadership Council. Halstead sees carbon dividends as an avenue “so promising it can break through seemingly insurmountable barriers.”
These and other groups lead a rapidly growing national and international movement to price carbon, slow atmospheric warming, and create a healthy future.
In the U.S. House of Representatives 50 members — 25 Republicans and 25 Democrats — have joined the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, up from only 14 last year. These leaders are discussing realistic climate policies and resisting some of the administration’s worst environmental rollbacks.
Looking ahead, I’d love to spend more time in stunning outdoor Oregon. But when my wife and I do travel, we look forward to more options in clean transportation. Carbon fee and dividend is the surest way to get there.
Jeremiah Cahill of Madison volunteers on climate issues, dotes on his granddaughters, and gets out of doors as much as he can.
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