The lack of U.S. policy to mitigate climate change has severe consequences for the safety or survival of communities worldwide. Global warming and climate change may be the greatest coming threat to our collective security. Diminished resources and massive displacement due to rising seas, regional crop failures, destructive storms, and desertification are likely to fuel future armed conflicts as well as increase ongoing communal violence. Climate change is also a divisive political issue—and in order to address the coming challenges, we will need to find common ground.

About the Program

Through Transforming the Conversation on Carbon Pricing (TCCP), we co-facilitate national, confidential dialogues to build common ground for climate change solutions across political and ideological divides. TCCP combines the international peacebuilding expertise of Karuna Center, and the climate and environmental strategy experience of Pattern Change Lab, to guide participants beyond positional stances to build trust based in understanding each other’s deeper interests and needs.

TCCP dialogues focus specifically on improving understanding and relationships between environmental justice proponents and carbon pricing advocates. While carbon pricing advocates seek a tax, or some kind of price, on carbon pollution, environmental justice focuses on the rights of communities directly impacted by pollution—who are disproportionately people of color and low-income. TCCP’s dialogue process has allowed carbon pricing advocates to better understand the urgent human rights concerns of communities whose need for clean air, water, and soil is not necessarily addressed by market-based approaches for reducing emissions. The process has likewise created a space for proponents of environmental justice to explore new approaches to carbon pricing that seek to take these concerns into account, and to better understand the motivations of carbon pricing advocates who range from politically conservative to progressive. These relationships have created opportunities for TCCP participants to give feedback to congressional offices working on legislation to put a price on carbon as a means of reducing greenhouse gases.

In 2024, TCCP is continuing to work with an expanded group of participants to develop Phase 2 of this project, which focuses on creating a set of concrete policy recommendations for carbon pricing mechanisms that avoid negative impacts and protect all communities’ right to a healthy environment. The projects plans to hold one retreat in a rural coal-mining region, and one in an urban environment. This phase of work is guided by the question: How do we design a pricing carbon policy with equity and justice from the start? Over the next two years, the project aims to:

  • Bring together a range of thought leaders engaged with environmental justice and carbon pricing, over a series of in-person retreats
  • Develop a detailed document with core design principles and guidance that can be used by state and federal policy-makers
  • Maintain relationships with frontline communities to ensure their concerns are understood, represented, and included
  • Support carbon pricing policy that addresses equity and justice concerns, and is actually inclusive and accountable to impacted communities
  • Move beyond naming common principles, to hash out the specifics of what equitable and just carbon pricing would actually look like—both in terms of the process, and in terms of actual policy components

The links between our environment, equity, justice, and health were thrust to the forefront again recently, as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold with disproportionate impact in communities of color. Pollution sources are disproportionately sited in communities of color, causing higher rates of some “pre-existing conditions.” Research has further connected poor air quality with severe COVID-19. 

TCCP is the start of a conversation that we hope will increase understanding and respect for environmental justice in policy conversations about pricing carbon, and build common ground among a broader network to address climate change.

Prior to Phase 2 of TCCP, Karuna Center worked together with Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, Pricing Carbon Initiative, and Citizens’ Climate Lobby since 2019 to create a constructive space for people from very different perspectives on carbon pricing to build trust and alignment in their work.

TCCP grew out of a partnership with Pricing Carbon Initiative (PCI), which is a broad network fostering dialogue and encouraging viable solutions that would put a price on carbon pollution in the US. We have partnered with PCI to hold national dialogues among stakeholders since 2011, when Karuna Center director Olivia Dreier helped plan and facilitate the Summit for Environmental Leaders that led to PCI’s formation. These dialogues are now held quarterly, and reach across the political aisle to involve more than 100 key organizations, ranging from environmentalists and progressive organizations to businesses and right-leaning think tanks.

In PCI and TCCP dialogues, carbon pricing is not treated as an alternative to regulation, reduced consumption, environmental protection, or alternative energy: it is considered as one pragmatic approach, among others, to potentially reduce emissions fast.

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More Than Just Talk: Dialogue and Environmental Justice

How can dialogue build common ground for equity and justice? What is the role of dialogue within our movements? How do we build effective alliances to end environmental injustice and support sustainability?

Our March 1, 2022 Karuna Connectors conversation with Olivia Dreier and Tina Johnson touched on these questions and more. For the past three years, Tina and Olivia have co-facilitated Transforming the Conversation on Carbon Pricing. This unique initiative brings a range of climate justice activists and policy advocates together for confidential dialogues that cultivate common ground.

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