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What comes after *Yes, we can!*

So what next for climate activists swept up in ‘Yes, we can!' mania?  Perhaps we first must acknowledge how hard this is going to be.  As a friend wrote to me in reaction to last week's blog post, "I share your enthusiasm about the long-term, but the near term is going to be very challenging.  Obama needs to convince the public that some pain is required immediately in order to clean out the problems in the financial system, mortgage markets, and budget deficit." My friend is right of course, and so-far-so-good for the new administration: props to Obama for talking about sacrifice in his first - gotta love it! - weekly video address. One interesting question for the President-elect's transition team is whether the perceived sacrifice of cap-and-trade legislation makes it difficult to champion such a bill, which must eventually be at the heart of national climate policy.  It's true, as Peter Barnes has been championing for years, that a cap-and-dividend program would be progressive fiscal policy: lower- and middle-income households would receive a dividend that would more than compensate for the higher energy prices of a carbon-capped economy.  And as Rob Stavins of Harvard has just noted, cap-and-dividend "can go a long way toward making the legislation palatable to Republicans and Democrats alike who are reticent to take any actions that even resemble a tax increase." But the question remains: given these fragile economic times, should the new administration be out front of a cap-and-dividend policy immediately, or should they promote - (in the words of Ignition co-authors Chris Klyza and David Sousa) - another ‘policy pathway'?  Michael Northrup and David Sasoon have a compelling new piece which argues that the President-elect can use his executive power under the Clean Air Act to ‘jump start' climate action - perhaps even to initiate a national carbon trading regime without new legislation.  This appealing idea should be vetted - particularly in light of the decision last week by the EPA's Environmental Appeals Board that, according to the Sierra Club, "all new and proposed coal plants nationwide must go back and address their carbon dioxide emissions." As the demands on the new Congress stack up, following a pathway of executive branch policy making has a lot of appeal. But I confess that I am drawn back to my friend's point about calling for sacrifice.  Even with the prospect of receiving a large dividend to compensate for higher energy prices, most American voters are likely to balk at cap-and-dividend... unless the new President is willing to make the case that short-term pain will produce long-term gain.  In fact, the case for a clean-energy strategy is more compelling than ever: think 5,000,000 new jobs, greater energy independence, less reliance on Middle Eastern oil ... and the chance that we might yet save the planet from runaway climate change. So if President-elect Obama does begin to detail his call for national sacrifice in the days and weeks ahead, cap-and-dividend should be in the forefront of his call. What do you think? Leave us a comment. ———- Jonathan Isham is Luce Professor of International Environmental Economics at Middlebury College in Vermont and co-editor of Ignition: What You Can Do to Fight Global Warming and Spark a Movement. Visit his website.