Student leaders at the school followed in alum Alex Posner’s ‘13 footsteps when they kickstarted High Schoolers for Carbon Dividends (HS4CD) via an organization-wide Zoom call last Sunday. HS4CD is an extension of Posner’s national college-level network, Students for Carbon Dividends (S4CD).
Both groups aim to raise public awareness about and put pressure on Congress to pass the Carbon Dividends (CD) bill when it is discussed in Congress in 2021 or 2022.
According to S4CD’s website, Carbon Dividends would enact a steadily increasing tax on carbon emissions and then return the revenue it raised to Americans in the form of a monthly check, called a dividend. Additionally, the plan would place a fee on imports from countries without a carbon dividend and eliminate certain carbon emission regulations.
The CD bill is one of the first bipartisan plans to take on climate change, HS4CD Co-President Belle Beyer (12) said. “Most climate legislation is voted down by Republicans as soon as it reaches Congress, especially the Senate,” she said. “Because of [this bill’s] ability to appeal to both sides, it has gained more traction than other climate policies. If you want to pass climate policy, you need both sides to support it.”
The plan appeals to conservatives because it rolls back environmental regulations from the government, is revenue neutral, and allows the free market to run its course, Co-President of HS4CD Jude Herwitz (12) said.
Carbon Dividend’s bipartisanship is the best thing about it, Herwitz said. “It’s supported on both sides of the aisle so it has a real chance of happening. It’s radical, but it’s radical in its brilliance,” he said.
Looking to bring in students on a high school level, Posner turned to the school’s community to start HS4CD. “You need a committed, talented group of student leaders,” Posner said. “I have never met a group of students as dynamic, passionate, and driven as students at Horace Mann. It was a natural fit to reach out to HM students.”
Posner reached out to Beyer and Co-President Roey Nornberg (12) last summer, who were instantly on board because of HS4CD’s potential to make lasting change, Nornberg said. “It was also an exciting opportunity to get involved with my community,” he said. “We got in touch with other student leaders like Herwitz and soon we built a whole team at HM.”
While Nornberg, Beyer, and Herwitz advocate strongly for carbon dividends, Gavin Song (9) considers himself more of a “cautious supporter,” he said. The proposed plan gets rid of certain carbon emissions regulations, because of the idea that carbon dividends alone are enough. Song said this deregulation would be a step backwards, as it removes shields against emissions.
Natalie Sweet (11) advocates for other climate policies along with dividends. Sweet is the Director of Communications at Zero Hour, a youth climate activist group. She has been somewhat involved with HS4CD, supporting them and connecting them to a network of student climate activists in the city.
While Sweet finds the HS4CD leaders’ dedication and accomplishments incredibly inspiring, she believes that carbon dividends aren’t an ultimate solution to climate change. People have been quick to accept them as a simple, straightforward plan, but in reality, the issue is far more layered and requires radical action, such as the Green New Deal, which creates jobs and aims to end environmental racism and injustice, she said.
“A lot of old policy experts have realized that there’s something greater, more needed than taxing companies at a higher rate,” Sweet said. “It’s not tackling enough to me, and it narrows the issue down to something very simple, something inherently capitalist.”
However, the Green New Deal takes a more extreme approach to tackling climate change and isn’t likely to pass because it isn’t bipartisan, Beyer said. “It really only attracts a certain group of Democrats,” she said.
Posner founded S4CD in 2018 as an undergraduate at Yale. “Our founding coalition was over 100 student groups,” Posner said. “Half of them were right and half of them were left. This was the first time a group of college Republican groups had endorsed a climate change solution and also the first time that a bipartisan student group had done the same.”
Since launching in February of 2018, S4CD, the college group, has grown into a national movement, received attention from the media, testified in front of the Senate, and, in January of 2019, helped organize the Economist’s Statement on Carbon Dividends. With over 3,500 signatures nationwide, it was the largest-ever statement of economists in support of the plan.
To get the high school movement started, the HS4CD has been meeting twice a week for most of the year, Nornberg said. There are around 10 students from the school on the leadership team. At meetings, HS4CD has been trying to build its coalition by contacting student leaders at high schools across New York state because the Co-Presidents already knew a lot of people to contact, Beyer said.
They mainly reach out to presidents of environmental clubs or student government leaders, Nornberg said. Over 85 student leaders have joined the HS4CD coalition from 50 schools across New York.
In addition to getting students involved in the movement, the club had also focused on planning for the NY launch of HS4CD that was meant to take place at an event at the end of April, Herwitz said. The event’s speakers included former governor of Vermont Peter Shumlin and World Wildlife Fund director of US Campaigns Elan Strait. Due to COVID-19, however, it has been postponed.
Instead, HS4CD hosted its unofficial launch using Zoom on March 22. The meeting’s purpose was to connect student leaders in the city and illustrate ways to get involved, Herwitz said. On the Zoom call, the 22 student leaders were invited to partake in spring and summer internships as well as apply to join the coalition’s core leadership team. Posner also spoke at the meeting about his work with S4CD and his goals for HS4CD.
The main job of the interns will be to continue networking by reaching out to student leaders on a national level, Beyer said. The core leadership team, which is responsible for strategizing and executing the movement’s expansion with the presidents, will assume full responsibility next fall, she said.
Nornberg hopes to join S4CD in college, he said. “Once our time at HS4CD is over, we’ll go on to stay in the climate-fighting world in different capacities,” he said. “We’ll continue on to help the planet and serve in different ways.”
Without Beyer, Herwitz, and Nornberg’s motivation and devotion, the movement would not nearly have accomplished so much in so little time, Maya Nornberg (10) said. “They’re really willing to listen to ideas of the underclassmen,” she said. “They have really gone beyond expectations in terms of everything they’ve done.”
“This is still in its early phases but this conference was an important next step,” Posner said. “Any coalition starts as a small circle and radiates out. This is part of that phase of radiating out and growing the circle and inviting more people to be involved and getting others inspired. This is a marathon, not a sprint. There’s a lot more to come,” he said.
This summer, HS4CD plans to reach out to schools from across the nation to get student leaders to sign on to the movement. Going nation-wide will enable the movement to get sufficient media coverage to pressure representatives to push for the carbon dividends bill, Nornberg said. Additionally, as more student leaders sign on in support, HS4CD will begin to shift to more of a lobbying position in urging student leaders to contact their representatives for this issue.
“Ultimately, our goal is to get the carbon dividends bill passed and signed by the President in 2022 or 2023,” Herwitz said. “But, in the short term our goal is to assemble a network of high schoolers who are ready, willing, and able to talk to their senators and tell them how important a carbon dividends system is for our country,” he said.
Sweet is supportive of how the movement has united young conservatives and educated them on the issue’s importance, she said. However, she worries that people are under the impression that carbon dividends alone are enough to combat climate change. “Let’s say a carbon tax is implemented. We cannot stop there, when there are still frontline communities devastated by the effects of climate change which carbon dividends alone can’t address,” she said. “Instead of adapting to be more conservative, we should be influencing the next generation on the issues that matter the most.”
If Congress implements a carbon dividend, HS4CD’s goal will have been accomplished, but members of the group will continue to find other ways to help fight climate change, Maya said. “The success from the passing would inspire me to reach out to Congress and rally support for other environmental causes I truly believe in,” she said.
Many people think that Congress members are too busy to be influenced by individuals or different movements, but it’s amazing how few people can shape their opinion, Posner said. “So few people actually voice their opinion and make it known, and when you do that in an organized way you really can influence the trajectory of political thinking.”
The immediacy of the climate crisis puts even more pressure on today’s youth to solve it but also gives students the chance to make a real difference, Posner said. “We could have been born at any moment, and we were born at the moment where the knowledge of the climate and the window to act is upon us. What we do in our lifetimes can literally affect the course of human history.”