The Carbon Charge Project — an effort to test the effectiveness and feasibility of carbon pricing by using the Yale campus as a “living laboratory for applied research” — has garnered growing interest among universities, corporations, government officials and Yale students.
The project includes 10 distinct research projects, which include measuring outcomes from carbon pricing, building energy conservation interventions and developing a future research agenda. According to its website, the Carbon Charge Project aims to “inform energy policy, climate change mitigation and environmental economics by testing multiple models of carbon pricing.”
“We’re developing lessons for other organizations and jurisdictions,” said Casey Pickett FES ’10, director of the Carbon Charge Project. “We’re doing it and we’re studying it at the same time. The amount of emissions that we’re going to save through this policy is important but what’s much more important is that we figure out how you take this seemingly brilliant policy that economists largely agree is an important part of climate change mitigation policy, but that no one has implemented in a way that others can study.”
Pickett added that the data from Yale’s internal carbon pricing can be shared more easily than that of a private company, citing the “competitive dynamics” that private companies face.
“Many companies have shared some information about their internal carbon pricing scheme, but none of them wants to be an open book,” said Stefano Carattini, a postdoctoral fellow at the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. “Yale wants to lead by example, and we tried to make the most out of the unique experiment that Yale realized.”
According to Pickett, the idea of using Yale’s campus as a living laboratory for carbon pricing was the result of a 2014 Earth Day summit with economics professor William Nordhaus ’63 GRD ’73, F&ES professor Dan Esty LAW ’86 and students and staff members from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and the Yale Office of Sustainability.
Following the summit, University President Peter Salovey formed a university task force at the beginning of the 2014–15 academic year to examine the concept of internal carbon pricing. The task force recommended in spring 2015 that the University pilot an internal carbon charge in the 2015–16 academic year, with Salovey announcing Yale’s intentions to move forward with the project the following April.
Pickett noted that from December 2015 to May 2016, the Carbon Charge Project tested four different schemes before finalizing the current one, a revenue-neutral pricing scheme that applies a $40 charge per ton of carbon dioxide emissions through a “market-based, fee-and-dividend model.”
According to Luke Elder FES ’18, the Carbon Charge Project has garnered the genuine interest of student researchers interested in getting involved, citing the necessity of a “collaborative effort” among student groups to advance the carbon charge at Yale.
“I have the gut feeling that Casey has been approached by a lot of students with ideas,” Elder said. “I don’t think the Carbon Charge has proactively searched for people to do projects.”
Elder, who is involved in three research projects for the Carbon Charge Project, said that students from peer institutions, including MIT and Vassar, are interested in the progress of Yale’s internal carbon pricing strategy. Elder noted that the students are interested in adopting a similar internal carbon pricing initiative at their own schools.
Leah Surratt ’18 noted that Yale is trying to be a leader in internal carbon pricing, with the hopes of sharing their results as well as barriers and hurdles in implementation with other universities.
Surratt, a student in the Energy Studies program, said she had heard of the Carbon Charge Project throughout her freshman and sophomore years. Currently involved in a project to study the impact of monthly energy bills, she noted that while she is not formally paid for her research, she feels the work itself is sufficiently rewarding.
Thuy Phung FES ’18 said she has been working on a carbon charge case study with Minna Brown FES ’15, a case study integration manager at F&ES. According to Phung, the case study is part of a larger initiative began by Peter Crane, the former dean of F&ES, to “give students an opportunity to integrate all different disciplines to solve real-world problems.” Phung noted that many of F&ES’ current courses are in individual disciplines, such as social sciences or the natural sciences.
Phung and Brown’s case study is now being used in three classes at both the graduate level and undergraduate level.
Phung noted that she thinks the carbon pricing initiative was created partly in response to student demands for fossil fuel divestment.
“From what I understand, students were making a lot of demands in 2014 and 2015 that the University divests [from fossil fuels],” Phung said. “But there are a lot of issues with divestment because divestment can potentially reduce the profitability of Yale’s endowment, which means that there will be less money for research and education.”
Correction, April 27: A previous version of this article incorrectly implied Thuy Phung FES ’18 to be male, as well as the research project of Leah Surratt ’18. Surratt is actually involved with a project to study the impact of monthly energy bills, not a statistics project on the impact of the pilot study. It also incorrectly quoted Phung as saying divestment would result in less money for resources. In fact, she said it would result in less money for research.