Negative Externalities in the Adirondacks

Kevin O’Connor is a senior at the University of Vermont double-majoring in environmental studies and economics. Prior to joining the Put A Price On It movement in August of 2016, Kevin was an intern for Vermont House Representative Mollie Burke. Kevin had the opportunity to testify his own carbon pollution tax policy prospectus in front of Vermont’s House Transportation Committee. Kevin views effective carbon pricing policies as the top solution to combat climate change. Kevin is from Albany, NY. Connect with Kevin at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kevinoconnor11.


Ever since I was eight years old, I have had a deep appreciation for the environment. I started to go to a sleep away camp in upstate New York on Lake George when I was younger. Camp Chingachgook was a two-week paradise for me as we did outdoor activities everyday, such as hiking, rock climbing, fishing, sailing, swimming, and camping. Camp Chingachgook exposed me to places and ideas that I never had experienced before and learned to deeply appreciate. For instance, the outdoors. Each two-week session would contain a three-day hike. On these hikes we were isolated from society and encompassed by nature for three days. These three-day hikes in the Adirondack Mountains provided me with profound insight to care, respect, and be a steward of our planet.

On these three-day hikes, I experienced first-hand what a negative externality is. The Adirondacks has hundreds of ponds and lakes that should contain fish but several do not because of acid rain. Polluting emitting firms in the mid-west cause the rain to be acidic in the Adirondacks, which causes several environmental damages, including lakes to be too acidified resulting in them to no longer support aquatic wildlife. During these three-day hikes, I remember hiking to isolated lakes that essentially contained no aquatic life. It made no sense to me. Since then I have realized that the Adirondacks suffered the negative externality of air pollution caused by factories in the mid-west. It is hard for me to comprehend how a factory would want to contribute to the destruction of the innocent and beautiful Adirondacks.

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A major reason I went to the University of Vermont was because of its strong environmental program. I view climate change as humankind’s largest problem and I knew that I wanted to focus my studies on solutions to climate change so I can hopefully make a positive change on this planet. Throughout my four years at UVM, I have determined that carbon pricing is the number one solution to combat climate change. Carbon dioxide pollution is the number one source of pollution causing climate change, as it accounts for over 80% of greenhouse gas emissions from humans. With carbon dioxide pollution, several negative externalities are already occurring and are expected to arise due to the warming of the planet. Carbon pricing mechanisms offer to incentive polluters to pollute less. This may be a carbon tax or a cap and trade policy. Carbon pricing mechanisms have already been put into effect in several prominent countries and institutions such as the European Union, China, and the British Columbia. Carbon pricing mechanisms would reflect the true social cost of the negative externality of carbon pollution.  

During the spring semester of my junior year, I interned for Vermont Representative Mollie Burke from Brattleboro. Representative Burke was very generous to me as she helped me understand Vermont politics. During the time, I was also writing a policy prospectus on carbon pollution taxes. After meeting with Representative Burke weekly, she proposed that I testified in front of her committee in Vermont’s State House. After several drafts, I testified my policy prospectus on a carbon pollution tax on gasoline consumers at the pump to Vermont’s House Transportation Committee. It was truly an unbelievable experience.

Since the wonderful opportunity with Representative Burke, I have been interested in helping the carbon pricing movement. I started as an Action Team member with Put a Price On It in August of 2016. During the fall semester I did several activities for the campaign, such as building the student momentum of carbon pricing at UVM, screening Years of Living Dangerously’s carbon pricing episode, calling legislators, and hosting art events for the campaign. This semester I have been continuing the momentum. I have been helping setting up the Maple Mosaic for Vermont Youth Lobby Day, I plan on talking with the Provost and President of UVM about carbon pricing, and I am organizing field trips to Vermont’s State House for carbon pricing discussion and to attend the climate caucus among other things. Put A Price On It has been a great experience as it has introduced me to many people with similar interests inside Vermont and around the nation and most importantly has brought me to the forefront of the carbon pricing movement in the US. Throughout my life, I hope to continue to fight against negative externalities so that future generations do not have a planet that is more diminished than the one that we currently live in.


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