For better or for worse, Earth Day has morphed from an homage to the “big blue marble” we all call home (and the concept of peace) into a day of concern about how the world can survive the onslaught of climate change.

The theme for Earth Day 2021 is “Restore Our Earth.” It focuses on natural processes, emerging green technologies and innovative thinking that can restore the world’s ecosystems.

We all know that “climate change” is a politically charged term. That’s evident in our state legislature’s push and pull over policies aimed at reducing the state’s carbon footprint. See Charles Ashby’s story in today’s paper for an example of how tensions over climate change can play out among lawmakers.

But that’s a minor skirmish compared to Senate Bill 21-200, which seeks to establish enforceable regulations to meet climate action goals spelled out in a greenhouse gas reduction plan that Gov. Jared Polis signed in 2019. The governor leaned into climate action when he ran and now some Democrats want to hold his feet to the fire with sector-specific targets, rather than his preferred strategy of offering incentives and encouraging voluntary action.

We’re with the governor on this one. It’s entirely possible to accelerate the transition to a clean-energy economy by legislative mandate, but that approach creates economic casualties. Besides; whether Colorado passes SB21-200, it’s just one of 50 states that would all have to pull in the same direction to make a meaningful dent in the nation’s carbon output. We maintain that some overarching federal policy needs to anchor a cohesive response to climate change, but it has to have a gentle touch on the economy.

Fortunately, a reasonable, bipartisan, market-based, revenue-neutral and non-regulatory climate strategy already exists. It’s called carbon fee and dividend and we’ve repeatedly endorsed the idea since members of Citizens’ Climate Lobby began promoting it a few years ago.

Congress could charge a fee or price on all oil, gas and coal used in the United States based on the greenhouse gas emissions they produce. Putting that price on pollution will steer the country toward cleaner options, slashing emissions across many areas of our economy at once.

A carbon tax becomes affordable for ordinary Americans when the money collected from fossil fuel companies is given as a dividend, or “carbon cash back” payment, to every American to spend with no restrictions. This offsets the financial pain of paying more for goods and services under a carbon pricing plan.

The program wouldn’t restrict carbon emissions — just provide market-force incentives to reduce them. CCL estimates this policy will reduce America’s emissions by at least 30% in the first five years alone.

Carbon fee and dividend is revenue neutral, meaning money is sent back into the private economy instead of being spent by the government. It wouldn’t grow the size of government. It doesn’t dictate which technologies win or how private citizens should conduct their lives. It puts money in people’s pockets to spend as they see fit, but creates opportunities for innovation as businesses seek to reduce the amount of carbon their products throw off.

We can think of no more fitting gift to Earth on its big day.