Indy Lights racer calculates, then donates, self-imposed carbon fee

Indy Lights Aaron Telitz Indianapolis crew

Aaron Telitz with his Indianapolis crew

Indy Lights racer calculates, then donates, self-imposed carbon fee

By Andy Beahrs

Aaron Telitz Indy Lights

Dan and Aaron

Earlier this year, Indy Lights racer and CCL supporter Aaron Telitz decided to put our favored climate solution, Carbon Fee and Dividend, to the test. As all CCL volunteers know, a common concern people raise about Carbon Fee and Dividend (CF&D) is what it would mean their own pocketbooks. Would CF&D raise the price of food, or of heating their homes? Would it mean being unable to continue a favorite pastime—like watching auto racing—at all? With the help of Wisconsin CCL chapter leader Dan Herscher, Aaron decided to find out.

He knew that a self-imposed carbon fee couldn’t be a perfect match for a CF&D system, since CF&D returns all fees collected to consumers. For that very reason, though, an internal fee of $15/ton fee would be a tougher test than a national system, which would provide every individual with a regular energy dividend check. Aaron decided to wait until season’s end, then calculate the total amount of fuel his team used. He’d then make a contribution to CCE (CCL’s 501c3 partner organization) in line with his total consumption, based on a self-imposed $15/ton carbon fee.

Here’s how it turned out: an Indy Lights season includes test days, practice days, qualifying sessions, and races; all together, that translated to 768 gallons of fuel. Levying $0.15 on each gallon for the self-imposed fee worked out to $115.20 for Aaron and his team.

But CF&D doesn’t stop with fuel—it automatically takes stock of all the carbon embedded in goods across the economy. Like any auto racing, Indy Lights cars are hard on tires, which need to be replaced often. So Aaron looked at EPA data to figure out the amount of carbon embedded in a single pair of specialty racing tires, coming up with a total of 4.44 tons of CO2 per ton of tire produced. At that rate, each 56.38 lb set of tires would be responsible for 0.1252 tons of CO2 emissions; at 58 sets of tires for the season, that meant a total of $108.92.

Indy Lights racecar with CCL logos on it

Aaron’s race car featured the CCL logo this season

That was it, then: $115.20 fuel plus $108.92 tires meant a total carbon fee of $224.12 for the entire racing season. Aaron and his team generously donated that money to CCL—and, even more importantly, helped demonstrate that a carbon fee is a totally workable climate solution.

“It’s a great result,” said CCL’s VP of Legislative Affairs, Dr. Danny Richter. “Our volunteers work hard to reassure folks that CF&D doesn’t mean the end of things they love, and this is on-the-ground proof of why that’s the case. What’s more, with a real carbon fee-and-dividend system in place, Aaron and his team would have the energy dividend to work with…it’d be their call how to use it to increase the efficiency of their activities, and in the meantime, it wouldn’t slow them down at all.”

Clearly, a $15/ton carbon fee is not going to break the bank, costing an Indy Lights team just over $200 extra out of an operating budget in the hundreds of thousands. It didn’t stop Aaron from wrapping up the season with a win at the Watkins Glen International—and it will help drive America toward the clean, innovative future we need.

Andrew Beahrs
Andrew Beahrs is the Strategic Partnerships Coordinator for Citizens’ Climate Education. He lives in Berkeley with his wife and children.