The Carbon Excuse

By John Carr, NMA Massachusetts Activist

“I think the problem with the environment is a lot of people remain unconvinced about the long term economic benefits of saving the world.”Andy Zaltzman Nature Podcast 19 December 2013

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) put out another press release, so you can expect a rise in criticism of your climate-wrecking auto-centric lifestyle. Say “No thanks, I gave at the station.”

American drivers pay $200 per ton of carbon (50 cents and 5 pounds of carbon per gallon). Each year, $50 billion of our tax money goes to poor countries threatened by climate change. Typical estimates say a ton of carbon causes only $10 to $100 harm to the Earth. Haven’t we done enough?

Poor countries don’t think so. They claim a vested interest in current foreign aid levels, with climate aid in addition. They see my newly-added “carbon” label as a trick.

It’s a trick, but it’s also a point of view. Where do you start counting? What’s the difference between a carbon tax and a non-carbon tax?

A real carbon tax is uniform.

A ton of CO2 has the same effect on climate whether it comes out of a power plant in America or a tree burned to clear a farm in Indonesia. Whether it comes out of a rich executive’s limo or a poor family’s heating furnace.

Politicians don’t like that. They have interests to protect. British Columbia offers a subsidy to poor people to offset the “carbon” tax, making it just another form of wealth redistribution. The Massachusetts governor proposed a “carbon fee” to park on one group of lots and nowhere else. Another politician wants a carbon tax paired with heating oil subsidies so homeowners don’t feel pressured to move into carbon efficient high rises.

Economists would be ecstatic if the world agreed on a cost-benefit analysis, charged a uniform, worldwide tax, and spent the revenue to build a dike around Bangladesh or set off volcanoes.

That’s not going to happen. We couldn’t do it in America, and we can’t expect hundreds of negotiators with their own conflicting domestic goals to do better. Any deal will be a complicated web of exemptions and loopholes.

If you persuaded Americans to pay $15 per barrel as part of a global deal, China wouldn’t sign on. Brazil can’t stop deforestation even though the government seems to want to. But any deal has to be global.

Environmentalists think they are saving the world. The world isn’t convinced it’s worth saving.

So for now carbon is a marketing term.

Here are some questions to ask when you hear the C-word. Is the fee uniform, applying equally to all greenhouse gas emissions without exemptions or rebates? What will the money be spent on? Is the promise binding? Where did the dollar figure come from?

Until you get a good answer, tell them if sea level rises after all you’ll move your beach towel.

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