The current political and economic situation makes it a challenge to advocate for carbon pricing, but waiting also has its drawbacks. So the question for today is whether it makes sense to adopt a “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” approach that targets (say) a 2014 carbon tax ballot measure even though the odds of success might be low. What do you think?
Carbon tax question #1: Full speed ahead?
By Yoram|2021-05-19T01:17:52-06:00April 23rd, 2012|Climate|15 Comments
I say go for it. It is never a “good” time to sell an idea that promises long term gain in return for short-term gain for short-term pain. However, there is one variant which could be an easier sell when energy prices are high than when they are low. That would be a variable, price-smoothing type of carbon tax that would be inactive at the peak of energy price cycles and would kick in only when prices fell. In effect, it would guarantee that energy prices would never go below some number, say, the equivalent of $100 a barrel for oil. Knowing that there was a floor on future prices, entrepreneurs would be more willing to invest in energy-saving technology. Knowing that the pain would not kick in “right now” might help people vote for it. See this post for a more developed discussion of a variant of this idea. (The post focuses on oil, but a broader carbon tax could work the same way) http://dolanecon.blogspot.com/2011/03/how-price-smoothing-oil-tax-could-help.html
To be honest, I would really love to see a ballot measure soon if we could pull it all together. It would be awesome to see something happen in 2014, and I am tempted to say lets just get it done. But at the same time I am worried that we simply don’t have the resources or the support yet to push for a carbon tax. Although interest is rising and many high-profile individuals are advocating for a price on carbon (as the articles in Yoram’s email showed), it doesn’t seem likely that we would be able to convince the public yet that this is a good idea. Given the current state of the economy a tax is probably not something that people are going to want to vote for, especially if it is going to affect energy prices. For these reasons I don’t know if it is time yet to push for a ballot measure.
I would very much like to see another carbon pricing conference of some sort. I think that this event was very successful last year and that success could easily be repeated. If we are to put on another event like this though, I think that it is very important that we get the information out to the public in some way. At last year’s conference we were essentially preaching to the choir. How we do this I am not exactly sure; I am not an expert event planner. But I do think that it is essentially that we continue to spread this message.
The only way to get the idea for a carbon tax in people’s mind is to propose it. The sooner the better.
But you have to be prepared to fail the first time and try, try, try again. I think this issue has to be approached like those who attacked abortion (not that I support their politics, just “some” of their methods.) It has to be a long term project which accepts failure at first, but works over time to evolve terms and language that people will accept. And to change people’s minds.
Having said that, running public opinion polls to see what people think and the get the langage and proposal terms right will help the ballot measure in the short term.
Did you have a public relations for the carbon pricing event? Did you send out a press release? What level of help do you need?
Maggie Orth (a friend of Yoram’s.)
I think movements have to start somewhere, and if you’re going to bring an idea to the top of the political agenda when the time is ripe, you have to have a base of supporters that have been working on it for a while. If a movement takes 3 years, we better get started now because that is all the time we have left.
If we are advocating for a revenue-neutral carbon tax, it doesn’t really matter what the state of the economy is. It’s not at all a worse time for the law, even in the short term–it’s just harder to get on people’s agenda.
Education on this topic is still really important–many environmentalists didn’t take the time to listen to carbon tax advocates when cap and trade was being considered, and they have not revisited it yet. It may seem like preaching to the choir, but its really educating about a concrete solution to the problem that is on many people’s minds. The Town Hall event lit a fire under me for a while, because I didn’t really understand how a carbon tax would work. Reaching out to local environmental groups to publicize an education campaign (maybe a conference event) seems like a good place to start to me. I’ll be there! And I will do my best to publicize it!
I say go for it. Nothing else has effectively gotten on the public’s radar screen. Even if it fails, the words “carbon tax” become part of the voter’s vocabulary and eventually part of the larger public discourse.
I’m with the others who say go for it. If past results are any indication of future performance, the weather of 2014 will be even stranger than this year’s weather. Paul Gilding wrote on his blog a while ago that once the presidential election is over, the press will return to climate change as a key topic, so the public’s mind will be much more focused on CO2.
One thing that would really help: rebrand the carbon tax as a fossil carbon tax. We all know what’s meant and intended by a carbon tax, but it’s too easy to derail a reasonable discussion by saying something about how people emit carbon dioxide, too. Calling it a fossil carbon tax is a no-cost educational opportunity. Besides, it’s a more accurate description of what’s being taxed.
We need to step up pressure for emission reduction, not back off now! But before proceeding, maybe a litmus test and/or a public challenge is needed.
I for one have been to enough conferences and seminars to know how I feel and roughly what needs to be done, but I would really like to see my sensibilities and respect for the Earth and her climate science friends, legal advisers and policy advocates across the UW community make a climate statement on campus so outrageous that the Seattle Times, Stranger, Seattle Weekly and local TV stations couldn’t miss it. This might not only help make up for Earth Day and the 150th UW Birthday which was so rudely upstaged by the corporate insensitivities of Microsoft and T-Mobile that it appeared that the UW community does not give a hoot about environment or climate issues.
Perhaps to make up for lack of public support and money resources(especially in this corporation driven election year), we could borrow a page from the colorful and clever ways that social change was driven in the 60s on beer budgets. As a way to gauge carbon pricing support, could CarbonWA “put out a call” for a carbon-climate protest in Red Square on May 4 which might ask President Young to phone President Obama to read (our) statement on carbon pricing and/or climate change policy. Even if not successful, it would indeed seem to be an overdue thank you for the 8000 UW students who on May 5th 1970, after the Kent State shootings let ‘r rip in what is now Red Square demanding that President Odegard send a telegram (which he did) to President Richard Nixon demanding that Cambodian bombing be stopped (which he did).
Those 1970 UW students made such a difference for future generations that today’s students need not even worry about the hazards of military service. Could 2012’s UW students express equivalent worry about our endangered climate? Might such a call provide a test to see if intense CarbonWa mobilization (NOW) is justified and whether today’s UW students and others in the climate-environment community can also make a difference for themselves and future generations?
Might it also provide a test of UW sustainability commitment at the very top?
The only prospect I see of a carbon tax is if we can get the Washington Education Association and SEIU behind it — that is to beef up the state general fund.
It might be worth convening them.
Short of that, I don’t know where we’d come up with the $300k to get on the ballot, or the $3m to pass it. If it would pass. They’d want to do some polling. The burden falls heavily on private utility ratepayers, who already pay the highest electric rates. That’s why I liked Clinton’s “energy tax” better — even hydro got taxes.
[Posted by Yoram on behalf of Jim, who sent this via email.]
As long as Congress has automatic filibusters on everything, I think we need to forget about national taxes entirely, and work on an interstate compact to set consistent taxes in all participating States. You don’t even need a majority of states in order to obtain a functional effective price on fossil carbon emissions. (And FCE’s make a suitably mysterious acronym, too.)
There’s some interesting economic research called for, to determine how many states are actually required in order to have an effect outside of member states. And depending on the Supreme Court’s decision about Arizona and immigration, the compact might even be able to negotiate with the EU for a global taxation rate.
The time is now. Even if there is a low chance of success I think its crucial to at least bring carbon taxes to the forefront of public discourse. The national election will bring on fundamental tax reform, social equality, and the scale of government to the forefront and I think that is the perfect time to discuss the role a carbon tax can play in those issues. I went to a carbon tax seminar made up of environmentalists and I was astonished about how little the audience knew about the economics of a carbon tax; I can only imagine what the general public thinks. We need to show how a BC tax was successful and that a carbon tax can be flexible through adding government revenue, reducing distortionary taxes, and redistributing income; depending on a government’s objectives. At times I feel physically ill from the lack of attention carbon taxes receive in the debate about tax reform. At the very least we can raise awareness in our state and potentially at the national level too.
As a global fossil fuel pricing advocate during the 1970s (early ’80s) while working as a solar builder/designer, activist and author/publisher, I can state unequivocally that a carbon tax(-switching) plan will prove to be impossible without some sort of counter-cultural (save the earth) activist movement… ON A BIG ENOUGH SCALE TO GET CAUSE DEEP ANXIETY FOR OUR LEADERS AT THE VERY TOP! This is because overcoming 32 years of denial and eco-stiff-arming will require A LOUD UNIFIED VOICE to prove that American civil society still plays a role in challenging the status quo when they do not listen, and since 1981, this has seemed to not be the case.
While suggesting a challenge is now in order in my previous posting, I apologize for not providing linkage to my example; what happened on the UW campus on May 5, 1970 on a similar intergenerational issue, war and for not considering the age (and/or memory) of the reader. It was truly a remarkable spontaneous event that had a big impact, and like now, international violence was a huge concern, and the 8000 Huskies who reacted in the way they did made a huge contribution to defining civil society’s responsibility as a check on the status quo. Their gutsy challenge was covered in article in the UW Daily and referenced in this link: http://radsearem.wordpress.com/2010/05/05/may-5-1970-the-uw-freeway-march/.
A carbon tax of some sort would certainly be a great help to fund things like transit, transit oriented development, energy efficiency, and renewable energy. But the price effects on usage would be swamped by the effects that Peak Oil is already having.
I suggest that you read the analyses by physics professor Tom Murphy on “The Oil Drum”, especially about the “Energy Trap” and his recent illuminating discussion about economic growth with a senior academic economist.
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn understands these issues, having come out of the Sierra Club, which is why he is focusing on maintaining both infrastructure and finances (“fix it first”) and has resisted expensive new projects with limited benefits like the deep bore tunnel. King County is already planning on letting some rural roads revert to gravel, and I expect the infrastructure issue to get worse when the economy goes down again in a few years and debt becomes more intractable.
And we need much better informed planning at the state level. Right now the economic forecast for the 2013-2015 biennium by the state Economic and Revenue Forecasting Council (6.6% increase in revenue) is based the macro economic forecasts by IHS Global Insight and the like. However comprehensive their thousands of variables and linear relationships, the results are often useless after a year or two during changing times like now because they are based neoclassical theory and traditional econometrics, ignoring the essentially nonlinear and chaotic nature of real world economics, the fundamental roles of energy and resources, and diminishing returns from technology.
The carbon tax in BC is working. After initial scare-mongering, it now has broad public support. The chances of doing something at the national level are remote, but BC shows that a state-level approach in the US has a chance of succeeding and providing a functioning model that could be replicated more broadly in time. Add me to those advocating a full speed ahead approach.
I’m all for a carbon tax ballot measure. Does anyone have draft language for a state level carbon tax?