By The Editorial Board of the New York Times:
The most important thing about a carbon tax plan proposed last week may be the people behind it: prominent Republicans like James Baker III, George Shultz and Henry Paulson Jr. Their endorsement of the idea, variations of which have been suggested before, may be a breakthrough for a party that has closed its eyes to the perils of man-made climate change and done everything in its power to thwart efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
This gang of Republican elder statesmen — they call themselves the Climate Leadership Council — is not made up of the usual environmentalists, which is why their proposal might gain traction, though probably not right away.
Their proposal would tax carbon emissions at $40 a ton to start and would be paid by oil refineries and other fossil fuel companies that would pass costs on to consumers with higher gas and electricity prices. The money raised would be returned to Americans through dividend checks; a family of four would get about $2,000 a year to start. This would help people adjust to higher energy prices and give them an incentive to reduce consumption or switch to renewable sources of energy. Most lower-income and middle-class families would get back more than they pay in taxes. To avoid placing American industry at a disadvantage, imports from countries that do not impose a comparable tax would be subject to a per-ton tax on the carbon emitted in the production of their products, while exports to those nations would not be.
Scientists and economists have long argued that putting a price on carbon would encourage conservation and investment in renewable energy. Ireland, Sweden and British Columbia already have carbon taxes. The European Union, Quebec, California and Northeastern states like New York and Massachusetts have adopted cap-and-trade systems that use emission permits to lower emissions over time.
The last serious effort to impose a national price on carbon came in 2009 with cap-and-trade legislation by Edward Markey and Henry Waxman, both then Democratic House members. The bill passed the House, but never received a vote in the Senate. Since then, Republican control of one or both houses of Congress has thwarted ambitious climate legislation. As a result, President Obama turned to administrative actions to reduce emissions, including the Clean Power Plan and higher fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks. Those regulations and standards are now on the chopping block under the Trump administration.
Canada lives in the imagination of the United States as a benign, continent-size footnote, the brunt of conservative jokes about invasion and annexation, and the object of liberal daydreams about socialized medicine and sensible bank regulation. If there is an overarching consensus among Americans about their cousins to the north, it is that they are like Americans but nicer, probably smarter, and more loving of hockey.
Less well known is that Canada is a towering, earth-shaking, CO2-belching petroleum giant. Let us keep our stereotype that Canadians are mild-mannered, but in terms of oil there is nothing moderate about them. They have it.
— Andrew Blackwell, in his pollution-tourism book, Visit Sunny Chernobyl.
(via Quotation of the Day Mailing List)
Anthony Doerr raises an alarm about our collective path to overall environmental destruction. He believes humanity is never likely to change our current behavior profoundly enough to make a difference, so we should prepare for what might seem radical solutions or face an end to human domination of the planet. Terrific read.
We—and by we I mean me, my friends, my older brothers, everyone I know under 45—we are the first generation that cannot claim we did not know. Silent Spring was published 10 years before I was born. At elementary school assemblies I was among the little curly-headed ciphers who read cheerful environmental tips into the microphone: “Don’t let the faucet run while brushing your teeth!” Freshman year in college we were handed Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature. During my sophomore year, 1992, 1,500 scientists, including more than half the living Nobel laureates, admonished in their Warning to Humanity: “A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it is required if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.”
So what have we done? Not much. From 1992 to 2007, global CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels rose 38 percent. Emissions in 2008 rose a full 2 percent despite a global economic slump. Honeybees are dying by the billions1, amphibians by the millions, and shallow Caribbean reefs are mostly dead already.2 Our soil is disappearing faster than ever before, half of all mammals are in decline, and a recent climate change model predicts that the Arctic could have ice-free summers by 2013. Unchecked, carbon emissions from China alone will probably match the current global level by 2030.
“The god thou servest,” Marlowe wrote in Dr. Faustus, almost four hundred years before the invention of internet shopping, “is thine own appetite.” Was he wrong? How significantly have you reduced your own emissions since you first heard the phrase “climate change?” By a tenth? A quarter? A half? That’s better than I’m doing. The shirt I’m wearing was shipped here from Thailand. The Twinkie I just ate had 37 ingredients in it. I biked to work through 91-degree heat this morning but back at my house the air conditioner is grinding away, keeping all three bedrooms a pleasant 74 degrees.
Side note: If you like his writing, you might enjoy Doerr’s new book Memory Wall: Stories. And for a similar and startling view, check out Bill McKibbon’s new book Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet and his recent appearance on David Letterman.