Sunday, July 08, 2007

The emergence of the carbon tax: first, denial

The carbon tax will come, in one form or another. It's already starting to ooze into the public consciousness, in the form of articles about why it can't be discussed ...
Al Gore's inconvenient tax |

... Live Earth pledges do call for personal action against global warming, such as becoming "carbon neutral" and buying only from businesses committed to solving the climate crisis. Mostly, however, they call for government action, such as a new treaty that would reduce greenhouse gases by 90 percent in rich countries within a few decades.

Any such treaty with that kind of demand for a swift drop in CO2 output would require the kind of radical change in lifestyles that a stiff carbon tax would bring. Consumption taxes, after all, are often designed to wean people off bad behavior, such as smoking.

A 90 percent drop in these emissions is probably what's needed to limit any rise in atmospheric warming to 2 degrees Celsius, a goal that many scientists recommend.

Most presidential candidates do endorse pinching pocketbooks, but only indirectly, such as by calling for higher fuel efficiency in vehicles and a cap on greenhouse-gas pollution from company smokestacks. Such demands on industry have the advantage of creating more certainty in reducing emissions, but they are complex to enforce. Gore would do both: tax carbon use and cap emissions.

Putting a crimp on global warming can't be done solely by promoting new energy technologies and voluntary conservation. Consumers of oil and coal need a direct tax shock.

But the last time Congress raised the gasoline tax was in 1993. In the Senate, Gore cast the deciding vote. At the next election in 1994, the GOP won big on Capitol Hill. Politicians took note.

It may take more than one Live Earth concert to warm up the public and politicians to a carbon tax.
I dimly recall that a recent poll, somewhere in europe, rated the importance of global warming below commuting times. We're early in this process, it seems inconceivable now that the public will ever accept a carbon tax. We know how this will go, however, we've seen this movie before.

First come articles like this one, describing the idea as impractical, impossible, political suicide. Next will come furious denunciations from the usual morons. Then we'll be deluged by attack ads designed to slow adoption for a few more years, as industry realizes change is coming but fights for cash flow and time to adjust. Then, after denial and anger, slowly, comes acceptance. Then gasoline goes to $7/gallon, then $10/gallon.

I liked the reference to smoking in the editorial, it was not accidental. A few years before I went to college teachers and students smoked in the classroom. Nowadays a teacher smoking in the classroom wouldn't be a mere firing offense, it would be a mandatory psychiatric consultation.

Al Gore knows this very well. Thanks Al.

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