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Pricing Emissions
Is Washington Ready for a Carbon Tax?

A collection of high-profile Republicans, including former Secretaries of State James Baker III and George Schultz and former Secretary of Treasury Henry Paulson, made the case for a carbon tax at the National Press Club this week. This is, of course, not the first time this policy has been pitched from those on the right, and it won’t be the last. But given how different the political landscape looks now than it did a month ago, let alone what it looked like back in 2010 when the Democrats failed to push through a cap and trade bill through Congress, demands a new look at the idea. The New York Times reports on this latest edition of a carbon tax in the U.S.:

The Baker proposal would substitute the carbon tax for the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, a complex set of rules to regulate emissions which President Trump has pledged to repeal and which is tied up in court challenges, as well as other climate regulations. At an initial price of $40 per ton of carbon dioxide produced, the tax would raise an estimated $200 billion to $300 billion a year, with the rate scheduled to rise over time.

The tax would be collected where the fossil fuels enter the economy, such as the mine, well or port; the money raised would be returned to consumers in what the group calls a “carbon dividend” amounting to an estimated $2,000 a year for the average family of four.

A carbon tax, which depends on rising prices of fossil fuels to reduce consumption, is supported in general by many Democrats, including Al Gore. Major oil companies, including Exxon Mobil, have come out in favor of the concept as well.

This proposed carbon tax is carbon neutral by virtue of the fact that it would funnel the funds raised by taxing emitters towards a pay-out to American people. In the past, we’ve been more in favor of a revenue neutral carbon tax that would be offset by reducing or cutting payroll and corporate taxes, and in so doing help the United States more firmly gain a foothold in the information economy. This sort of shift in the way the government levies taxes would be a good idea even if climate change wasn’t a problem.

What Baker and co. are proposing doesn’t achieve those same goals, but it would bring the considerable weight of market forces to bear on the problem of mitigating American greenhouse gas emissions, and that sounds like progress. New taxes are generally anathema to the Republican party, but it might be a good time for the GOP to reconsider this idea. It can help reduce our carbon emissions while being sold as a moneymaker for the average American. The fact that it’s being proposed by some elder statesman of the conservative movement doesn’t hurt its case, either.

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  • rheddles

    Why in the world would we want to reduce Carbon emissions? What do you have against plants?

  • Pait

    A carbon tax is the correct answer to the challenges brought by fossil fuel consumption, if you believe in free markets and free enterprise.

    • Boritz

      The challenges are to get more out of the ground and manufacture more cars that use it.

      • Pait

        Right, the minor problem of how to drive two cars at the same time is simple and can be solved easily.

        One for each side of the posterior. Which of them will the driver employ for thinking though?

  • Arkeygeezer

    This is the reason the politicians politicized the whole climate change debate. To tax air like they tax land.
    They haven’t figured out a way to tax the oceans, but that’s coming.

  • DiogenesDespairs

    Climate will do what climate will do as it has for hundreds of millions of years, carbon tax or no carbon tax. Meanwhile, decisions and policy need to be based on hard fact.

    The fact is, there has been global warming, but the contribution of human-generated carbon dioxide is necessarily so minuscule as to be nearly undetectable. Here’s why:

    Carbon dioxide, considered the main vector for human-caused global warming, averages (over a year) some 0.038% of the atmosphere[1]- a trace gas. Water vapor varies from 0% to 4%[2], and should easily average 1% or more[3] near the Earth’s surface, where the greenhouse effect would be most important, and is about three times more effective[4] a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. So water vapor is at least 25 times more prevalent and three times more effective; that makes it at least 75 times more important to the greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide[5]. The TOTAL contribution of carbon dioxide to the greenhouse effect is therefore 0.013 or less. The total human contribution to atmospheric carbon dioxide since the start of the industrial revolution has been estimated at about 25%[6]. So humans’ carbon dioxide greenhouse effect is a quarter of 0.013, works out to about 0.00325. Total warming of the Earth by the greenhouse effect is widely accepted as about 33 degrees Centigrade, raising average temperature to 59 degrees Fahrenheit. So the contribution of anthropogenic carbon dioxide is less than 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit, or under 0.1 degree Centigrade. Global warming over the last century is thought by many to be about 0.6 degrees Centigrade.

    But that’s only the beginning. We’ve had global warming for more than 10,000 years, since the end of the last Ice Age, and there is evidence temperatures were actually somewhat warmer 9,000 years ago and again 4,500 to 8,000 years ago than they are today[7]. Whatever caused that, it was not human activity. It was not all those power plants and factories and SUVs being operated by Stone Age cavemen while chipping arrowheads out of bits of flint. Whatever the cause was, it melted the glaciers that in North America once extended south to Long Island and parts of New York City[8] into virtually complete disappearance (except for a few mountain remnants). That’s one big greenhouse effect! If we are still having global warming – and I suppose we could presume we are, given this 10,000 year history – it seems highly likely that it is still the overwhelmingly primary cause of continued warming, rather than our piddling 0.00325 contribution to the greenhouse effect.

    Yet even that trend-continuation today needs to be proved. Evidence is that the Medieval Warm Period centered on the 1200s was somewhat warmer than we are now[9], and the climate was clearly colder in the Little Ice Age in the 1600s than it is now[10]. So we are within the range of normal up-and-down fluctuations without human greenhouse contributions that could be significant, or even measurable.

    The principal scientists arguing for human-caused global warming have been demonstrably disingenuous[11], and now you can see why. They have proved they should not be trusted.

    The idea that we should be spending hundreds of billions of dollars and hamstringing the economy of the entire world to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is beyond ludicrous in light of the facts above; it is insane. Furthermore, it sucks attention and resources from seeking the other sources of warming and from coping with climate change and its effects in realistic ways. The true motivation underlying the global warming movement is almost certainly ideological and political in nature, and I predict that anthropogenic Global Warming, as currently presented, will go down as the greatest fraud of all time. It makes Ponzi and Madoff look like pikers by comparison.

    [1] Fundamentals of Physical Geography, 2nd Edition 
by Michael Pidwirny Concentration varies slightly with the growing season in the northern hemisphere. HYPERLINK “http://www.physicalgeography.net/fundamentals/7a.html” http://www.physicalgeography.net/fundamentals/7a.html

    [2] ibid.

    [3] HALOE v2.0 Upper Tropospheric Water Vapor Climatology Claudette Ojo, Hampton University; et al.. HYPERLINK “http://vsgc.odu.edu/src/Conf09/UnderGrad%20Papers/Ojo%20-%20Paper.pdf” http://vsgc.odu.edu/src/Conf09/UnderGrad%20Papers/Ojo%20-%20Paper.pdf. See p. 4.The 0 – 4% range is widely accepted among most sources. This source is listed for its good discussion of the phenomena determining that range. An examination of a globe will show that tropical oceans (near high end of range) are far more extensive than the sum of the earth’s arctic and antarctic regions and tropical-zone deserts (all near the low end). Temperate zone oceans are far more extensive than temperate-zone desert. This author’s guess of an average of 2% or more seems plausible. I have used “1% or more” in an effort to err on the side of understatement.

    [4 NIST Chemistry Webbook, Please compare the IR absorption spectra of water and carbon dioxide. ] HYPERLINK “http://webbook.nist.gov/” http://webbook.nist.gov/

    [5] Three quarters of the atmosphere and virtually all water vapor are in the troposphere. Including all the atmosphere would change the ratios to about 20 times more prevalent and 60 times more effective. However, the greenhouse effect of high-altitude carbon dioxide on lower-altitude weather and the earth’s surface seems likely to be small if not nil.

    [6] National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. HYPERLINK “http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/gases.html” http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/climate/gases.html. The estimated 90ppm increase in carbon dioxide, 30% above the base of 280 ppm, to a recent reading of 370 ppm, equates to just under 25% of present concentration, the relevant factor in estimating present contribution to the greenhouse effect.

    [7] Oak Ridge National Laboratory http://www.esd.ornl.gov/projects/qen/nerc130k.html

    [8] New York Nature – The nature and natural history of the New York City region. Betsy McCully http://www.newyorknature.net/IceAge.html

    [9] Global Warming: A Geological Perspective John P. Bluemle HYPERLINK “https://www.dmr.nd.gov/ndgs/Newsletter/NL99W/PDF/globlwrmw99.pdf” http://www.azgs.az.gov/arizona_geology/archived_issues/Winter_1999.pdf This article, published by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency, is drawn from a paper by the author in Environmental Geosciences, 1999, Volume 6, Number 2, pp. 63-75. Note particularly the chart on p.4.

    [10] Ibid.

    [11] Wikileaks: Climatic Research Unit emails, data, models, 1996-2009 HYPERLINK “http://wikileaks.org/wiki/Climatic_Research_Unit_emails,_data,_models,_1996-2009” http://wikileaks.org/wiki/Climatic_Research_Unit_emails,_data,_models,_1996-2009.

    See also HYPERLINK “http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1246661/New-scandal-Climate-Gate-scientists-accused-hiding-data-global-warming-sceptics.html” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1246661/New-scandal-Climate-Gate-scientists-accused-hiding-data-global-warming-sceptics.html and

    HYPERLINK “http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704075604575356611173414140.html” http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704075604575356611173414140.html and, more diplomatically: HYPERLINK “http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/01/science/01tier.html” http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/01/science/01tier.html. Et al.

    ADDENDUM

    What initially troubled me was the aberrant behavior of the climate research unit at East Anglia University, which had been the main data source for AGW arguments. They initially refused (!) to reveal their algorithms and data on the grounds that they were proprietary(!!). They responded to critics with ad hominem attacks and efforts to block their publication in scientific journals. Now, as I am sure you know, this is not how one does honest science, in which you PUBLISH your data and methodology and invite critical comment to ferret out error or oversights. It took the now-famous Wikileaks “Climategate” to pry loose the data and expose their machinations. Yet despite the devastating blow these revelations should have to their credibility, the AGW “cause” has taken on a life of its own.

    Fundamentally, the argument seems to rest on a logical fallacy, post hoc ergo propter hoc – after this, therefore because of this. We see a rise in temperature and a rise in (principally) carbon dioxide, and therefore conclude one must have caused the other. It does not necessarily follow at all. There can be other causes entirely behind both phenomena, and as you see above, almost certainly there are. Beyond that, I have encountered numerous assertions of fact that cannot add up given the physical properties of water vapor and carbon dioxide that go unchallenged. One-sided arguments proliferate and people arguing the other side are frequently denounced as being employed by business interests rather than rebutted on the merits.

    In sum, I have not come lightly to the conclusion that the AGW argument as it applies to carbon dioxide is largely untrue and certainly does not account for more than a very small, nearly negligible part of the phenomena we are seeing. The implications of widespread assertions of and belief in such an untruth are staggering, and potentially enormously destructive. It is unwise indeed to let oneself be stampeded in this matter, and stampede is clearly what many have been and are trying to induce.

    I can understand politicians behaving this way; a carbon tax or carbon trading regime would allow enormous revenues to fall into their hands. I can understand “Progressive” ideologues; it logically leads to enormous expansion of government power over industry, the economy, and the daily life of individuals, which they regard as a good thing. I understand the environmentalists; they want to shrink the size and impact on the environment of modern civilization. But responsible citizens need to put aside such considerations.

  • FriendlyGoat

    1) What this says is that some serious people on The Right are concerned about carbon, even if The Right is in power partly as a result of claiming in campaigns that there is no need for anyone to be concerned about carbon.

    2) One of TAI’s preferences would have been to dedicate the revenues from a carbon tax to Social Security and Medicare as payroll taxes are? Or is that too much a stretch of imagination when we just talk loosely of cutting payroll taxes in exchange for adding a carbon tax?

    3) Anyone betting that the typical family of four is really going to get a $2,000 dividend from this Congress?

  • colleenaplin

    It’s now pretty safe to say Am Interest is not a conservative publication.

  • CaliforniaStark

    So the narrative has gone from a claim “the world is doomed unless we immediately reduce CO2 emissions” to a “pay to pollute” scheme put forward by Wall Street oriented Republicans. As with all government money grabs, the claim is it will be “revenue neutral.” In fact what will happen is the added costs will be passed on to middle income and the working class, while government and special interests will squander the added revenue.

    • FriendlyGoat

      You mean “squander” with more money sent up to the casinos of pure trading with million-dollar and billion-dollar chips on the tables? Bet on that.

    • rpabate

      News flash: carbon dioxide is not a pollutant!! It’s a trace gas essential for life and all life is carbon based.

      Just think about what has been happening without any pushback from those who should realize. Marriage has been redefined from a union between a man and a woman to a union between two people of the same sex. The scientific method has been redefined from the search for a basic truth regarding the natural world to a relative truth based upon one’s values. See the late Stephen Schneider’s quote below (S. Schneider was a climate scientist). Carbon dioxide has been redefined from a race gas essential for life on this planet to a pollutant. Notice a pattern?

      Stephen H. Schneider, October 1989 interview with Discover magazine

      “On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but – which means that we must include all doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climate change. To do that we need to get some broad-based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, means getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This ‘double ethical bind’ we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.”

      It is quite amusing that the Progressive Left, who constantly belittle those individuals who believe in a faith-based religion, have fallen hook, line and sinker for faith-based science. The catastrophic in the narrative “catastrophic anthropogenic global warming” is wholly based upon the output of climate computer models. Climate computer models are programmed by humans whose careers, reputations and well-being are tightly linked with climate change alarmism. To believe that “catastrophe” will be the result of a modest increase in global temperatures caused by a modest increase in the level of a trace gas essential for all life on this planet requires a huge leap of faith that the models provide an accurate representation of what the future holds in store. So far, the models have been spectacularly wrong. So far, global temperatures have not increased as quickly as the models predict. So far, the benefits of more atmospheric CO2 (longer growing season, milder nighttime and winter temperatures in the higher latitudes, a 14% global greening from about the start of the satellite era, and about a 15% increase in food crop yields) seem to far outweigh any model projected downsides. The sea level rise continues at the same modest rate it has since the end of the Little Ice Age. There is no “tropic hotspot” as predicted by the models. There has been no increase in extreme weather events (even the IPCC says there hasn’t been).

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