Carbon Tax: The Golden Rule

An attorney once told me that most people don’t understand that big business operates by a different set of rules than you and I do. Even though we see it time after time, we usually are somehow surprised when we shouldn’t be.  We, on the one hand, live each with our own set of ethics guided by what we understand as right and wrong, generally following a rather complex set of laws within the norms of society that we generally understand and put up with. We understand this as a necessity as they allow us to, for the most part, get along and live with each other peaceably. Large corporations, and “Big Business” don’t operate that way.

My attorney stressed upon me that large corporations and big business have only one rule, the “Golden Rule” but it’s not the same one you and I know.  Instead it goes “The one with the most gold makes the rules”  Therefore, the bottom line is the only line. There are no real ethics, except that of public perception, and no law is considered without also considering its penalty for breaking.  If at the end of the day you make more money breaking the law, you break the law.  If you make more money polluting the earth and damaging others, then that’s what you do.  In fact, they would argue, you have a responsibility to do just that, and that is why we have the problem we do, and why it is so difficult to change.  It is also why historically, much of solar and wind has been by “grassroots” organizations. Nothing will change until the true costs of fossil fuels is covered by fossil fuels.

When you throw something away….where is away?        

From shortly after the industrial revolution, America has had a standard of living that other countries have tried to emulate. This is due in no small part to having plentiful and affordable power. Problem is that we have generated a great deal of pollution. Nobody gave the idea of turning the earth into a trash can much thought when the trash can was relatively empty. Today we are starting to realize this is not a good idea, also the trash can is filling up way too fast, and as far as carbon in the atmosphere is concerned, it is overflowing. We are at higher levels of CO2 that we have ever seen.

Image courtesy of NASA

There is a consensus, at least among people not under the influence of the big business spin machine, that this is just plain not sustainable and that we are headed toward certain disaster, fast. Putting carbon and other pollutants in the air is having devastating effects, and will only continue to get worse.  Problem is that those doing the polluting are not paying for the damage they are doing. While it’s true that solar in particular has come way down in price and is extremely cost-effective, often cheaper now than conventional means.  However, I’m afraid it’s also true we will never have a sustainable energy scenario anywhere in the world as long as destroying life on this planet is so profitable.

Crunching the numbers

Problem is, how do you attach a dollar figure to your life, or your health?  Economists are good at just that. As sad as it may seem, it’s true, especially when working for banks, and insurance companies.  William Nordhaus1 of Yale put out papers on the subject as early as 1977 and has been working on it ever since. With help from others, he developed the Dynamic Integrated Climate Economy model or D.I.C.E., which is pretty much what all models are compared to. Completed in 2010 the cost at one point was running around $36.77/Ton of CO2. During the Trump administration they seemed to pull low random numbers out of a hat, with no scientific basis, using them to pave the way to allow more pollution. Since 2010 there has been a explosion of data and research that has dramatically expanded knowledge of the climate, economy, and the relationship between the two. In 2020 we now have a realistic cost of $125.00/Ton!!!  (2) This is huge and dramatically shows what needs to be done.  

 Economists of all political persuasions agree “the best way to tackle climate change, they insist, is through a global carbon tax”  Almost all industrialized nations  have adopted some sort of tax on CO2. Finland was the first starting back in 1990. Australia started in 2012 but ended it in 2014. During that time, the steady increase of CO2 reversed and went down by over 10%. When the tax was dropped, it immediately started back up again. The United States is one of the few that has lagged behind. While some states and different areas of the country are talking about it and some places have tried to do something creative like California, nobody has a well-working plan, and nothing has stuck. Considering the way the oil companies and the wealthy have taken over our federal government, as well as some states, it looks like for the present at least, it is up to a few states to pioneer a working program. Looking at the details of the programs around the world, they are all different, from the amount of the tax to where the money goes. Most are under $20/ton, some as low as $1/ton, even Mexico has a tax at $3/ton.

We all know that when a tax is finally applied, the polluters will fight to the death the idea of taking a penny from their profits, but rather attempt to pass all of it on to us. Therefore it seems to us that at whatever rate it is phased in, some of the monies need to wind up in the pockets of the low-income and middle class as they can least afford an increase in the cost of energy.  Also, funds need to go to research and to fix the many problems associated with climate change, including increasing the amount of clean sustainable energy being used.

Remember when despite all efforts, as well as the fact that people were dying painful deaths, nothing was stopping big tobacco until those that were injured and suffering were allowed to sue for damages because of their lies?   Well, guess what…big oil is, and has been, lying and the damages are far worse than what we have with tobacco!!  Florida, Louisiana, as well as many places around the world are feeling the effects of climate change, and these effects can be expensive. Just like the level of CO2, the number of disasters4 with a price tag of over one billion dollars in the United States is increasing steadily. The way we have been producing and using energy is simply not sustainable, and unless we do something quickly, it will all come crashing down on our children’s heads. Whatever we can do to get it started, we must get it started NOW….TODAY, and with your help we can!!!!

1 – William D Nordhaus Dept. of Economics Yale  Revisiting the social cost of  carbon (2015)

2 –   New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, “Establishing a Value of Carbon”

3 –  The Economist, Special Report Nov 28 2015 pages 15-16

4 – NOAA National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration