The Case for a Carbon Tax

By Nicholas Taborsky (Co-EIC from the Gaia Team) - Milton ‘19

These days, it seems that the equilibrium between action and inaction has unfortunately shifted towards inaction. No longer do alarming stories elicit responses from even the most sensitive of us. While there are many human issues that have gone unheard in the deafening silence of our negligence, climate change is the one issue that will undeniably continue to corrode the integrity of our civilization the more we leave it unaddressed.

Within the past year, the symptoms of climate change have continued to manifest in relentless and unnerving ways. In 2018, California experienced its most devastating wildfire season, in which 1.7 million acres of land were consumed by torrid flames, and tens of thousands of people were displaced from their homes (1). Around the same time, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the United States government released two groundbreaking reports on the effects of climate change. In the IPCC’s report, it was found that the world is currently on track to witness the consequences of climate change by 2040, in the form of food shortages, flooded coastlines, poverty, wildfires, and mass migration (2). The U.S. report, titled the Fourth National Climate Assessment, found that climate change would reduce U.S. GDP by 10% by the end of the 21st century (3). Despite the astounding nature of these conclusions, they have not garnered the necessary attention for change to be effected.

What we lack, as a species, is incentive. Whether it’s self-interest, doubt, or some other misguided sentiment, people are severely discounting the cost of climate change. There exists this belief that the burning of fossil fuels and the benefit reaped in the present is somehow worth more than the costs accumulated over time. In addition, since the cost of climate change is not borne by us but by our descendants, people feel no need to combat climate change. And unfortunately, there currently exists a lack of accountability for companies, organizations, and individuals who use and are dependent on carbon-based energy sources.

There needs to be an impetus for action, something that can mitigate the inaction caused by the clash of people’s different incentives. A carbon tax might just prove to be the solution that will incentivize others to act in environmentally-conscious ways.

A carbon tax, as its name suggests, is a tax placed on the use of and burning of fossil fuels. If an individual or company wishes to use a fossil fuel, such as oil or coal, for their own activities, they’ll have to pay a tax that is priced in proportion with how much CO2 the specific fossil fuel releases into the atmosphere once burned (4). Placing a tax on the use of fossil fuels will effectively reduce carbon emissions by disincentivizing people from using fossil fuels and prompting them to use alternative energy sources (i.e. wind power, solar energy, geothermal energy, etc.) instead. As stated by the Carbon Tax Center, a non-profit organization committed to climate politics, “Taxing fuels according to their carbon content will infuse these [environmental] incentives at every link in the chain of decision and action — from individuals’ choices and uses of vehicles, appliances, and housing, to businesses’ choices of new product design, capital investment and facilities location, and governments’ choices in regulatory policy, land use and taxation” (5). A carbon tax is meant to reflect some portion of the cost of one’s pollution of the environment.

As climate change becomes more and more relevant over time, a policy as definite and as strong as a carbon tax will be necessary to stem climate change’s destructive effects. Let’s hope the leaders of the world can make the right decision so companies, organizations, and individuals can understand that there is a responsibility to be better.


Sources:

1) Cart, Julie. "Tracking California's deadly wildfires." CALmatters. 01 Jan. 2019. CALmatters. 03 Mar. 2019 <https://calmatters.org/articles/california-wildfires-statistics-tracker/>.

2) Davenport, Coral. "Major Climate Report Describes a Strong Risk of Crisis as Early as 2040." The New York Times. 08 Oct. 2018. The New York Times. 03 Mar. 2019 <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/07/climate/ipcc-climate-report-2040.html>.

3) Davenport, Coral, and Kendra Pierre-louis. "U.S. Climate Report Warns of Damaged Environment and Shrinking Economy." The New York Times. 23 Nov. 2018. The New York Times. 03 Mar. 2019 <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/23/climate/us-climate-report.html>.

4) "Home." Carbon Tax Center. 03 Mar. 2019 <https://www.carbontax.org/why-a-carbon-tax/>.

5) Ibid.