Recently the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its latest report. It announced with 95 percent certainty (up from 90 percent as reported in the 2007 IPCC report) that the climate is warming dramatically and that man-made carbon dioxide emissions are responsible. This report makes it clear that we face a serious problem and the longer we wait to deal with that problem the more difficult it is to control.
Now the question is, what will we do about this? To be clear, this is a worldwide problem and no one idea is going to solve it. Energy saving choices made by the individual consumer are important steps to help solve this issue. An even more important step is to enact legislation that addresses the issue nationally.
A revenue-neutral carbon tax is one idea gaining support amongst a diverse group of economic and political figures, including conservative American economist and statesman George Shultz. He has stated, We have to have a system where all forms of energy bear their full costs and to me the most appealing way is a revenue-neutral carbon tax. The true cost associated with burning fossil fuels needs to include the cost of such events as sea level changes, increased storm damage, droughts, floods and decreased agriculture production.
The revenue-neutral carbon tax places a steadily rising tax on carbon-based fuels at its first point of sale the mine, wellhead or border crossing. Business benefits from this by having a predictable price on energy that includes the externalities of the damaging effects of fossil fuels. Currently fossil fuels are not priced taking into account how much they pollute. The transition to clean energies can be allowed to emerge on the market with less of a bias toward fossil fuels. This market based approach could speed the transition to clean energy and is supported across the political spectrum.
The basic points of the revenue-neutral carbon tax model are:
The goal of this tax is to reduce the production of carbon dioxide, not to raise revenue. Conservative and liberal economists have stated the simplest way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions is to put a tax on it.
- All the revenue is to be returned to the citizens in equal shares to pay for increased costs associated with the higher pricing of carbon fuel. The revenue collected is to be divided up and given back to all citizens equally.
- Easy to administer, no new government entity is needed, the system is already in place within the IRS and has been used by the Bush administration for stimulus checks.
- Start small, increasing the tax slowly but steadily until we hit our goal of reducing emissions to 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. The fee starts out low and increases annually in a predictable manner until green energy is competitive with fossil fuel. Because the tax goes up predictably over time, it sends a clear price signal encouraging the more efficient use of fossil fuels or replaces them with green energy.
We as citizens can use our voices to make changes that will help our nation move forward towards solutions. Continuing to burn fossil fuels is a short-sighted action that simply kicks the can down the road and makes future generations pay for our use of fossil fuels. Its time to enact legislation that reduces carbon dioxide emissions and promotes clean energies as a vital part of the solution.
Nancy Mauter, Lyle Yager and Vicki Bookless are members of the San Luis Obispo Chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby, an international, nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that supports individuals in exercising their political will toward a goal of a sustainable climate for us and future generations.