Close to Home: Taxing carbon to protect the climate

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Let’s call the carbon tax by its proper name. It would be a tax on the fossil fuel industry, increasing every year, reducing profits for the industry causing climate change. Under a proposal in Congress, the proceeds would be returned to the people as a monthly dividend. Since the government wouldn’t keep the money, it is properly called a fee, thus the carbon fee and dividend name.

In his Oct. 2 column, Noah Smith listed every conceivable problem to argue that a carbon tax isn’t enough (“A carbon tax alone won’t fix climate”). A more beneficial approach would have been to identify a carbon fee and dividend program as the essential foundation, which he sort of did, in addressing so many issues with a simple market correction — taxing the source of the problem.

Then he could have listed the areas a fee and dividend program might not address. Think interconnecting the country’s regional grids with high-voltage lines, charging the U.S. Department of Agriculture with training and incentivizing farmers to sequester carbon dioxide in the soil, or retraining the fossil fuel workforce.

There are more problems with Smith’s review than I can cover here, but let’s take the China argument. A January Forbes article said, “No country has put itself in a better position to become the world’s renewable energy superpower than China.” Yes, China is still building coal plants; no country is doing all that needs to be done. But if we want to continue to be the world’s leader, we have to act like one.

We use more power per capita than any other country, and we are the richest country on the planet. We can and should be the first country to pass a carbon fee and dividend law to reduce our greenhouse gases to zero by mid-century.

The proposal in Congress would protect U.S. manufacturing by imposing tariffs on high-carbon goods. This would encourage our trading partners to develop their own carbon taxes.

What Smith missed altogether is that returning the revenue to the people would bolster our economy through the shift to renewable energy. This is crucial. There are objective studies showing that with a well-designed program, most of us would receive more money in our dividends than we would spend in extra costs on gas and electricity. And just as important, job growth, human health and GDP would increase.

Carbon fee and dividend isn’t a silver bullet, but it could be the foundation upon which our successful switch to renewable energy will be built.

Bob Fabian works on climate restoration with Citizens’ Climate Lobby. He lives in Petaluma.

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