Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Carbon Profligates Should Share the Wealth

At the Conference of Parties (COP) 22 in Marrakesh, Morocco, the question of reparations for climate damage by developed countries may come up again after it became a sticking point in Copenhagen and was finessed out of the agreement in Paris. The Green Party of the U.S., while it embraces environmental justice, doesn't take it that far. Nor is it necessary. To begin with, pushing for countries to compensate others for their losses doesn't get at the source of the emissions at a level that will incite prompt remedial action. It is also questionable justice if parties are retroactively punished for lawful actions.
Dr. James Hansen by Global Justice Now

At COP 21, Dr. James Hansen made it clear that the treaty would not be enforceable and that putting a fee on emissions would be a preferable approach. Rather than exact transfers from one country to another, the carbon fees would be collected internally and distributed to the respective citizens of the country of the carbon profiteering corporation. The fee would thus become revenue neutral with regard to each country's treasury. It would also be an opportunity to transfer wealth from the rich to the poor, as countries would pass the money on to those with lesser emissions. Economist Thomas Piketty would approve. The Green Party echos Hansen in their 2016 Platform statement:
Enact a Fee & Dividend system on fossil fuels to enable the free market to include the environmental costs of their extraction and use. These fees shall be applied as far upstream as possible, either when fuel passes from extraction to refining, distribution or consumption; or when it first enters the United States' jurisdiction. The carbon fee will initially be small, a dime per kilogram of carbon, to avoid creating a shock to the economy. The fee will be increased by 10% each year that global atmospheric carbon dioxide content is greater than 350 ppm, decreased 10% each year it's less than 300 ppm, and repealed entirely when it falls below 250 ppm.
The beauty of this approach is that it could address two dire problems - greenhouse gasses and widespread indebtedness - with a single mechanism. It also places the burden of payment where it belongs - with those who are at the root cause of the additional carbon emissions. Those people are relatively wealthy, and the principle way that wealth has become so divergent in this age is through leveraging of fossil energy resources. Thus have the rich become richer, and the poor, poorer. Without fossil fuels, the wealth effect would still apply, however economic growth would be much slower or nil in the long run, making the absolute differences between rich and poor much smaller.

Yesterday, the state of Washington failed to pass a ballot initiative to tax carbon in a revenue neutral arrangement. The old guard environmental movement there seems to have gotten mired in the intricacies of Washington's tax system. The state that should be leading this movement is the one with the most millionaires per square mile - Maryland. It might be surprising to see how easily we can achieve our goal of 40% reduction by 2030 without targeting specific industries, and instead, putting the burden on individuals and companies that turn out to be carbon intensive. As one of the few states that voted decisively against D Trump, perhaps we will manage to turn Green by the next round and gain a proud legacy for posterity by leading on this issue.

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