First word

I DELAYED publication of this factual information for a day to find out whether the climate change (green energy) lobby or the United Nations local office will responsibly inform our people and our government about the death that has visited the policy agenda of the climate change movement.

Will they publish an obituary notice, or will they just cover up the death and pretend as though nothing has happened?

Strangely, neither has indicated that they are even aware of the death of the carbon tax nor that they are much concerned.

Facts cannot be bottled up however. The word is out. US journals, newspapers and tv networks have reported on the demise of the carbon tax. The story is highly significant.

The fullest report on the transition - complete with details, background and analysis - has been published by the County Journal and the Atlantic Magazine, which pooled their efforts to publish a common story and analysis.

Robinson Meyer by-lined the article of the Atlantic, titled "Carbon tax, beloved policy to fix climate change, is dead at 47."

Meyer's article reports the main facts and details about the death of the carbon tax, its historical background and its importance to climate issues. He includes a full analysis of the implications of this development for climate policy and the climate movement. Following is an abridged version of his article.

Obituary on carbon tax

"The American carbon tax, an alluringly simple policy once hailed by environmentalists, scholars and politicians as a cure-all for climate change, could not overcome its enduring unpopularity with the American public. It died last month at its home in Washington, D.C. It was 47.

"The death was confirmed by President Joe Biden's utter lack of interest in passing it.

"The carbon tax aimed to reduce carbon-dioxide pollution - which heats the air, acidifies the ocean and causes climate change - by applying a commonsense idea: If you don't want people to do something, charge them money for it.

"It was a straightforward, perhaps even beautiful, idea - a bid to apply the economic precepts of the 19th century to one of the great problems of the 21st. Its poise was matched by its elite support. The carbon tax won acclaim from self-described socialists and red-blooded libertarians, Democratic senators and Republican secretaries of state, Elon Musk and Janet Yellen.

"It was a particular favorite of the economics profession. Some 3,589 economists once declared it "the most cost-effective lever to reduce carbon emissions." In 2018, it helped William Nordhaus, a Yale professor and the author of several books about the policy, win the Nobel Prize in economics.

"Yet for all its credibility on campus, the carbon tax could not triumph in the real world - that is, on Capitol Hill. In 1993, and again in 2009 and 2010, Congress considered bills that would have put a price on carbon pollution nationwide.

"By this spring, when Democrats began debating their first major climate bill in 11 years, the carbon tax could find no purchase in congressional negotiations.

"The carbon tax's condition significantly worsened last month, when an ExxonMobil lobbyist revealed that his employer, who had claimed to support a carbon tax since 2009, only did so knowing that it could never pass.

"Darren Woods, Exxon's chief executive, denied the assessment and claimed that the company's support was genuine. But the words had been said. The carbon tax died several hours later.

Emblem of climate policy

"The carbon tax ended life as an emblem of climate policy.

"The carbon tax did not catch on until a group of atmospheric chemists, some of them working down the street at Harvard, publicized the existence of the greenhouse effect several years later.

"In December 1981, at a conference for American economists at the Washington Hilton, William Nordhaus, the Yale professor, asked what economics could do about the problem of carbon dioxide.

"Carbon pollution, he argued, was a negative externality, a cost borne by someone who didn't consent to paying it, like conventional air pollution. But carbon dioxide was a much trickier problem than smog, Nordhaus said, because its costs diffused through space and time. If your factory makes smog, your neighbors suffer from it immediately. But if your factory emits CO2, then the people who suffer from it most might live in another country - and another century.

"Nordhaus entertained two solutions. The first was a standard, which would force everything that emits carbon - such as cars, power plants, and steel mills - to install emissions-reducing technology. The second was a tax, which would levy the same fee on each ton of CO2 pollution from all sources.

"In one of the most important paragraphs ever published about climate-change policy, Nordhaus endorsed the tax.

"By 1983, the Environmental Protection Agency was modeling what a carbon tax would mean for American emissions. Soon the Congressional Budget Office was researching one too.

"The carbon tax came into legal majority in 1990, when Finland passed the world's first version of the policy. A year later, the European Commission said it would implement a carbon tax by 1993.

"Back at home, its family was growing. Republicans had become keen on the carbon tax's cousin: emissions-trading systems, or 'cap and trade' schemes. These offered a new way to price carbon pollution. Under cap-and-trade, the government decreed the total amount of pollution allowed each year, then auctioned off the right to emit it. By the 1992 presidential election, Democrats were more likely to favor a carbon tax, while Republicans endorsed a carbon market - when they endorsed climate policy at all.

Carbon tax vs cap and trade

"But an even more important fissure was opening in Washington. The industries that stood to lose from climate policy - heavy polluters such as the coal, railroad, oil, and steel industries - were organizing against policy faster than allies were coalescing around it. They were beginning to deny the science of climate change, and they were dragging the GOP along with them.

"Business opposition took down Europe's continent-wide carbon-tax proposal too. For the next decade and a half, only the Scandinavian countries - Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Finland - managed to pass and keep a carbon tax aimed at curbing emissions.

"From then on, cap-and-trade - not a carbon tax - would prove the more politically successful form of carbon pricing.

"Cap-and-trade has caught on as a regional policy. In 2008, seven northeastern states launched a cap-and-trade market for their electricity emissions, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. It now includes 11 states, and Pennsylvania and North Carolina could join soon.

"But at the federal level, policymakers have rejected policies that maximize efficiency at all. Biden's infrastructure bill adopts the standard-based approach that Nordhaus once disdained.

"Looking back, some political scientists say that the reasons for the failure of efficient carbon policy, at least in the United States, are clear. With the exception of Canada, every country that has adopted carbon pricing has no major fossil-fuel industry, notes Nina Kelsey, a political scientist at George Washington University.

"Carbon prices save dollars, these researchers admit. But they expend an even scarcer resource: political capital. Because a carbon price affects all of society, it increases costs for every energy consumer, without providing an immediate alternative. Because most industries interact with the energy system only as consumers, that takes a cohort that wouldn't care about climate policy in the abstract and turns it into a foe.

"It does not change political coalitions to make passing more climate policy in the future any easier.

"Advocates say they will cryogenically freeze the American carbon tax in case it is needed in the future. But near-term prospects for the policy's revival are dim."

[email protected]