Can someone explain to me why the folks who are organizing around climate change (like 350.org) are so focused on getting colleges to divest from energy companies and aren’t pushing for a carbon tax? Over vacation, I finally read Bill McKibben’s Rolling Stone article in which he goes through the math of climate change (bottom line: we’re in deep trouble), and was mostly convinced that the changes we’re making now are just not going to have enough impact fast enough to really make the difference. But I don’t see divestment moving the needle any faster.
And I do think that right now, there’s a strong case to be made that we should be looking to a carbon tax (with appropriate provisions to assist lower-income households, who would otherwise be badly affected) as solution that simultaneously address climate issues and the deficit. President Obama is clear that he thinks that revenues need to still be on the table in the next round of deficit negotiations — the basic argument is that the Budget Control Act in 2011 was spending cuts only, the fiscal cliff deal was revenue only, and the next round should be both. But he seems to agree that the rates, at least for personal income taxes, are not going to move further. The White House fact sheet on the deal says “The agreement leaves substantial scope for reducing tax expenditures for high-income households, reforming corporate taxes to broaden the base and cut the rate to make America more competitive, and to take further steps to reform entitlements.” I’m just really skeptical that he’s going to identify enough tax expenditures to cut to get to where we need to be on revenues — the charitable deduction, the mortgage interest deduction and the exclusion of health insurance coverage from income all seem to be pretty much politically untouchable. Rather than banging our heads against that wall, it seems to be time to pivot and suggest a completely different approach — a carbon tax. (Of course, the Republicans don’t want to allow any more revenue, but that’s another story.)
But given the well financed, well organized opposition to a carbon tax, it’s never going to happen unless there’s an organized effort to support it. And the folks who are trying to create a mass movement around climate change don’t seem to be pushing for it at all. I really don’t get it. If you have an explanation, I’d love to hear it.