Carbon Taxes Are Even More Regressive Globally Than Nationally (Wonkish)

Collectively, progressive are still grasping about for some way to reduce carbon emissions without flat out limits or bans. David Roberts has been blogging about carbon taxes —

Roberts’ main premise is that the political will for carbon taxes just isn’t there, but that political resistance may decrease depending on what is done with the revenues.

But Roberts assumes that the price for a carbon tax would be set according to the “social cost of carbon” — a rather fictional calculation of the dollar value of all the harms caused by climate catastrophe, discounted to present value.  This might be somewhere between $10 and $150 per ton of CO2. Unfortunately, such a tax would not avoid climate catastrophe, it would just achieve the economically “optimal” level of climate catastrophe. Put simply, carbon emitters in wealthy nations would prefer to pay the tax and keep emitting as long as the tax is based on the relatively low dollar “value” of climate harms in the developing world. To make it worse, the taxes collected remain in the wealthy nations; there is no thought to paying compensation to those who actually suffer the harms.

Neo classical economic thinking accepts this result as optimal — it is just fine for the poor to get poorer as long as the wealthy get wealthier by a larger margin and aggregate wealth is increased. If society cares about fairness and distributive justice, then it can redistribute the wealth and make everyone better off.  But it doesn’t. I explain this in greater detail in a post today on Pace’s GreenLaw blog

In order to avoid catastrophic climate change in excess of 2 degrees C, global GHG  emissions probably have to be cut by around 80% within about ten or fifteen years, or eliminated entirely within twenty years or so. To achieve this, a carbon tax would have to be more like $1,000 per ton (about $10 per gallon of gasoline).

My own goal, and the purpose of this blog, is to talk about achieving that 80% reduction in my individual carbon footprint right now. Because we can.


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