The problem with taxing ourselves out of climate change – [op-ed]

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Written by Derek P Throt for the Telegraph

The great chemist Arrhenius claimed that burning fossil fuels could lead to higher CO2 levels. Decades later the existence of the greenhouse effect was confirmed by scientific means, This revelation was swiftly followed by activists pushing for governments to counteract climate change using a variety of means including carbon pricing.

Historically the US has had a rather rocky relationship with measures intended to price carbon emissions. From the failure of the 1993 BTU tax to the toxic debate surrounding the Waxman-Markey cap and trade Act it is fair to say that the United States has never had a true carbon pricing mechanism. Now with the Majority proposing a raise in our gas tax, this is set to change, unless the Senate majority opts to kill the proposed legislation.

Doing so may that we cannot curtail climate change alone as the United States makes up barely 15% of all CO2 emissions. Now compare that to the 85% of remaining emissions, especially 28% emitted by China and you can start to see the problem with relying on unilateral action to reach the proscribed goal of a 50% reduction by 2030. 

There is also an even bigger disparity to be considered.  Since 2005we have managed to reduce our emissions by 758 million tonnes. In contrast other countries particularly China and India have skyrocketed their emissions, with the former increasing its yearly emissions by over 3 billion metric tonnes in the same time period. In other words, the Chinese increase in emissions was almost quadruple our emissions reductions and managed to almost doubly offset the combined US-EU CO2 reductions. To make matters worse the Chinese government has made clear that Chinese emissions will continue to grow until a supposed peak around 2030, conversely the year by which global CO2 emissions are supposed to be halved.

We are not the main culprit when it comes to CO2 emissions. Yet the current House Majority wishes to impose carbon pricing measures upon the American taxpayer, while conversely doing very little to tackle the real problem of China and India ramping up their emissions.

To add insult to injury the proposed new measures are far from a free lunch. Studies examining the impact of the EU ETS system on electricity prices within the EU27 have found that Emissions Trading may have resulted in electricity price increases ranging in between 12-27% ,with some studies even suggesting an increase of 66% . For the average American, this could mean hundreds if not thousands of dollars per year to pay for the most basic of necessities.

These additional costs also have severe distributional impacts with some studies indicating that the burden of carbon pricing could be 3.25 times higher for our lowest income than for the fifth-highest quartile. Of course, this could be somewhat mitigated through complex tax rebates, but so far proposed cap and trade and infrastructure legislation has completely failed to address these disparities.

Yet there is good reason to believe that all this pain maybe for very little gain in terms of decreasing our domestic emissions. According to the Energy Information Administration, there is very little correlation between gasoline prices and the number of miles travelled by motorists.  In British Columbia, one study found that “In fact, oil prices have been found to have a bigger effect on emissions in B.C. than a carbon tax.

 In the end, it is far more likely that any attempt at green taxation or cap and trade is simply a cash grab, an attempt to increase the federal government under the thin veil of climate change. Therefore it must be the duty of not only any decent fiscal conservative ,but also anyone who cares about social justice to firmly oppose such policy even if for different reasons.

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