From the Marin IJ Marin Voice: Carbon tax would help us combat climate change

The following was published in the Marin IJ
By Jonathan Marshall September 6, 2018

The smoky haze in our air from distant California fires is a sobering reminder that Marin’s own dry hills and communities could go up in flames at any time.

Our state’s record-shattering fires and heat should frighten us all into action to safeguard our lives, our homes and our landscape. But what can we do to prevent a catastrophe like last October’s inferno in Sonoma County, or this year’s Carr firestorm that destroyed more than a thousand homes and took eight lives near Redding?

A good place to start is with the saying, “Think globally, act locally.”

Thinking globally means acknowledging what scientists are no longer reluctant to declare: the ultimate cause of these devastating infernos is not random accidents but a fast-warming climate that causes prolonged droughts, intense heat and an unprecedented, year-round fire season in our state.

Acting locally means taking defensive measures to reduce the chance of your home burning. That means building with appropriate materials, planting fire-resistant shrubs  and clearing vegetation away from your structures (see firesafemarin.org).

But such measures cannot keep Marin safe if the Earth keeps heating at an accelerating pace. Acting locally also requires taking steps to slow and ultimately reverse global warming itself.

Installing solar panels and driving an electric car are worthy responses, but will only count if such measures (and more) are taken by millions of individuals and businesses around the country and the entire world.

That’s why collective political action is so vital. If we can elect more climate leaders to Congress, and ultimately to the White House, they can enact programs to curb greenhouse gas emissions before they further disrupt life as we know it.

But what do we want our representatives in Washington to do, precisely? Marin County’s Board of Supervisors last year (May 23) offered an excellent road map when it unanimously passed a detailed resolution endorsing “a national carbon tax, based on the amount of CO2 the fuel will emit when burned.”

As the resolution noted, such a market-based solution “would incentivize manufacturers, businesses, and consumers throughout the economy to produce and use less fossil fuel, and would spur investment in and deployment of clean energy resources and energy efficient processes.”

The supervisors also proposed returning the revenue to households in equal shares — a measure the Treasury Department estimates would leave most low- and middle-income households better or no worse off.

The proposal, supported by the national grassroots organization Citizens’ Climate Lobby, is similar to concepts advocated by James Hansen, former chief climate scientist for NASA; Republican statesman George Shultz; former World Bank chief economist Nicholas Stern; major corporations such as General Motors and BP; and many environmentalists.

Indeed, a 2018 opinion survey by Yale University found that 71 percent of all registered voters, including 56 percent of Republicans, support requiring fossil fuel companies to pay carbon taxes.

Studies published this year by the Stanford Energy Modeling Forum suggest that a reasonable carbon tax (equal to about 44 cents a gallon of gasoline), could slash CO2 emissions almost in half by 2030, relative to 2005 levels. It would also save thousands of lives from reduced air pollution.

Such taxes already exist in about 20 countries, including much of Europe and Mexico. In British Columbia, a modest tax introduced in 2008 reduced emissions by up to 15 percent, according to a peer-reviewed study in the journal Energy Policy, while the province has continued to outpace the rest of Canada in economic growth.

So let’s all work to make our communities safer by acting to promote such a proven solution here in the United States.

Jonathan Marshall, CCL Marin Chapter