Jun 10 2008


Sorry. Sorry. A heartfelt penguin apology for not writing sooner.
We have been busy here in the land of ice and snow.

Many young people write us asking what they can do to save the earth. Of course, none of us have gone to school, let alone college. We have what we call “ice smarts” – you call it street smarts. But there is a very smart man who has a very simple but very smart idea about what can be done. James Hansen works for the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and teaches Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University.

His plan is called “Carbon Tax and 100% Dividend.” We’ll do our penguin best to describe it. Taxing fossil fuels raises the prices of fuel but spurs reduced use. That is what is absolutely necessary today. Reducing the use of the fuel that drives global warming. Unfortunately, there are those who are fighting against the global movement to drastically reduce the use of fossil fuels – and the drive to increase the use of renewable fuels.

Of course, there are many different ways of taxing oil and gas and coal. Many allow companies to buy and sell the right to use energy. Many proposals are about business as usual and are designed by and favor the wealthy users of energy.

James Hansen’s plan
starts when fossil fuel energy is first sold – “within the
country or at the last (e.g., at the gas pump), but it can be collected easily and reliably.
You cannot hide coal in your purse; it travels in railroad cars that are easy to spot.”

So all users of coal, oil and gas are taxed. The question is how does the system work and how do you protect average working people.

Hansen continues:

A carbon tax will raise energy prices, but lower and middle income people, especially,
will find ways to reduce carbon emissions so as to come out ahead. Product demand will
spur economic activity and innovation. The rate of infrastructure replacement, thus
economic activity, can be modulated by how fast the carbon tax rate increases. Effects
will permeate society. Food requiring lots of carbon emissions to produce and transport
will become more expensive and vice versa – it is likely, e.g., that the UK will stop
importing and exporting 15,000 tons of waffles each year. There will be a growing price
incentive for life style changes needed for sustainable living.

There is a price to be paid for addressing the climate crisis; but the price has to be paid fairly.

Hansen argues that there is a simple way to build in fairness:

The entire carbon tax should be returned to the public, with a monthly deposit to their
bank accounts, an equal share to each person (if no bank account provided, an annual
check – social security number must be provided). No bureaucracy is needed to figure
this out. If the initial carbon tax averages $1200 per person per year, $100 is deposited in
each account each month (Detail: perhaps limit to four shares per family, with child
shares being half-size, i.e., no marriage penalty but do not encourage population growth).

The price is oil is rising all over the world. The cost of producing and delivering food is rising. Working people are suffering as prices rise. An unfair tax system will only make things worse. Here is what Hansen has to say:

The worst thing about the present inadequate political approach is that it will generate
public backlash. Taxes will increase, with no apparent benefit. The reaction would
likely delay effective emission reductions, so as to practically guarantee that climate
would pass tipping points with devastating consequences for nature and humanity.

Americans, in particular, are always concerned about how the government spends their tax money. Hansen has some strong ideas about all this.

Carbon tax and 100% dividend, on the contrary, will be a breath of fresh air, a boon and
boom for the economy. The tax is progressive, the poorest benefitting most, with
profligate energy users forced to pay for their excesses. Incidentally, it will yield strong
incentive for aliens to become legal; otherwise they receive no dividend while paying the
same carbon tax rate as everyone.

Special interests and their lobbyists in alligator shoes will fight carbon tax and 100%
dividend tooth and nail. They want to determine who gets your tax money in the usual
Washington way, Congress allocating money program-by-program, substituting their
judgment for that of the market place. The lobbyists can afford the shoes. Helping
Washington figure out how to spend your money is a very lucrative business.

But we can save the planet and alligators by making sure that not one thin dime of the
carbon tax is siphoned off by lobbyists for their clients – 100% must be returned to
citizens as dividend. Make this your motto: “100% or fight! No alligator shoes!”

We started this blog to help you understand what is happening to our world. We are only penguins after all.

We have no vote. We pay no taxes. But you do.

Go to James Hansen’s website and read more.

Save the Ice. Save the Earth. Save our Home.

No responses yet