July 08, 2007

Live Earth: What About a Carbon Tax?

This weekend's "Live Earth" concert, designed to raise public consciousness about the earth's environmental woes (or something), is history. An as-yet-uncounted number of greens around the world have signed on to the "Live Earth Pledge," which commits right-thinking people around the planet to change a few light bulbs and forward some emails.

But as the Christian Science Monitor points out today, the Live Earth pledge is a bit light on the public policy solutions that will be needed to slow down what is generally seen as a human-influenced climate change pattern:
[A] carbon tax is not even suggested in the seven-point pledge that everyone who watches the Live Earth broadcast will be asked to sign.
This is (correctly) troubling to the Monitor primarily because the Live Earth recommendations include some pretty substantial reductions in CO2 emissions, but don't give us a meaningful way of achieving these important goals:
The Live Earth pledges do call for... a new treaty that would reduce greenhouse
gases by 90 percent in rich countries within a few decades.
Any such treaty with that kind of demand for a swift drop in CO2 output would require the kind of radical change in lifestyles that a stiff carbon tax would bring. Consumption taxes, after all, are often designed to wean people off bad behavior, such as smoking.
Anyone over 18 who attended last year's "Save Darfur" rally in front of the US Capitol in Washington, DC probably noticed the disjunction between the surplus of good intentions and the dearth of policy solutions presented at the rally-- and the unwillingness of the Live Earth people to at least talk about the carbon tax issue sounds like more of the same, to these ears. Resolution followed by inaction is arguably worse than no resolution at all, if the result is that young idealistic Americans lose faith that their resolutions can have an impact.

There are, of course, reasons to be uncomfortable with a carbon tax as a policy solution, not least of which is the disproportionate impact such a tax would have on the poorest families. And, as the Monitor's editorial points out, the elected officials among us have almost universally refrained from sticking their necks out on this issue. But the folks at Live Earth aren't running for office, and have very little to lose by at least mentioning the possibility of a carbon tax as part of the solution. Let's hope they use this opportunity to at least mention the "t word" in their discussion of how to cure our collective carbon addiction.


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