UW Scientist Says A Revenue-Neutral Carbon Tax Was White Supremacy - It Wasn’t.

I want Washington State, The United States of America, and the entire world to implement a revenue neutral tax on carbon. Why? It might save humanity. Yet many heavy-hitting liberal and progressive folks in our state are opposed or very critical.

In describing a 2016 statewide revenue-neutral carbon tax ballot initiative, I-732, UW School of Oceanography Research Associate Dr. Sarah E. Myhre wrote in The Stranger, “[w]hen climate policy is written by white men in a closed room, that is white supremacy.” The Sierra Club of Washington State believes that all climate policy must put “[c]ommunities of color and low-income people…front and center… That wasn't the approach taken by I-732.” Their argument is that because I-732 is revenue-neutral and doesn’t invest the carbon revenue back into marginalized communities that it was fundamentally immoral.

UW scholar might be holding climate policy back…

UW scholar might be holding climate policy back…

As might The Sierra Club!?

As might The Sierra Club!?

Along with Dr. Myhre’s critique and The Sierra Club’s opposition, a post in The Stranger’s Slog blog, The Seattle Times editorial board, The Washington State Democratic Party,  The Washington Environmental Council, Washington Conservation Voters, Climate Solutions, Children’s Alliance, OneAmerica, 350Seattle.org (which rescinded its endorsement of I-732),  Puget Sound Sage,  Seattle Audubon, Progreso Latino, Front and Centered, The Washington State Labor Council, and the AFL-CIO all opposed or did not support I-732.

The problem with these critiques against a revenue-neutral carbon tax is two fold. First, such a tax ensures that solving climate change doesn’t burden the very communities of color and low-income people that all of these left leaning orgs are rightly concerned about. We need to raise the price of carbon emission and any policy that doesn’t remit that money could very well exacerbate systemic inequality in society. Without a rebate, those with less could be impacted most as they go to work or heat their homes.

And then, of course, there is the second and much more powerful counterpoint: The experts, economists, recently came to perhaps the most definitive consensus - on a complex topic - in the history of Economics. A revenue neutral carbon tax is our planet’s best hope.

The Climate Leadership Council released a statement in The WSJ on Jan. 17th, 2019, supported by 3400+ US economists and 27 Nobelists that claims: “A carbon tax offers the most cost-effective lever to reduce carbon emissions at the scale and speed that is necessary,” and “[to] maximize the fairness and political viability of a rising carbon tax, all the revenue should be returned directly to U.S. citizens through equal lump-sum rebates.” - The list of signatories includes a couple of my own economics professors.

What’s also interesting about The Climate Leadership Council is who helped found it. That includes staunch conservatives like Harvard economist Martin Feldstein, The late Nobel Prize-winning physicist and UK Labour Party supporter Steven Hawking. Former US Federal Reserve Chair and Obama appointee Janet Yellen, Steven Chu, another Nobel Prize winning physicist, and Energy Secretary under President Obama, oh yeah and even Exxon Mobil.

CLC’s got conservative economists…

CLC’s got conservative economists…

And liberal physicists.

And liberal physicists.

This motley crew, unvexed by mixed ideology, supported by the broadest base of economists in history, makes it clear that a revenue-neutral carbon tax should be our highest priority in combating climate change. When I first learned about carbon taxes in 2007, I assumed it would be conservatives and Big Oil who would block them. I was wrong. Here in Washington State, it seems the identity politics of the left is a formidable opponent… possibly bigger than Exxon.*

Exxon, maybe not the biggest blocker to a revenue-neutral carbon tax…

Exxon, maybe not the biggest blocker to a revenue-neutral carbon tax…

*Yes, Big Oil spent big against our non revenue-neutral carbon fee initiative in 2018. They are not saints.

But take a moment to think about this: We could be two years into I-732 if Washington State liberal and progressive organizations campaigned for, instead of against it. While it might have been imperfect, it embodied the concept supported by The Climate Leadership Council’s monumental consensus. Now to be fair, I-732 might have lost anyway. All this liberal and progressive opposition to a revenue-neutral carbon tax occurred long before The CLC published its statement as well. So the question becomes, will these liberal and progressive opponents and critics of I-732 change their position on revenue-neutral climate taxes?

I hope so. We simply can’t afford to ignore the experts any longer, and I doubt we can implement a revenue-neutral carbon tax without the support of the environmental left.

We should confront systemic oppression through police, education, criminal justice, and housing policy reform among countless other desperately needed changes. But, if the existence of humanity is on the line based on the parts-per-million of carbon in our atmosphere, then we can’t ignore the most united front of economists in the history of the discipline. Let's implement a revenue-neutral carbon tax. Doing so doesn’t prohibit other solutions, it’s just the best one according to the experts.

If this blog gets any traction, a revenue-neutral carbon tax is the first major policy initiative I’ll leverage this platform for. I believe us Washingtonians can be courageous leaders on climate change, but that means expertise must trump emotion. So share this around if you support a revenue-neutral climate tax.

Nathan Chaffetz