Where Taxes Fail, Rationing Can Succeed in Protecting the Environment

| 10/3/2013 11:49:00 AM

In my book Any Way You Slice It, I contend that the only way any nation or the world can halt and reverse the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is to have a strict ceiling on fossil fuel consumption and lower it year by year, with fair sharing of resources via rationing. The most commonly proposed alternative to rationing is a carbon tax, but taxation is too indirect, and just as important, too politically toxic, to succeed.

The depth of resistance to such a tax has been amply demonstrated over the past fifteen months in Australia, where a fifteen-month-old carbon-pricing system—widely viewed, with good reason, as a carbon tax—is racing toward its demise. The system was created by the Labor Party with help from the Greens and has been under continuous attack by conservative politicians and business interests. The law's repeal has been one of the chief goals of the conservative Coalition party, and its fate was sealed when Coalition ousted Labor in last month's national elections. The tax will remain in effect for months to come, but its days are numbered.

The Australian scheme requires the purchase of carbon permits by the largest emitters, primarily electric utilities. Those costs have largely been passed on through customers' utility bills, and the revenues generated have been returned in the form of tax breaks to low- and middle-income Australians. Thus, the system bears some resemblance to “fee and dividend” ideas proposed by, for example, climate scientist and activist James Hansen.

The Australian carbon tax will come to an end before its effectiveness can be assessed very well. Total power plant emissions did fall during 2012 to 2013, but it is not clear how much of the reduction can be attributed to the tax. The tax may also have contributed—nobody knows exactly how much—to a record number of firms going out of business in the year ending in March.

Opponents, most prominently incoming prime minister Tony Abbott, have decried its negative economic impact, but it impossible to separate the tax's effect from those of so many other factors such as the strong Australian dollar. In any case, Abbott—who upon his victory declared Australia once more “open for business”—and other conservatives are not willing to let the experiment run any longer. 

Opposition to emissions reductions Down Under is less rooted in the denial of human-caused climate disruption that it is in the United States. Australians, who have the world's biggest per-capita greenhouse emissions (nosing out Americans) often feel they're on the front lines of the eco-crisis. They have endured an almost continuous stream of climate-related disasters in recent years: raging bushfires; routine spring storm fronts with 75 mile-per-hour winds (including the strongest September gust on record); a huge winter snowfall that interfered with storm and flood cleanups; rainfall-induced landslides; a freak tornado in Western Australia; catastrophic 2012 floods that came on the heels of a severe decade-long drought; and summer heat so intense that new colors had to be added to the temperature map last summer.

10/21/2013 7:37:17 AM

Just more of climate change propaganda.

Kevin Haendiges
10/5/2013 11:28:47 AM

Neither excessive taxation nor rationing can succceed because both are too politically toxic to survive the inevitable public backlash. In light of the increasing evidence of the rampant fraud being perpetrated in the name of "climate science" neither could even get a hearing on the floor of Congress. Taxation isn't the answer since giving an already corrupt government more money to spend creates vastly more grave consequences than greenhouse gasses could ever cause. Rationing will never fly because people will never willingly give up the creature comfort that low cost energy provides. Find cleaner ways to use existing technology until better ones are developed.

10/5/2013 8:28:48 AM

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