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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

The Carbon Taxes We Already Pay

“Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Benjamin Franklin, 1789. Portrait painted in 1767 by David Martin (1737-1797)

“Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Benjamin Franklin, 1789. Portrait painted in 1767 by David Martin (1737-1797)

They have no benefit, but their price is high.

By George Harvey

We already pay carbon taxes in Vermont. Most people do not know this. But for anyone who looks, the information on how much we pay is on the record, and it is appalling.

The use of fossil fuels has costs that are only denied by people who can somehow deny that air pollution causes economic damage. And this is a cost that has been calculated for us. It comes to $1.30 for each gallon of gasoline or heating oil that is burned, according to the American Lung Association. For Vermont, with its clean air, that cost comes to roughly $1,000 per person per year, which is a figure hidden for most of us in taxes and health insurance. But for those who suffer from diseases caused directly by air pollution – lung cancer, emphysema, asthma, chronic bronchitis, cardiac issues, liver cancer – or those driven by climate change – Lyme disease, bubesiosis, West Nile virus, eastern equine encephalitis – the cost is also in terms of suffering.

The use of fossil fuels has costs that are only denied by people who can somehow deny that climate change has had a depressing effect on agriculture. They should talk to producers of maple syrup, whose revenues have been declining. They should check hardiness zone maps, which show an overall increase of about ten degrees on the coldest winter nights, which determine how far invasive species can penetrate. Our orchards, farms, and forests are all threatened with loss from non-native species. The costs of dealing with this are high and climbing.

The use of fossil fuels has costs that are only denied by people who can somehow deny that climate change drives stronger hurricanes. They make us believe that there was nothing unusual in the 2017 hurricane season, which is not over but has already broken a string of records. It is a position that can be supported by neither science nor economics.

Hurricane Harvey may actually have had doubled the cost of the previous record hurricane cost. In only about two weeks, it was followed by Hurricane Irma, the most powerful hurricane on record that formed over waters of the Atlantic Ocean. In only about another two weeks, that was followed by Hurricane Maria, which had a lower central pressure than either Harvey or Irma. The total cost of these may be as much as $300 billion. In Vermont, that cost will be born by everyone who pays federal taxes or flood insurance.

Hurricane Harvey has been judged to be a 25,000 year flood event. And it was just the first of three category-four storms to hit United States territory in one month, a higher figure than we had ever had in any previous year. Nevertheless, President Donald Trump says we have had worse. (A high IQ sometimes only makes for a bigger fool.)

For anyone who is interested, the total cost of flood insurance premiums increased, over the period of 1978 to 2016 by a factor of 47. Of that increase, about 15% can be accounted for by the combination of inflation, increased population, and increased property values, relative to the dollar. That does not include increases resulting from this year’s damage.

Other costs of climate change include those associated with the droughts in California and Montana. I have read that in 2017, half the U.S. wheat crop was lost due to drought, which was worsened by climate change.

These are taxes we all pay, and their costs are high. How many people would like to be able to avoid the health costs alone, leaving an extra $1,000 per year for each person covered by the family budget?

But though we all pay the hidden taxes, there are only a tiny number of beneficiaries. We can, however, trace who the beneficiaries are, and we can do that by following a money trail.

Our congress and White House are run by people who deny science. Their campaigns were financed by people who are heavily invested in the fossil fuels industry, which is hurt by any reduction in the use of their products. These are not the 1% of Americans who are rich. They are perhaps the 0.0001%. We pay with our health and wealth. They profit. And they pay politicians to keep it that way.

We can stop paying a set of taxes that are heavy burdens, for which no one voted, no legislature debated, and no governor put pen to paper. We can do that by putting a price on carbon.

Vermont Governor Phil Scott has made it perfectly clear that it is his intention to veto any carbon tax that makes it to his desk. He needs to consider the hidden taxes we already pay, before he does that.

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