Sunday, August 14, 2016

Last week's Democratic platform vote was a win for carbon taxes

Last week's Democratic platform vote was a win for carbon taxes
Carbon Tax Center, 29 July 2016, by Charles Komanoff

This missive from the glass-is-half-full camp claims that the Democratic Party's failure to adopt carbon taxation as a plank in its platform should actually be seen as a "win".  The plank, proposed and drafted by activist Bill McKibben of, stated that CO2 and other greenhouse gases should be taxed at "a rate high enough" to allow the Paris 2015 climate goals to be reached.  Although the plank was voted down, the article sees this as a positive development overall because (1) it got discussed by the party at all, (2) it lost by only a 7-6 vote, and (3) it was explicitly about a carbon tax, rather than just the more vague "price on carbon" that leaves the door open for carbon cap-and-trade schemes that the author feels are undesirable.   All these things show that the idea of carbon taxation is entering the political mainstream.

My take: I actually agree with the article that it is surprising and heartening to see carbon taxation being taken so seriously by politicians.  This is an unprecedented development, and we can certainly hope that it is a harbinger of things to come.  However, since I am more of the glass-is-half-empty persuasion, let me just note a few contrary points.  One, getting "fringe" ideas into a party platform is much easier than getting politicians to actually take action on those ideas.  The party platform is, in the end, just talk; it's an opportunity for politicians to talk a good game without having to actually write legislation, make difficult votes, or buck big-money donors.  Two, the plank, while well-meant, is rather strategically vague in its call for "a rate high enough" to achieve climate goals, with no hint as to what that rate might be – doubtless because the tax rate that would actually be necessary would be uncomfortably high, which even in the anodyne setting of the party platform would make it difficult for politicians to sign on.  And three, if we can't get it into the platform even in this "perfect storm" election year, with record-breaking temperatures spurred by El NiƱo plus the Bernie surge and his pressure on the platform process, what hope do we have to pass it later – especially since Clinton's camp opposed this plank, as McKibben has described?  But OK; I apologize for raining on the parade.

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