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Carbon-Taxing the Rich

Carbon-Taxing the Rich

Joseph Stiglitz

This month's international meeting in Bali will set a framework that will attempt to prevent the impending disaster of global warming/climate change. There is now little doubt that greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, are leading to significant changes in climate. Nor is there doubt that these changes will impose huge costs.

The only principle that has some ethical basis is equal emission rights per capita (with some adjustments - for instance, the US has already used up its share of the global atmosphere, so it should have fewer emission allowances).

I would argue that even this principle is flawed. Imagine two countries, one which has planned for and took deliberate measures to keep their population stabilized to numbers that match their food growing capacity and say they have a fairly egalitarian economy that is industrialized and transitioning to 100% RE but could use some emissions allowance. Now imagine another country that did no planning and blew off the population problem entirely and it has a very unequal society with a few rich people making most of the emissions but a whole lot of poor people too. Is it ethical that the second country gets more emissions allowances than the first?

Not that I’m proposing a better solution because I think there aren’t any good ones. The best thing we can do is solve our own damn problem in the US and set an example (as it is, we are now looking at other countries setting the example for us). I am all for a mostly revenue neutral carbon tax that starts out at 50 or 100 dollars per ton and ramps up to about 10x that in 15 years or so. But I don’t want to wait till we get a world wide agreement before implementing it. And the money leaving the US and going to other countries is pretty much going to completely bust the idea poltically.