In her June 7 op-ed, “The no-brainer climate solution,” Catherine Rampell pointed out that the Democratic presidential candidates have omitted our biggest policy tool in fighting climate change: a carbon tax. Economists overwhelmingly support using the price mechanism to encourage clean fuels and discourage dirty fuels. A carbon tax is, by far, the most powerful tool in our arsenal, yet the Democrats are avoiding using the T-word because it has become political suicide ever since then-Vice President George H.W. Bush prevailed over Michael Dukakis after saying: “Read my lips. No new taxes.” We’re living in an era in which people don’t want to hear about costs.
Given this unfortunate political reality, economists have devised ways to avoid the “yellow vest” problem, i.e., the riots that occurred in France after French President Emmanuel Macron’s planned increase in gas taxes. Revenue-neutral design of a carbon tax would rebate all money to consumers via a lump-sum rebate or an increasingly progressive income tax. Such “dividends” could be designed to favor lower-income individuals (who tend to have lower energy use) while those who use more fossil fuels pay more.
Although Democrats tend to look very “green” when juxtaposed against a president who denies climate change, the urgency of climate change has reached the point at which Democrats need to go a step further and bone up on these politically palatable double-dividend policies that fight climate change and enhance economic welfare.
Holly Stallworth, Silver Spring
Catherine Rampell’s op-ed was curiously silent on the political history of carbon taxes. Each of the past two Democratic presidents and their initial congressional majorities attempted to pass carbon taxes: Bill Clinton’s BTU tax in 1993 and Barack Obama’s cap-and-trade plan in 2009. In each case, Republicans shamelessly demagogued the issue for political advantage while offering no plans of their own to address climate change. One major result was the largest loss of House seats by Democrats in recent history in the subsequent 1994 and 2010 midterm elections.
When sufficient numbers of congressional Republicans will honestly support and vote for carbon taxes, Democrats will likely tempt fate a third time. Until then, we might want to focus more on the lack of any serious climate proposals coming from the Trump White House and Republicans in Congress, rather than quibbling with the many serious climate change proposals coming from Democrats.
Paul Bledsoe, Arlington
The writer served on the Democratic staff of the Senate Finance Committee from 1993 to 1995 and on the White House Climate Change Task Force under President Bill Clinton.
While in Paris reading Catherine Rampell’s call for new taxes to combat climate change, I saw yellow. As in yellow vests. While it’s true that the Gilets Jaunes movement has morphed from tax rebellion into something more complicated, it’s clear that Americans should also pay attention to who pays for climate plans, and how much.
Rebates are fine but probably not enough; messaging is important, too. If people don’t make the connection between the tax and their “cash back” or, more likely, don’t believe that all revenue will be spent for the stated cause, they will resist. As Ms. Rampell sagely noted, we get one shot at fixing this crisis. We will need to look far beyond classical economics to right this sinking ship.
Lori Fontanes, Rye, N.Y.
Catherine Rampell’s op-ed on the Democratic presidential candidates’ positions on climate change was much appreciated. However, most candidates still have not grasped the urgency. Climate change is the greatest threat our species has faced. Nearly every published study on the effects of climate change has soon been seen to be overly optimistic. We will likely blow right through a warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius, and limiting warming to 2 degrees Celsius will then seem to require too much effort too quickly. Those in the know think we will hit 3 to 5 degrees Celsius by the time our grandchildren are having children. Three degrees Celsius above preindustrial times could be hell on Earth; 5 degrees Celsius could be apocalyptic, perhaps not survivable.
The crisis is upon us, and nothing less than a World War II-level response will suffice. During that war, everyone was involved: There were victory gardens, recycling drives, rationing. Industry was mobilized. Everyone was on board. This same level of effort will require conviction and courage from those leaders who are able and willing to understand what the science is unambiguously telling us. In 1941, the forces of darkness were on the march. Now, we need to view the spewing of greenhouse gases and the sixth mass extinction as our greatest enemy. The war has begun.
Duncan Forbes, Herndon