Max Felsher: A conservative argument for a carbon tax

July 26, 2013 

Max Felsher


Conservatives from North Carolina need to be banging on the doors of their members of Congress and proudly supporting a revenue-neutral carbon tax.

That’s what I was doing on the last Tuesday in June, the same day President Obama announced a plan to use regulations to reduce carbon emissions. With me were about 370 other volunteers for the Citizens Climate Lobby.

Now I’m not a conservative. But a carbon tax that returns all the proceeds to the people? Not only will it boost jobs in North Carolina, but the idea itself is a very conservative one.

North Carolina has a lot more to gain from leading the renewable-energy industry than from continuing to import coal and gasoline from other states. Jobs in renewable energy and energy efficiency have been a bright spot in the state’s economy, having grown for five years straight, according to the N.C. Sustainable Energy Association.

All right, but conservatives argue the government shouldn’t pick winners and losers. The free market is the best way to handle many problems. And according to economic theory, taxes reduce the benefits our country gets from free-flowing markets.

But let’s return to basic economics. If companies don’t have to pay all the costs of the products they sell, a free market will cause companies to sell products even when the overall costs to us, the people, outweigh the benefits. A tax on harmful products can actually bring a company’s costs for creating the products in line with the costs America pays, increasing the value we get from using a market system.

That’s why many conservative economists support a carbon tax, for example, Greg Mankiw and Glenn Hubbard, both chairmen of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush.

By itself, a carbon tax does direct money from the private sector to the government, but the revenue can be offset. For example, Citizens Climate Lobby supports a rebate of all the revenue to the people, divided evenly. This would protect the poor and much of the middle class from income lost to the tax itself. About two out of three households would actually benefit from such a program, according to the Carbon Tax Center.

So why am I paying my own way to promote this conservative proposal to conservative legislators, many of them skeptical? I still believe it’s possible to sit down with people who hold different beliefs and come to an agreement based on shared values. I know that conservatives love their children just as much as liberals do. And make no mistake, our kids need protecting from the effects of carbon emissions.

We’ve known for more than 150 years that carbon dioxide blocks the escape of heat. And we know that we’re adding incredible amounts to the atmosphere every day, seriously disrupting the weather patterns that our agriculture, water supply and economic trade depend on.

As my home of Carrboro recovers from flooding, and as vicious wildfires burn out west, I worry about the impacts of carbon emissions on the children of liberals and conservatives alike. That’s why conservatives should be leading the call for a revenue-neutral carbon tax, a truly conservative, market-based proposal to grow our economy and protect our children.

Max Felsher is a volunteer for the Triangle chapter of Citizens Climate Lobby. He lives in Carrboro.

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