Wednesday, April 8, 2009
I'm among those persuaded that adding billions of tons of carbon emissions to our atmosphere is a bad thing. Even without the science, it seems sort of obvious. But I admit I haven't tried to understand the concept of "cap and trade," which seems to be Obama's preferred way of dealing with it, in any detail. Sounds like a pretty complex solution, and open to shenanigans. On the other hand, I heard something the other night that blew my mind, to the extent that it's still possible to allow myself to be blown by a Republican.
David Frum, who by some is considered a (oxymoron alert) thoughtful Republican (well, even I linked to him in a positive way recently), the inventor of the phrase "Axis of Evil," said, on Bill Maher's show, that the best solution is a carbon tax. He might well be right: it does seem a much straighter line between policy and product. But what he added was that it's what Republicans want, and at that point I felt areas of my brain melting. I may not recover.
Now I'm not saying there aren't Republicans who might support the idea of a carbon tax. Just none that would vote for it. I mean, honestly, is there any other thing they have to offer but cutting taxes on anything and everything? Anything?
We've seen it repeated time and again: gas prices go up, Americans cut back. Prices go down, conservation melts like an icecap. It happened during the Carter era, when cars were lined up for blocks waiting to get a restricted fill-up. He put directives in place to lower our oil dependency, and when prices fell Reagan came in and poofed them like his orange hair. And now that gas prices have settled back from their recent highs, fuel-efficent cars are piling up unsold. So the idea, proposed by many, that there be a federal tax on gasoline to keep the price above three bucks (Tom Friedman says four) makes a lot of sense to me, other than the fact that it's sort of unfair to the poorest. On the other hand I think there are ways to deal with it (tax breaks on fuel efficient cars, for example), and there's no doubt in my mind that reducing oil consumption is a necessity and a benefit to us all. For security, if not for climate. Direct taxes on carbon use of all sorts seem sensible. Which is why I'm only aware of Democrats who like it -- but who believe it's not politically possible. Wonder why?
The thing about David Frum is that even though he seems fitfully capable of being thoughtful (he actually said he believes in anthropogenic climate change!), he evidently can't keep it going long enough to make sense. If the idea of a carbon tax is one that Republicans are promoting and which would get support of their Congressional leaders, it's on a planet that he visits which isn't available to the rest of us.
But I admit I'm intrigued by the idea.