What is Carbon Taxes
Without reductions to greenhouse gas emissions, the United States government could lose 10% of its GDP by the end of the century as a result of climate change. (Christensen) Many human activities, such as electricity production, transportation, and deforestation contribute greatly to changes in Earth’s climate. These activities are an integral part of our daily lives, and people would find life extremely challenging without them. Our society’s dependence on fossil fuels makes finding solutions difficult. In an article by Nature Communications, it was found that for every five years we delay making significant changes to our emission practices, estimates for sea level rise by the year 2300 increase by 0.2 to 1.0 meters. (Mengel, Nauels, Rogelj, & Schleussner) Due to the urgency of the economic and social impact of climate change, carbon taxation should be implemented in the United States to encourage companies to adopt more environmentally-friendly practices, such as sequestration of carbon products.
Climate change will have disastrous effects. CNN writer Jen Christensen explains a recent report from the United States government in the CNN article Climate Change Will Shrink US Economy and Kill Thousands, Government Report Warns. Christensen states that the US economy could lose 10% of its GDP by the year 2100 due to climate change. This report was conducted by a group of over one thousand people making up thirteen federal agencies. The study found that unless people dramatically decrease the emissions of greenhouse gasses, our planet could face temperature increases of up to nine degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial temperatures by the turn of the century. The article elaborates that monetary loss will also be a large consequence of climate change. Farmers will be especially affected, as agriculture depends pivotally on consistent growing seasons. However, a more pressing problem than monetary loss is the predicted loss of life caused by climate change. The report estimates that there will be an additional 2,000 premature deaths by the year 2090 in the Midwest, many from tick and mosquito-borne diseases. Due to increased global temperatures, wildfire seasons will last longer, consuming up to six times more forest area than they do currently, by only the year 2050. While time and money-consuming efforts to combat climate change may not pay off immediately, it will potentially save billions of dollars and thousands of lives in the long term.
How it works
Sea level rise is another major consequence of increases in global temperatures. The documentary, Before the Flood, examines the impact of man-made carbon dioxide emissions on the environment and sea level. On location in Greenland, climatologist Professor Jason E. Box explains that even if temperatures remain at current levels, Greenland’s ice sheet will melt away, exacerbating sea level rise. Professor Box then showed a climate monitoring station, that just five years prior, had sensors drilled thirty feet beneath the surface of the ice. These sensors have since been exposed by the loss of solid ice, providing a visual illustration of the ice loss. The Canadian arctic is facing similar challenges. A local fisherman and hunter related some of the difficulties caused by climate change, such as how the softening of the ice accelerates the melting process, (Before the Flood 0:13:20-0:19:28).
Climate change is clearly a quickly-approaching, large-scale issue that will affect nearly everyone. With these considerations in mind, a fast-acting solution to the problem is paramount. One possible solution to climate change that fits these considerations is the implementation of carbon taxes. As described by Kenneth P. Green, a writer for the Salem Press Encyclopedia, “In the narrowest sense, carbon taxes are governmentally mandated fees levied on entities engaged in activities that cause carbon-containing greenhouse gases (GHGs), such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane, to be emitted into the atmosphere”. Somewhat contrary to their name, carbon taxes would likely place taxes not only on carbon-containing gasses, but also other greenhouse gasses, such as methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. Carbon taxes would be implemented as a type of consumption tax, as the consumer is depleting the Earth’s ability to tolerate further greenhouse gas emissions. The amount that a consumer would be taxed is decided by the global warming potential of the released gasses, usually measured in units of carbon dioxide equivalent. Activities that carbon taxes would affect include deforestation, consumption of fossil fuels, and livestock keeping. Current economic theory predicts carbon taxes to be effective at reducing the emission of greenhouse gasses. (Green)
Deforestation is one of the many culprits to the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Without knowledge of how much carbon is being stored in each forest, it would be difficult to accurately and fairly determine how much a company should be taxed for the deforestation of an area. This is a problem that the NASA GEDI laser instrument will resolve. In an article for NASA, Kathryn Cawdrey discusses the new Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) laser instrument. This instrument will soon become a part of the International Space Station to map areas and obtain data pertaining to carbon dioxide absorption of forests. It will record a map of which forests and trees are absorbing and storing carbon more effectively than others. This information is important, because once a tree is cut down, its carbon will eventually return to the atmosphere. While scientists do know how much carbon dioxide is being released into the atmosphere, they do not fully understand how much is being absorbed, and where. This instrument is designed to shed light on this subject, by using advanced laser technology to create a three-dimensional map of forest canopies. This map can then be used to determine the amount of carbon being stored in the forest (Cawdrey). With this information, companies can be taxed appropriately for harvesting forested areas simply by referring to the map created by the instrument.
However, the implementation of carbon taxes will not be without opposition. Some people believe that carbon taxes will damage the U.S. economy, since it is so dependent on fossil fuels. Correctly implemented, carbon taxes should not induce economic damage. Carbon taxes will place taxation not on produced carbon, but on released carbon. Companies will be able to alleviate some of the costs from carbon taxes by implementing emission control technology, such as carbon-capture-and-storage. Elizabeth Schafer, a writer for the Salem Press Encyclopedia, discusses methods of controlling industrial emissions in the article Industrial Emission Controls. In the article, Schafer states that, because the burning of any fossil fuels produces greenhouse gasses, many industry operators have already incorporated techniques to reduce emissions. Incentivized by environmental, economic, and legislative motivations, several industries have already significantly reduced carbon dioxide emissions by utilizing carbon-capture-and-storage techniques. These techniques capture carbon dioxide released by combustion of fossil fuels and contain it to be safely sequestered far away from the atmosphere. The carbon is usually sequestered underground, as in the case of the Norwegian industry, StatoilHydro, that safely sequesters one million tons of their carbon emissions every year. Experts have expressed that propagation of carbon-capture-and-storage methods may be a viable option to significantly reduce global carbon emissions (Schafer).
Companies will be able to greatly mitigate costs caused by taxes by implementing environmentally friendly equipment. While replacing current equipment with newer solutions is expensive for a company at first, they will likely pay themselves off with savings from carbon taxation. In some cases, however, upgrading old equipment may not be possible. If this is the case, a company can retrofit existing equipment with carbon-capture-and-storage technology. This would be a much less expensive way to reduce emissions, while also greatly mitigating the costs of carbon taxes.
Having some greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere is beneficial to life. Without them, there would be no recognizable life on Earth at all. This is because without the insulating gasses, all water on the planet would be frozen. In this scenario, Earth would eventually resemble Mars, a cold and barren world believed to be devoid of life. On the opposite side of the spectrum, an excess of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere can be equally devastating to life. With too much greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, Earth would begin to bear resemblance to Venus, a planet that suffered a runaway greenhouse effect. This runaway effect resulted in a surface temperature hot enough to melt lead, making it uninhabitable for human life. It is important for Earth to maintain this critical equilibrium between these two extreme scenarios. Unfortunately, human activities are putting this equilibrium in jeopardy with the release of disproportionate quantities of carbon dioxide and other harmful greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. It’s unrealistic to expect a solution that does not require compromises. With carbon taxes implemented, companies will have to invest in environmentally-friendly equipment or install carbon sequestration technology. As a result of this, final product prices will be raised slightly. This is a small cost that will simply have to be accepted in the interest of preserving our planet for future generations. This cost can either be construed as a detriment to society and a step backwards, or as a