A progressive case for a carbon tax?

Apologies for the delayed newsletter, and hello from Long Island, where I’m spending time with family grieving my uncle, Terence David Hughes Jr., who died suddenly last week aged 58. He was a celebrated arborist, family man and easily the funniest person at most holidays. He’s survived by his wife, Ellie, and his children, Joshua and Julia. He’ll be sorely missed.

He loved the outdoors. Instead of sending this over the weekend, I took my own nephews hiking in Caumsett State Park. But Uncle Terry also worked tirelessly, and in that spirit, I’m sending this later rather than never. Spare me any sympathy emails, but do take the time to reach out to the people you love and remind them you love them. That is really the only thing that matters.

Now bask in the joy that is my nephews, Julian and Ryder, reading about the ecological importance of salt mashes.

The People’s Policy Project, Matt Bruenig’s left-leaning think tank, released a paper last week outlining the case for a carbon tax of $230 per metric ton, the revenue from which would be returned to everyone in America in the form of a $2,237 dividend.

The paper, written by two economists, comes as carbon pricing is enjoying newfound as a small but growing crop of Republicans rally around a plan to tax CO2 emissions at $24 per ton. At the same time, you have four Democratic lawmakers pushing a bill pricing carbon at $50 per ton. Given that the Trump administration pegs the cost of damage from carbon dioxide emissions at between $1 to $7 per ton by 2020, it seems unlikely that either piece of legislation will become law.

But the People’s Policy Project paper aims to shift to conversation on the left. Progressive energy has been focused on the push for federal stimulus to fund a massive renewable energy scale up, a set of policies known colloquially as the Green New Deal. But carbon pricing schemes are among the most conservative and seemingly inevitable policies for curbing greenhouse gas emissions. The goal of the paper is to make the left recognize that reality, and make a stronger attempt to dictate the terms on which carbon tax would be implemented.

A study published last October in the journal Environmental Research Letters found the average American would willingly spend $177 per year on a carbon tax, raising electricity prices by about 14.4 percent compared to current electricity rates in each state. The People’s Policy Project projects the cost of goods and services rising by roughly $750 billion, including price hikes of 79 percent for gas, 51 percent for electricity, 23 percent for airfare and 9 percent for groceries. The dividend, which would function sort of like a universal basic income, would help low- and middle-income families cope with the cost.

The proposal drew considerable criticism. Penn State University sociologist Daniel Aldana Cohen said “taxing carbon is good, so is rebating revenue.

“The debate is: should *all* revenues be rebated, or should a substantial portion be  invested in clean energy and resiliency, potentially w a focus on disproportionately damaged communities?” he tweeted.

Daniel Aldana Cohen@aldatweets

10/ TLDR taxing carbon is good. Everyone agrees on that. But look around: every major climate econ group gets that decarbonizing—especially in a just fashion—will require massive investment. The left’s task is to fight for public control and egalitarian results of that investment

September 19, 2018
But for others, the proposal was generally a step forward.

“As a climate scientist, I am in favor of climate policy that reduces carbon in a sensible way,” Katharine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist and professor at Texas Tech University, told me in an email. “We rely on economists and policy experts to determine the details, and this is why I appreciate work like this: because it shows us how this can be done.”

You can read more from my write up of the paper here.

Quotable Menschen

“I think everything is hyped up a bit.”

-- Matthew Coe, a Fayetteville, North Carolina, resident skeptical of climate change’s role in Hurricane Florence.

“You know, this is our second 500-year storm in two years.”

-- Fayetteville Mayor Mitch Colvin

"It's a respectable philosophy that it's really Congress, rather than the executive branch, that should set policy. But as with many philosophies, they don't come out that well when they meet actual reality.”

-- Joseph Goffman, executive director of the Environmental & Energy Law Program at Harvard Law School, on Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh

Christin Bailey@hexprax

I love living on a planet that’s 43% parking lot and 0% Western Black Rhinoceros

September 24, 2018

You know how the word "moist" feels kind of gross to say?

Try saying "free market environmentalism."

September 22, 2018
Emily Atkin@emorwee

Like there is literally an ongoing natural disaster in the Carolinas, but we can't pay full attention to it because of the ongoing disaster of this administration

September 24, 2018

🌆  🌆 🌆

It’s climate week. New York’s annual series of talks and events focused on curbing anthropogenic warming kicked off Monday with a nearly four-hour opening ceremony. You can watch it here.

The events come a week after New York City announced plans to invest $4 billion in renewables and energy efficiency by 2021. The investments will account for 2 percent of the city’s $195 billion pension fund portfolio.

🌬️  💰 🌬️

A private equity-backed cryptocurrency firm is building a Manhattan-sized wind farm. Soluna Technologies, founded by the New York-based firm Brookstone Partners, announced the purchase of a 37,000-acre site in southern Morocco, where it plans to build a 900 megawatt wind farm.

The project is billed as a hub to help offset the ludicrous amount of electricity cryptocurrencies consume. Bitcoin alone saps as much electricity as the entire nation of Ireland, a study found earlier this year.

“Our vision is to power the blockchain with clean, renewable energy that we own and control,” John Belizaire, the chief executive of Soluna, said in a press release.

🇬🇱  🇬🇱 🇬🇱

Greenland joined the push to ban heavy fuel oil in the Arctic. The autonomous Danish territory’s government said it was working with the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization on a “prohibition” that “must cover both navigation and transport” of the fuel.

The announcement comes amid a push to shipping as new routes become passable through rapidly melting Arctic sea ice. Cruise ships burning heavy fuel oil are already taking a toll as the number of vessels sailing into Greenlandic waters surged 25 percent between 2015 and 2017.

😷  😷 😷

Air pollution is putting babies at risk in yet another way.

New research from the University of Southern California found soot and dust altered thyroid development in fetuses before they were born in smoggy cities. When exposure to particulate matter levels of PM2.5 increased by 16 micrograms per cubic meter of air -- roughly the volume of a dishwasher -- total levels of thyroxine, a hormone secreted by the thyroid gland, increased 7.5 percent above average levels in babies.

“Air pollution is bad for adults and children and this study shows it may be bad for the fetus too, despite being protected in the womb,” said co-author Carrie Breton.

✊  ✊ ✊

Environmentalists’ war on Andrew Cuomo is continuing. The New York governor defeated his Democratic primary opponent, Cynthia Nixon, who attracted overwhelming support from greens frustrated by his ties to the fossil fuel industry. But less than two weeks after the election, at least one group hasn’t tempered its criticism of the current and likely next governor.

“Cuomo’s lackluster agenda strikingly doesn't prioritize protecting our climate and promoting clean energy,” Eric Weltman, a senior organizer at Food & Water Watch, said. “The climate crisis demands immediate action from all levels of government.”


First, this song.

  • My colleagues Chris D’Angelo and Dave Jamieson exposed the railroad company that sabotaged a North Carolina’s towns efforts to protect itself from flooding ahead of Hurricane Florence.  

  • Eric Holthaus collected local officials’ descriptions of flooding from the storm over at Grist.

  • My friend Ben Kling is just three days away from finishing a Kickstarter to fund Dryp, his forthcoming plant caretaking app. It looks really cool.

  • Brian Kahn has a good, if disturbing, explainer at Earther about North Carolina’s coal ash spill.

  • David Sirota co-published an infuriating investigation on New York State’s former pension fund chief’s cashing in on ties to the natural gas industry.

Thanks for reading This Anthropogenic Life. If you like what you read, please forward to new potential subscribers. It’s the unbeatable price of free. Email me anytime at alexanderckaufman@gmail.com or hit me up on Twitter or Instagram.