Can a Carbon Emission Tax Reduce Pollution and Global Warming?

Could a carbon emission tax reduce harmful pollution and (at least help) curb global warming? This proposal has long been one of two ideas favored by environmentalists, politicians, companies and consumers. But, as with many aspects of global warming, there’s no consensus around this tax — other than that it’s really hard to get American politics to cooperate.

Environmentally conscious homeowners might’ve heard that Washington state voters recently rejected what would have been the first state carbon emissions tax in the United States. Even with this loss, discussion continues in countries around the world about either implementing such a tax or, in the case of Scandinavia, refining the ones already established.

Here’s a brief history of this economic approach to the environment, and how it can be helpful to the community without over-burdening citizens with yet another deduction to their income.

Greenhouse Gas Reductions

When we burn fossil fuels for energy, they emit harmful carbon, which contributes to global warming. Coal emits the most CO2, with natural gas emitting the least, according to the Carbon Tax Center. The idea behind this tax is to encourage citizens to invest in other, less harmful forms of energy. A carbon tax charges producers, distributors or users of fossil fuels based on how much carbon is emitted during their use.

Along with cap-and-trade plans, it’s one of two major options to lower emissions. Anything with the word “tax” associated with it faces an uphill political battle, but cap-and-trade schemes can be confusing and easy to fudge. And while advocates of a carbon emission tax say they actually help to offset the overall detriment that comes with burning fossil fuels, opponents contend the tax runs the risk of disproportionately taxing underprivileged citizens, explains The Washington Post.

To keep their fees low under a carbon tax, those with and without low income may use trains, subways and other forms of public transportation. Businesses can also update their heating and cooling systems, and homeowners can gradually implement smart technology that monitors light, heat and appliance usage more efficiently.

Where It Has Traction

In Northern Europe, countries like Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and Sweden all have a carbon tax.

Our neighbor to the north has several provincial carbon taxes. British Columbia (just across the border from Washington State) has “the most comprehensive and transparent carbon tax in the Western Hemisphere, if not the world,” according to the Carbon Tax Center.

In the U.S., liberal stronghold Boulder, Colorado became the first city to tax carbon emissions a decade ago. Voters there approved a tax on the number of kilowatt-hours used, and officials said it would add $16 a year to an average homeowner’s electricity bill and $46 to the average business. The tax was designed to “increase energy efficiency in homes and buildings, switch to renewable energy and reduce vehicle miles traveled,” the city’s environmental affairs manager told The New York Times.

Some emissions tax plans aim to be “revenue neutral,” meaning they wouldn’t be used to enrich the governments imposing them. That was the case with Washington state’s idea, which also sought to cut other taxes, like the sales tax. Voters said no, 59 percent to 41 percent.

Ways to Volunteer

Do the right thing on your own, without waiting for a government mandate. Remember that energy accounts for 72 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, and one way individuals and businesses can help reduce that is with solar power. Solar panels emit 91 percent less carbon than natural gas and 96 percent less than coal.

As homeowners seek ways to reduce their contribution to global warming, solar panels are being installed in thousands of locations every day. Panels have been installed at more than a million U.S. homes and businesses, helping to not only reduce carbon pollution, but also save money, conserve water, increase energy independence and invest in the future of the air we breathe.

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