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E. Calvin Beisner: Will a Carbon Tax Hurt the Poor?

In a recent article from the Cornwall Alliance, E. Calvin Beisner claims that a carbon tax will hurt the poor. Helping the poor is a common theme in his writings, but there is little evidence that he actually helps the poor – unless he is talking about the poor fossil fuel companies. A carbon tax would make fossil fuel companies pay for the damage they do to the environment which is something he wishes to avoid. If he actually wishes to help the poor, there is a better way. 

It is the poor who are hurt most by environmental damage. They suffer when the air they breathe and the water they drink is polluted. And, it is the indigenous people who have been hurt the most by climate change. The way of life that has sustained them for centuries is now being disrupted by climate change.  They do not have the resources to withstand prolonged droughts or protect themselves from sea level rise and flooding.

And, it is like E. Calvin Beisner to focus on the carbon tax without mentioning a much better alternative. A carbon fee and dividend system, as proposed by the Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), will actually help the poor. The carbon fee and dividend proposal would initially collect a fee on carbon at the point it enters the economy, initially at $15 per ton of CO2. That fee would increase by $10 annually until its goals are achieved..  The carbon fee is not a tax as it would be rebated 100% percent back to each American household. 

The fee would initially increase the price of gasoline about 9 cents per gallon in the first year and about 6 cents each succeeding year. Other fuels will see a similar price increase. The rising energy costs would be offset by the carbon dividend which, for a family of four, would be about $30 per month the first year and grow to over $300 per month after 10 years. Families who reduce their fossil fuel use, or choose renewable energy, will be able to increase their disposable income by saving more of their dividend. The dividend would stimulate the growth of the economy, and the monthly dividend check would remind every family that they have a stake in reducing carbon emissions.

To see the effect of the carbon fee and dividend on the US economy, CCL commissioned a study by the nonpartisan research company, Regional Economic Models. The study found that the carbon fee and dividend approach would reduce the carbon emissions to 50 percent of the 1990 levels in just 20 years. During that time, it would add 2.1 million jobs to the American economy, increase the gross domestic product by $75 billion, and save 220,000 lives by reducing lung and heart diseases.

Though the dividend would go only to US households, the reduction in CO2 levels would slow climate change and reduce the damage to the environment throughout the world. And, that would help the poor everywhere. It is a proposal that E. Calvin Beisner should support.

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