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The New Green: Fossil fuel tax changes usage

By Kelsey Sullivan
On February 7, 2013

James Hansen may be the world's most famous climatologist. The director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies since 1981, he can be almost solely credited for making climate change into a serious policy issue back in 1988 when he delivered groundbreaking scientific testimony to Congress on the earth's warming climate. Just this past December, Dr. Hansen was awarded the prestigious Stephen Schneider Climate Science Communication Award. In his interview at the award ceremony, which was televised on C-SPAN, Dr. Hansen reiterated many times that the only solution to effectively address climate change is to enact a carbon tax (a tax on the use of fossil fuels). He emphasizes that this would not truly be a tax, rather, it would simply be honest pricing as opposed to the heavy government subsidization that currently makes fossil fuels cheaper than they should be. In fact, in comparison to other industrialized nations, fossil fuels are absurdly cheap in the United States.
A January 30th article in the New York Times reported that of the 34 industrialized member nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, carbon taxes average about $68.40 per metric ton of carbon dioxide. "The United States, by contrast, has a gas tax to pay for highway improvement, and that's about it. Total federal taxes on energy amount to $6.30 per ton." Increasing our carbon tax to be on par with the rest of the world would, of course, greatly enhance the health of the environment, but it would also be an enormous new revenue source. The article cites a report by the Tax Policy Center which found that a carbon tax would generate "0.6 percent of the nation's gross domestic product - for a tax of $20 per ton of carbon dioxide - to 1.6 percent of D.D.P. for a tax of $41 per ton. Consider this: 1.6 percent of G.D.P. is $240 billion a year. And $41 per ton amounts to an extra 35 cents a gallon of gas." Many of us who are already strapped for cash may abhor the idea of shelling out an extra 35 cents per gallon, but the truth is that we are already paying for the costs of burning fossil fuels in other ways (healthcare costs associated with pollution, funding highways and environmental clean-up projects, etc.) damaged ecosystems - but ultimately, we as a society must make a decision about what our values are, For those of us who value our health, which is dependent upon the health of the environment, it may be worth it to pay a little extra for gas so that the transition to widespread green energy can finally take place.
As Dr. Hansen insisted in his interview, "As long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy, then people will keep burning them."
Placing a tax on fossil fuels may be painful at first, but it has the potential to harness the power of the economy in order to drive positive change.

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