08 February 2007

The ineluctable logic of a carbon tax

If a man walks down the street eating a candy bar and tosses the wrapper onto the sidewalk, most of us are offended. How dare this rascal throw his garbage onto other people's property? The more courageous among us might even confront him. And yet when we drive down the street, spewing garbage much more destructive than candy wrappers into the air other people have to breath, it hardly bothers us at all. The reason, of course, is that we can't see it. If car exhaust was bright orange, we would be horrified, and quite properly feel profoundly guilty, at the mess we were creating. But it isn't, so out of sight, out of mind.

But it shouldn't be. Unlike candy wrappers, this garbage is contributing to global warming and endangering the life of the entire planet. Our mothers taught us we should clean up after ourselves, and she was right, and we should. But how? We can hardly tie a big balloon on the end of our exhaust, collect the emissions, and than toss them in the garbage bin when we get home.

But we can pay a carbon tax. If the price of gas was supplemented with a tax per gallon, the proceeds of which were directed solely to pollution abatement, we could pay our dues, at least in part. Such a tax is eminently justified and perfectly fair. The more garbage you dump into the atmosphere, the more tax you pay.

You could then confront the candy-wrapper tosser with a clear conscience.

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