Why greens are turning away from a carbon tax


Putting an economic price on greenhouse gases is proving a hard sell with the public, even as time to head off climate change shrinks.

Taxing carbon to tackle climate change is one of those big ideas that have long held a kind of bipartisan sway in Washington — endorsed by Al Gore and former members of Ronald Reagan’s Cabinet, economists from both parties and even Exxon Mobil.

But environmentalists are increasingly ready to look elsewhere.

This month’s fuel-tax riots in Paris and the defeat of a carbon-fee ballot measure in Washington state show the difficulty of getting people to support a levy on the energy sources that heat their homes and power their cars. Meanwhile, even the most liberal Democratic candidates this year gave carbon taxes scant if any mention in their climate platforms, focusing instead on proposals like a phaseout of fossil fuels and massive investments in wind and solar power.

The story of the carbon tax’s fading appeal, even among groups that like it in principle, shows the difficulties of crafting a politically palatable solution to one of the world’s most urgent problems — including greenhouse gas levels that are on track to reach a record high this year.

“This aversion to taxes in the U.S. is high and should not be underestimated,” said Kalee Kreider, a former Gore adviser and longtime climate activist. “I have a lot of scars to show for that.”

“I fear that the idea of a carbon tax is turning out to be a heavier lift than people envision,” said RL Miller, founder of the advocacy group Climate Hawks Vote. “As it is right now, starting from scratch, there is no constituency for it. … And I think the climate movement needs to go through some rethinking.”

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