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We Need a Carbon Tax!

By David Swanson - Posted on 23 April 2014. Charles Komanoff is an activist, economist and policy-analyst. He directs the Carbon Tax Center and develops traffic-pricing modeling tools for the Nurture Nature Foundation. His work includes books (Power Plant Cost Escalation, Killed By Automobile, The Bicycle Blueprint), computer models, scholarly articles, and journalism. He discusses the need for a carbon tax. See

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Charles Komanoff and Daniel Rosenblum launched the Carbon Tax Center (“CTC”) in January 2007 to give voice to Americans who believe that taxing emissions of carbon dioxide — the primary greenhouse gas — is imperative to reduce global warming. The two of us brought to CTC a combined six decades of experience in economics, law, public policy and social change. Though Dan has moved on, Charles remains as CTC director, while James Handley, a chemical engineer and attorney who previously worked for private industry and for U.S. EPA, serves as our Washington D.C. rep.

Our June 2008 newsletter, “A Convenient Tax” further describes CTC’s mission and strategy.

To donate to the Carbon Tax Center

Go to next page (“Contact”) by clicking this link. You may contribute electronically or via mail. Your donation will be tax-deductible in either case.

About our name

Considerable thought went into our choice of the name, Carbon Tax Center. Despite the obvious drawback — any bill packaged as a “tax” is flying into a stiff headwind — we felt it was more important to openly confront the tax issue. We also knew that given that we were proposing a tax, even a revenue-neutral one, others would be more than happy to stick us with the “T word” — and argue that we were duplicitous in trying to hide the fact.

Over the years, we’ve received numerous notes from supporters urging us to change our name to de-emphasize the “tax” aspect and reframe carbon taxes as a a tax-shift or carbon-cutter or a refundable tax credit — anything but a “carbon tax. We value these notes, particularly the reminders to emphasize the revenue-neutral aspect of our carbon-tax advocacy.

We are also aware that FPL Group CEO Lewis Hay III, a carbon tax supporter, referred to it as a “fee,” and that Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd called for a “corporate carbon tax” in his unsuccessful 2008 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. (We’ve posted statements by both Hay and Dodd on our Supporters pages.) While we welcome and support their advocacy, we intend to continue to play it straight with the American people and keep the name Carbon Tax Center.

Lessons from “Traffic Tax”

Several years back, as congestion pricing was being debated in New York City, Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to charge a user fee for driving into the Manhattan Central Business District was commonly abbreviated to a “traffic tax.” (As in the headline for the May 29, 2007 lead article in the New York Sun, Spitzer Open to a Deal on Traffic Tax.)

Congestion pricing and carbon taxing emanate from the same overarching idea: that the most effective way to reduce a “negative externality” is to tax it. Of course, the mayor and his allies went to great lengths to frame the congestion charge as a fee, and he also pledged to dedicate the revenues to bus and subway improvements that would benefit lower-income New Yorkers, the vast majority of whom take mass transit into the CBD. None of that stopped opponents, and even some media supporters such as The Sun, from labeling the congestion charge as a tax. (Even the pro-congestion charge urbanist bible, Planetizen, did so; see New Yorkers Might Not Be Ready For Congestion Tax).

We’re open to new language

Nevertheless, we too are increasingly referring in our advocacy to a carbon fee. For one thing, climate scientist James Hansen, who since 2009 has been easily the most visible advocate of a carbon tax approach, has had much success in branding a federal carbon tax with 100% return of revenues to households as “fee-and-dividend.” There’s also the fact that, anti-tax rhetoric aside, “fee” connotes a user charge more directly than does “tax.” As Get Energy Smart Now blogger Adam Siegel pointed out via e-mail, “Charging a fee for dumping pollution into the commons” may appeal more broadly than a “tax which implies taking something away from people.” - 

​2.7-MW solar park in Neukirchen, Lower Saxony, on a former tar acid disposal site.​

Yes, semantics is all-important. No matter what we call it, the opposition will call it a "carbon tax" and might throw in "Socialism" and "Benghazi!!" for good measure.

So..every time it is discussed, every freakin' time, whether we call it a carbon fee and dividend, or a rebate, or a tax, it should be followed by "this is not a tax on citizens, but on polluting industries." Perhaps, also, mentioned should be made of BC that has lowered both emissions AND taxes with the revenues. Lowered taxes!!

The best description IMO is to call it "the Safe Climate Bonus", an invention of one of the chapters of Citizens Climate Lobby. After all, 2/3 of the citizens will get more back than the increase in dirty energy costs. So it is a Bonus.
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