Politics & Policy

Climate of Coercion

Gore's climate plan is 80% coercion, 20% choice

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is scheduled to debate Sen. John Kerry on climate change today, though how much of debate it will actually be remains to be seen. Gingrich is expected to agree with Kerry on many points about climate change and use the opportunity to talk up the technological solutions contained in his forthcoming book, A Contract with the Earth. But Gingrich isn’t the only one touting a plan to address global warming.

#ad#In his March 21 congressional testimony, vice-president-turned-climate-evangelist Al Gore put forward a ten-point plan to save the planet from what he painted as an imminent carbon-induced catastrophe. Al’s plan includes two nods in the right direction—pricing carbon and letting consumers decide how to reduce emissions. But it also reveals a more troublesome ultimate agenda: Eight of the plan’s points are aimed at forcing his favored lifestyle choices on consumers and businesses.

The two good ideas on Gore’s wish list are really one good idea split into two pieces. According to Dave Roberts of Grist, (who blogged the testimony in real time), Gore wants to reduce taxes on employment and production. The difference would be made up with pollution taxes, mainly on CO2. Second, he wants to earmark a portion of the revenue to offset impacts on the poor. Gore rightly points out that such tax shifting would have some benefits: It would make us more efficient, discourage pollution, and might encourage work and improve competitiveness.

This is exactly the right approach for those who seriously want to achieve reductions in carbon emissions efficiently without inflicting economic damage on the economy or expanding the reach of the regulatory state. It would also have numerous advantages over either the current tax regime or alternative regulatory approaches such as cap-and-trade. Had Gore stopped there, I’d have said, “I’m with you Al. Go get ‘em!” But of course, he didn’t. The other 80 percent of Gore’s list called for a series of mandated changes in personal choices. In addition to the tax shift, he asked for the following:

  • An immediate carbon freeze followed by a program to reduce emissions by a virtually-impossible 90 percent by 2050;
  • Joining into a strong Kyoto-follow-on treaty that would send U.S. funds abroad through carbon-trading;
  • Putting a moratorium on construction of all new coal plants that aren’t sequestration ready (which they won’t be for many years);
  • Creating a decentralized electrical grid and instituting government price controls;
  • Raising automotive fuel economy standards;
  • Canning incandescent light bulbs;
  • Creating a new bureaucracy to promote low-carbon home-building;
  • Requiring corporations to report carbon emissions.

The fact that most of this agenda would be rendered superfluous by the tax shift shows the control-fiend mentality that really drives climate activists. If set at the right rate, a carbon tax would be virtually guaranteed to reduce emissions, but the climatistas can’t let go of the regulatory throttle.

Think about it: if we tax the carbon in energy at a significant level, people will immediately have the incentive to build and buy low-carbon-emitting homes, cars, and light bulbs. They’ll immediately have incentive to seek power-sellers who are using lower-carbon fuels such as nuclear, natural gas, wind, solar, or coal with sequestration. Corporations will immediately have incentives to reduce energy use. The trajectory toward lower carbon emissions as a country would already be set, and there would be no need for additional controls.

But clearly, that’s not enough for the controllers. They have to have their mandates, their wealth redistribution schemes, their corporate-bashing schemes, and their social-engineering schemes.

Imposing the other elements of Gore’s plan would, in fact, lead to the double taxation of carbon: first directly via the tax, and then indirectly via the added costs of regulatory compliance and international wealth transfers via the emission-trading mechanisms of any Kyoto Part 2. Plans for the follow-on treaty to Kyoto center around the establishment of an international cap-and-trade regime with extremely stiff emission reduction targets—up to 60 percent by 2050. Such stringent demands could not be made domestically without economic devastation, and would virtually guarantee that US companies would have to buy emission credits from abroad, where potential reductions are less costly. This dynamic is essentially a money pipeline from American consumers to the pockets of carbon permit sellers in countries like Russia, which are setting themselves up to sell (unverifiable) emission reduction credits.

The redundancy of Gore’s list suggests one of two things: Either he knows that people would never tolerate a tax on carbon that is high enough to achieve the reductions he wants without a huge additional layer of government regulations, or that, for Gore, the regulations are less a means to an end than an end unto themselves.

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