Carbon tax creates energy stability

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OP-ED, NOV. 13, 2014

Carbon tax creates energy stability

By Gerald Elias

Because professor William F. Shughart II paints such a perceptive and astute picture of the precarious state of the world’s energy situation (“America’s new role in the oil market,” Oct. 30), I’m baffled by the solution he proposes, which will only make our hole deeper.

First he states, “The world needs U.S. oil production more than ever,” though I doubt countries like Saudi Arabia, Russia and Venezuela would concur with this assertion. He then goes on to urge a policy that “peels back the barriers to environmentally responsible energy production on federal lands and resists calls to overregulate the burgeoning shale revolution.” He bemoans a decrease in energy production on federal lands, but neglects to mention that a large part of that decrease is from coal, which accounts for more than half of fossil fuel production.

A fee on carbon will help bring renewable energy like wind up to scale.

A fee on carbon will help bring renewable energy like wind up to scale.

The recently released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Synthesis Report warns the world in no uncertain terms that if we continue along the fossil fuel path beyond this century, it will be at our children’s peril. Climate change notwithstanding, Shughart’s solution contradicts his own reasoning. Given the world’s political and social dislocations, especially in the Middle East, fossil fuel markets are and will continue to be inherently unstable. And regardless of how much we chew up the earth and spit out fuel, that will continue to be the state of things. So why deregulate more? Why devastate more public lands when we currently have a glut of oil and gas and energy prices are falling?

In aiming his barbs solely at President Obama and Secretary Clinton, I suspect professor Shughart’s vision is clouded by ideology; otherwise, how does one explain away his blind eye to the obvious solution, which is to stop relying on fossil fuels? After all, we don’t treat alcoholism by providing a cheap, steady supply of booze. We wean the alcoholic off of it, hopefully before it’s too late. In his State of the Union address in January 2006, President George W. Bush hit the nail on the head: “America is addicted to oil.”

Why not end the addiction? Why not have a visionary energy policy that makes us permanently energy-independent and economically secure, and preserves the integrity of our water, land and air in the bargain? A policy of full-scale development of renewable energy, beginning with the removal of subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, the imposition of a fee on carbon sources with the revenue to be distributed to the consumers and the planned obsolescence of fossil fuel production is ultimately the only pragmatic course for future security.

Pie in the sky? To date, 14 countries and one subnational jurisdiction (British Columbia) are implementing or have passed legislation for a direct carbon tax. Eighteen countries are taking steps to be in a state of “carbon pricing readiness” by 2016-2020. Thirty-five countries (including 28 in the EU) and 20 subnational jurisdictions have adopted emissions trading programs. Only two out of the 10 largest economies in the world do not have a carbon price: the United States and Russia.

Until little more than a hundred years ago, the world somehow managed to exist without burning oil and gas. The pyramids were built, Columbus sailed the ocean blue, America became a great nation. Professor Shughart’s vision might be a boom for profiteers in the fossil fuel industry, but it is a bust for guaranteeing long-term stability or affordability in the historically jittery market he describes. It is also a prescription for environmental calamity. It is time for us to bid an overdue farewell to our messy 200-year affair with fossil fuels.

Gerald Elias, a Salt Lake City resident, is a musician and author and a member of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

This op-ed was published in the Deseret News in Salt Lake City