Save our planet. Save our democracy.

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    ( – promoted by lowkell)

    As an environmentalist concerned with climate change, I have changed my lightbulbs, bought smart thermostats for myself and parents, and have even bought an electric car.  After flying to Cancun on vacation, I should be purchasing offsets for the carbon burned on the flight, but this is the sort of detail that even I overlook.   Individual actions are almost quaint efforts to fight climate change, but large scale signals must be brought into our energy system to motivate purchasing decisions towards a cleaner system.

    Today’s article by Chris Mooney in the Washington Post, titled “The climate debate is brutal and dysfunctional, but there’s still a way out” talks about just such a signal;  one that both conservatives and liberals can embrace.  He points to a “carbon tax that returns all the revenue from the tax to citizens, rather than using any of it for new government programs”.

    There are precedents for just such an arrangement in use already with the Alaska Energy Fund, which distributes oil revenues to Alaskans and what British Columbia has done with a carbon tax that has reduced its citizens’ overall taxes.

    A price on carbon – irrespective of the transferred money puts carbon decisions all across the economy on the bottom lines of businesses, incentivizing them to avoid this cost through replacement (solar / wind for electric companies) and energy efficiency in other smaller firms.

    Want less of something – tax it.  The straight through rebate makes it a wash for end consumers of energy but putting it on balance sheets brings business intelligence and creativity to bear to avoid it.

    On the consumer angle slightly higher energy prices will incentivize consumers to make more efficient choices, invest in tightening their homes, cutting out superfluous trips, carpool, switch light bulbs which they will be able to afford with their dividend from the energy fund.

    Given that we have already seen an example of a carbon tax enacted and repealed in Australia, it behooves us to look at the disbursement mechanism as a way to give the recipients ownership in the politics of a carbon energy fund.



    The twist

    

Instead of having a government agency responsible for printing up checks and sending them out to citizens, which will rile up conservatives, I propose the following.  Give every registered voter a reusable ATM card that will double as a national voting card.   On election day, funds will be placed on the card if and only if the ATM card validates to your current address.  Change of address for the card would be handled similarly to your drivers license and could be verified and changed at the DMV.  

    If you vote, you are entitled to your yearly dispensation of the energy fund.  Earning your dividend by voting would placate worries that this is just a government giveaway. We could have a tax-holiday on energy efficiency purchases for the week following election day as a way to supercharge the carbon abatement bang for your buck.  The voting age population would be incentivized to vote with an interest in keeping the energy fund going to further each years’ energy dividend.  Folks would be also incentivized to get registered to vote and to vote each year, which would address an electorate that drops significantly in non-Presidential years.

    So what happens when folks don’t vote and don’t receive their dividend.  Just as there are no do-overs for missing out in voting in an election, voters who aren’t registered or who register after the election would only be eligible for the next election.

    For the unused funds, liberals might argue that they be utilized for clean energy investment, conservatives might argue for applying the unused funds toward paying down the national debt. With the Koch Brothers corrupting the upcoming 2016 election perhaps the compromise would be to have the unused funds put toward public financing of elections.

    Corporations don’t vote.  People do.  This would backstop the corruptive power of well-monied fossil fuel interests asserting their will over the will of the electorate;  something that troubles both liberals and conservatives.

    So there you have it – a win-win-win for folks of all ideological stripes.  Clean environment.  Clean elections.  Clean politicians.

    • Elaine in Roanoke

      While the carbon tax would incentivize fossil fuel producers to  produce less polluting fuel, I really see absolutely no incentive for consumers to use less of fossil fuel. Indeed, if consumers are going to reap the carbon tax, wouldn’t the lower cost to them of the higher fuel costs ruin any incentive to conserve energy? After all, they are protected from cost increases caused by the carbon tax, indeed getting a bonus in the form of getting more back than the increased cost. I’m trying to understand the price-demand connection of this plan. After a certain level, energy usage is not an inelastic good. Right now, we all can lower our energy usage and pay less. If someone is going to give me extra money back unrelated to my own energy conservation, why should I bother? (The fastest way to lower carbon emissions is to conserve energy usage.)

      I do appreciate the new ideas incorporated here. We need to think “outside the box” to solve this problem, the largest one facing our species right now.

    • MorrisMeyer

      A friend of mine responded to this:

      Regarding: “The dividend increases real disposable income, protects personal spending decisions and will recruit widespread, sustained  engagement,” how does this work. If the fees are remitted to the retailer/distributor on the consumption end and then repatriated to the end user, I’m not sure how this adds billions to the economy? If I take money out of my right pocket and it winds up in my left pocket, I haven’t really made anything…

      My response:

      A price on carbon – irrespective of the transferred money puts carbon decisions all across the economy on the bottom lines of businesses, incentivizing them to avoid this cost through replacement (solar / wind for electric companies) and energy efficiency in other smaller firms.

      Want less of something – tax it.  The straight through rebate makes it a wash for end consumers of energy but putting it on balance sheets brings business intelligence and creativity to bear to avoid it.

      On the consumer angle slightly higher energy prices will incentivize consumers to make more efficient choices, invest in tightening their homes, cutting out superfluous trips, carpool, switch light bulbs which they will be able to afford with their dividend from the energy fund.