Will we get a carbon tax?

Right now there’s a lot of discussion in Congress about a carbon tax, with some House Republicans planning to introduce legislation calling for a $23 per ton carbon tax and other House Republicans pushing for an anti-carbon tax resolution.

In my recent debate in Monaco on the future of energy I talked about carbon taxes during the Q&A portion of the discussion. Here’s what I said (edited for clarity), followed by some brief further thoughts:

I’m not anti-solar, anti-wind, or anti- any other source of energy. I want energy sources to be able to compete. My opponents on the other hand are calling for radical restrictions on fossil fuels.

Now, they would surely say they’re for competition, they just want to price carbon dioxide. But that’s just a form of restricting fossil fuels. And then the question is: how significant do they want that to be?

Now, one technique is to say they just want a mild tax, like $20 a ton–which is misleading because people have no idea what that means in terms of their lives. In the U.S, that’s roughly 20 cents a gallon of gasoline. And if you pass that, that’s going to have virtually no impact on CO2 emissions. And even if you pass a carbon tax five times that amount, it’s not going to have a significant impact.

To reduce CO2 emissions to the level of the proposed 450 [parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere] target, which will allegedly keep temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius, you would have to pass such a huge tax on fossil fuels that no one will do it.

What people are doing in Europe and proposing in the US is to pass a “carbon tax” that is nowhere near significant enough to achieve their alleged CO2 goals but significant enough to make energy more expensive and thus life worse.

Those who actually care about CO2 emissions should be focused on liberating all forms of energy, including nuclear and hydro, so that no/low carbon energy can become cheap–not so that today’s energy can become expensive.