Another Conservative Opinion Leader Endorses Carbon Tax

Irwin Seltzer, an economist who writes the economic and forecasting column for the influential right-wing conservative publication The Weekly Standard, this week endorsed a carbon tax.

In his column, called Petropower, Seltzer implicitly warns of of the danger that our economy could be held hostage, if not by the Saudis (as in the past) then perhaps by the likes of a less-than-democratic nation such as the Russia of Vladimir Putin.

When I praised him to the publication for considering such a tax because it’s hugely helpful in the battle against global warming, Seltzer responded:

I remain uncertain as to whether there is a global warming phenomenon, but feel there is enough evidence to warrant prudential activity such as a carbon tax which, of course, has other advantages — namely encouraging the development of technological alternatives to imported oil.

Seltzer is one of a growing chorus of "opinion-leaders" on the right who have endorsed either a full-scale carbon tax, a new tax on gasoline, or other significant carbon-reducing measures, including Paul Anderson, the CEO of Duke Energy; The Economist; Thomas Friedman of the NYTimes; Jim Immelt, CEO of General Electric; the influential blogger/writer Andrew Sullivan; and Jim Woolsey, a well-known hawk and former CIA director.

This puts these business-minded conservatives about where progressives were on this issue ten years ago, as Bill McKibben pointed out in a column last month in the spectacular enviro magazine "Orion." Speaking of the concept of "peak oil," McKibben wrote:

It reminds me a little of the very early days in the fight over global warming. Appalled at the forecasts of global destruction, some of us demanded immediate and strong action–high taxes on carbon emissions, and never mind the pain. Others–more moderate or politically realistic–advocated a suite of "no regrets" policies. They suggested, say, gradual rises in gas mileage, higher efficiency standards of appliances. Even if climate change proved to be overblown hooey, they pointed out, such rational and easy measures would still save us money, reduce conventional pollution, and so on. These steps were like taking out a modest amount of insurance; whatever happened, we’d have no regrets about having adopted them.

In actual fact, of course, we took neither the urgent nor the more relaxed steps. Instead we bought Ford Explorers. Now everything that was frozen is melting and soon we will have…regrets.

But the wisdom of acting to further what some are calling the "triple bottom line"–business that pays dividends not just in cash, but also socially and environmentally–was shown this week by the release of the WorldWatch 2006 report on the state of the planet. According to a thoughtful summary provided by Todd Wilkinson of the New West Network:

…true fiscal conservatives get it, and it is in their bean counting hands that the real green revolution that brings a truce between preservationists and despoilers will be won.

He quotes the authoritative report, which points to numerous examples:

° In 2003, researchers pouring over 52 studies of businesses and regulations showed there was a positive relationship between financial performance and social and environmental performance. That’s evidence that the triple bottom line is more than a feel-good abstraction.

° In the 30 years since 3M started its 3P program (it stands for Pollution Prevention Pays), aimed at cutting waste, pollution and rewarding employees who find better ways conserve resources, 5,600 projects have prevented an estimated million pounds of pollutants and produced almost $1 billion in first year savings.

° At General Electric, CEO Jeffrey Inmelt says that as part of its “ecomagination” initiative, the world’s ninth largest corporation intended to double its investment in green technology over the next five years and cut its greenhouse gas emissions by one percent by 2012. (It should be noted that some wonks from thinktanks trying to refute global warming have said that America’s companies cannot grow to remain prosperous and cut greenhouse emissions).

Of course, it would help if the nation’s largest employer and agenda-setter, the Federal government, would get involved. And it doesn’t help that popular demagogues like Rush Limbaugh continue to claim (as I heard a week ago on his show) that global warming doesn’t exist because we couldn’t have caused it, and besides, most of those talking about the issue are against capitalism and quasi-Communists. (No, I’m not making that up–that’s what he said–but unfortunately the Media Matters site that sometimes offers Limbaugh transcripts has bigger fish to fry this week.)

But as Limbaugh blathers on, the reality stares us in the face:


Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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