Food & Water Watch has spent years digging deeply into carbon pollution pricing schemes like California’s 2013 cap-and-trade system and the 2006 British Columbia tax program. We’ve crunched the emissions and fuel consumption data, looked at localized pollution impacts on underserved communities, and studied the price elasticity of gasoline. We’ve produced fact sheets, research reports, webinars and news pieces, all arguing that carbon pricing is a false solution to climate change that will overburden struggling families while allowing the fossil fuel industry to evade responsibility. Yet despite our hundreds of pages of analysis, countless hours of research and years advocating our position, carbon tax proponent Rep. Scott Peters (D – CA) may have succeeded – albeit unintentionally – in better exposing the fallacy of carbon taxes in a mere 247 words.
In an August 3rd letter in The New York Times, Rep. Peters brazenly places the entire burden for fixing our climate catastrophe squarely on the backs of consumers, because, he says, we could all “use a nudge.” Peters believes a $40 per ton carbon fee on consumers will be enough to compel Americans to cut down on driving, buy smaller cars and weatherproof their homes. A $40/ton carbon tax would add about 40 cents per gallon at the pump. For example, the $2.42 per gallon average in 2017 would have been $2.82 with the carbon tax in place. To compare, American gas prices averaged about $3.50 per gallon from 2011 through 2014, with no appreciable reduction in consumption resulting. It seems that facts don’t deter carbon pricing proponents like Peters from thinking that $2.82 gasoline will magically do what $3.50 gas didn’t. And a 40 cent “nudge” certainly isn’t going to quell the wildfires now raging across Peter’s own state.
One might be inclined to forgive Peters for ignoring the facts in his hopeful search for a solution to deepening climate catastrophe. But the real absurdity in his letter is his foolish intent to hold consumers responsible for climate change while letting polluting fossil fuel companies completely off the hook. He states, “Don’t fool yourself that the suppliers of fuels are the polluters. We are the polluters, you and I.” Never mind that Big Oil, in collusion with bought-and-paid-for politicians, forces consumers into choosing among several terrible energy options on a daily basis in a concerted effort to keep profiting from polluting fossil fuels.
Not only do fossil fuel giants like ExxonMobil continue to keep consumers reliant on carbon-based energy resources, they’ve known about the devastating climate impacts of their harmful production system for decades. They’ve spent the last 40 years trying to cover up their own damning research while funding sham climate-denier studies and anti-climate propaganda.
Peters’ misguided thinking does not bode well for the future of this planet and the wellbeing of current and upcoming generations. In addition to sweeping industry culpability under the climate carpet, Peters also wants the public to stop “beating up” on the poor, poor oil companies. Perhaps most egregiously, he is willing to trade the implementation of a carbon tax for giving the oil and gas industry immunity from legal responsibility, because, “giving up a few long-shot lawsuits to get the policy result we really need would be a remarkably sane step forward. We should cut that deal today.” Such a shameful deal would spell the death of our livable climate.
The truth is, we aren’t going to shop our way out of the climate crisis that decades of fossil fuel deceit and political abdication has produced. We’re not going to survive by patting industry polluters on their backs and giving them a free pass. Our crisis will only be addressed when responsible politicians on both sides of the aisle stand up to industry and force the rapid, equitable shift to 100 percent renewable energy through progressive legislation. A model would be Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s Off Fossil Fuels Act, which would mandate the complete transition to clean, renewable energy by 2035.The bill currently has 44 cosponsors. Not surprisingly, Rep. Scott Peters isn’t one of them.