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Only a carbon tax can stop global warming

Published March 12, 2007 12:00 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

WASHINGTON - The global warming train finally is leaving the station with almost everyone onboard - except for a few die-hard deniers from ultra-conservative groups and the Flat Earth Society.

Now comes the really difficult task - one that demands a thorough debate among all governments and all peoples: What can we humans do to prevent global warming and ameliorate its more negative impacts?

The decisions we reach are vital; they almost surely will determine if our small, fragile planet survives and whether we Americans continue to enjoy all of the freedoms we hold so dear.

There can be no doubt that Earth has entered a warming period - temperatures have risen about 1 degree Fahrenheit over the past 120 years - and there is good evidence that human generated greenhouse gas emissions have played a significant role since 1940.

The most recent report by the United Nations' respected Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests that - barring draconian remedial actions - global temperatures could increase as much as 11 degrees by 2100.

If that is the case, the current mandates of the Kyoto treaty on climate change just won't cut it. Fully implemented by its signatory nations, Kyoto would trim only one degree of warmth from the U.N.'s worst-case projection by 2100 - a decrease that matches the recorded increase in temperature since the latter-part of the 19th century.

Unfortunately, Kyoto exempts such major emerging economies as China, India, Brazil, Indonesia and Mexico, which together are projected to account for more than 60 percent of the world's man-made greenhouse gases by the year 2040.

Even worse, most European Union nations actually have increased their emissions of carbon dioxide since the alliance imposed a system of emission trading credits that allows low-level polluters to sell their surplus carbon credits to highest.

The idea underlining such a convoluted system is that low-level polluters will reduce emissions even further so they have more carbon credits to sell; and higher-level polluters will make reductions to avoid having to pay for credits.

The failures of Kyoto's mandates and the EU's system of emission trading credits have caused consternation and confusion on Capitol Hill.

Even Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., the new chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works, who favored such remedies when the Democrats were out of power, now has backed-off and is pursuing relatively small steps like increasing the energy efficiency of federal buildings.

With the latest U.N. report declaring that global warming is all but unstoppable, such incremental measures seem ludicrous. Far bolder efforts than Kyoto and carbon trading credits will be required to blunt the impact of global warming, if the United Nations' forecasters are correct.

The fastest, surest way, of course, would be for the United Nations itself to impose a tax on all of its member nations that correlates with the carbon footprint of each.

Populous, heavily industrialized countries like the United States, India, China, Brazil, Japan, Mexico and the larger European states would pay through the smokestack, so to speak, while the poorer nations of Africa, Asia and Latin America would pay what amounts to chump change.

The U.N. climate change panel calls for a 4 percent global tax on advanced countries in it recent report.

That is a small price to pay for saving our planet - especially for a super-affluent society such as ours. For most Americans, it amounts to sacrificing a few automobile trips, a month's worth of Starbucks and maybe a dozen Big Macs. Given our national obesity epidemic, how can that hurt?

The important thing about such a global carbon tax is that it would be eminently fair - taxing each nation according to its greenhouse gas emissions.

Admittedly, getting a U.N. consensus to take even a trivial action is rough sledding. But every opinion leader committed to a sustainable, survivable planet - from Al Gore to Tony Blair to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman - ought to add their voices to a chorus calling for this global tax.

Such a tax would be economically benign - adding up to only a small fraction of each nation's Gross Domestic Product. That amount would be offset many-fold by the increased profits rolling in from the development of new "green" technology, not to mention the lower health-care costs generated by a cleaner environment.

The only alternative would be to sit tight, do nothing and hope that the United Nations' predictions turn out to be bogus. Anyone want to buy some nice beachfront property in West Virginia?

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Wayne Madsen is a contributing writer for the liberal Online Journal (http://www.onlinejournal.com" Target="_BLANK">http://www.onlinejournal.com). Readers may e-mail him at waynemadsendc@hotmail.com" Target="_BLANK">waynemadsendc@hotmail.com.