Misinformation Hamstrings Debate on Climate Change

Published September 5, 2007

Nicole Gelinas starts and ends her August 23 essay in the Wall Street Journal, titled “A Carbon Tax Would Be Cleaner,” with errors that negate whatever insights the rest of the essay provides.

The opening sentence alludes to survey data showing most Americans believe “humans are contributing to climate change” and we should do something about it “right away.” According to Ms. Gelinas, this justifies moving to a political solution even though “skeptics may grumble that the science isn’t settled.” This is ludicrous. Most surveys show deep disagreement and skepticism about alarmist predictions of global warming, and all surveys show large majorities oppose taking specific actions – such as raising energy taxes – to do anything about this so-called crisis. Despite a billion-dollar-a-year PR campaign by the left, the public is not demanding higher energy prices.

Ms. Gelinas proceeds to give cap and trade schemes a well-deserved trashing, but then closes her essay by saying “if it’s true that a global warming consensus really exists – and not just in press releases and speeches – politicians and business leaders wouldn’t be afraid to suggest [a carbon] tax. They would insist on it.” She may think she is calling the bluff of politicians and business leaders who have been using global warming to gain attention or subsidies, but this comes much too close to endorsing a carbon tax.

Many politicians would sell out their voters in a New York minute in return for having a say in how hundreds of billions of dollars in new public revenue could be spent. And many corporate CEOs would sell out their customers with equal alacrity if they thought a carbon tax would weigh more heavily on competitors than on themselves.

Carbon taxes and more generally energy taxes are, in fact, a bad idea. They tax an important source of productivity growth, and hence slow economic growth. They are unrelated to the use of government services, and so fail a traditional test of good policy. They are less visible to taxpayers than either income or retail sales taxes, and thus (like the dreaded value-added tax, or VAT) enable governments to secretly raise more tax revenue than a fully informed electorate would allow.

And most importantly, energy taxes are not necessary. Scientists and economists are rapidly arriving at the same conclusion: global warming is not a crisis, and there is no need to raise energy prices to combat a nonexistent threat.

Joseph Bast ([email protected]) is president of The Heartland Institute.