Free beer vs. carbon tax


One of the insights offered by recent Nobel economics laureate William Nordhaus was that the framing used to advance carbon fees/taxes is really the whole story (“What Killed Washington’s Carbon Tax?HCN, 1/21/19). Instead of putting a carbon tax on the ballot, we might have better luck with “free beer,” “health care for all,” or perhaps “free college tuition.” We need to lead with unambiguous, easy to understand, real-time benefits. Climate change is real — all too real — but it’s a long way from real-time or easy to understand for many people who vote. Doing the right thing around climate for many people feels like choosing between a wide range of everyday conveniences like cars, air travel, meat, etc., and a set of (mostly) future benefits and opportunities that we and more likely our children and grandchildren for generations to come will enjoy. The challenge is to vote now, pay the toll, and be happy that someday others will thank us for it. Politically, that’s a tough sell.

Explaining carbon taxes with more compelling “now” social benefits is what we need to be doing. We need to link issues and lead with the benefits most people recognize today as being meaningful in their lives. Think: “free beer.”

David Stucky 
Eugene, Oregon

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