November 15, 2014

Comments on the Vermont campaign for a carbon tax

The Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG) and friends in business and the legislature have proposed a tax on fossil fuels used in heating and transportation, starting at $5 per metric ton (“tonne”) of CO₂ and rising to $50 in 10 years (or $150 in 15 years).

Ninety percent of the revenue would be returned as tax cuts to businesses and households, which would rather nullify the incentive. The concern for reducing the burden on lower-income people is a sham, because getting a tax cut or even rebate in May won’t help to pay for gas or heating oil back in January.

The VPIRG press release trots out hurricane Irene as a warning of future extreme weather due to climate change. That is flat out bullshit. Hurricanes are a normal feature of the weather, and Irene was not even extreme — New Yorkers scoffed at its dissipation. Irene's damage was so great simply because it stalled over the Green Mountains. Climate change — as one part of our general environmental depredation — is a serious issue that is not well served by baseless fear mongering.

Finally, what about the second major greenhouse gas, methane? Besides every one of Vermont’s cows exhaling about 1 tonne of CO₂ per year, each of them also emits methane by belching and farting (not counting that contained in their manure) with a greenhouse gas equivalence of about 7 tonnes of CO₂ per year. With some 150,000 cows in Vermont, that's some serious emissions (1,200,000 tonnes of CO₂ and equivalent: $60 million at the proposed $50/tonne). And ignoring it is a serious omission in any plan claiming to address climate change.

If taxing cows as well as fossil fuel is not an option, how about giving some of the 10% of the revenues earmarked for energy improvements to subsidizing alternatives to animal agriculture. Much like the state makes it cheaper to buy CFLs and LEDs, why not also make it cheaper to buy vegan meat and dairy substitutes?