Economics for the Earth Blog

New poll: Americans support a carbon tax

Posted Jan. 30, 2013 / Posted by: Ben Schreiber

It’s no secret that climate change is costing us big money these days. In 2011-2012, the price tag for extreme weather in the U.S. reached $126 billion. Droughts across the Midwest and Texas, wildfires in the West and the destruction from Superstorm Sandy all resulted in severe damage and heartbreak that will be felt for years -- and a monumental cost to taxpayers.

In the last two years 67 percent of U.S. counties were affected by at least one billion-dollar extreme weather event. At a time when many people in the U.S. are deeply concerned about our economy, the deficit and the tax burden, it seems that the planet has stepped up and started levying its own ‘climate tax’ in the form of severe weather.

Perhaps the fact that we are already being taxed meteorologically explains why most Americans say they would support a carbon tax in the fiscal sense.

recent poll (see a short summary) commissioned by Friends of the Earth and conducted by the leading polling firm Mellman Group found that about 70 percent of Americans had a favorable response to a carbon tax. Support remained high regardless of whether the revenue raised would go to fixing our budget programs or towards dual purposes of helping “solve our budget problems and fund programs that help deal with the effects of climate change and create clean energy jobs.”

Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica said of the results: “This data shows that we can help solve our fiscal problems in a new way that not only helps our environment, but also has strong public support. The president and members of Congress don’t need to contemplate another harsh round of austerity, and instead should consider carbon taxes as a popular and promising budget solution.”

In recent months, the Washington Post ran an editorial in favor of a carbon tax, and the New York Times published an op-ed supporting the move. Reuters, Bloomberg and the Associated Press have also weighed in on the potential for a carbon tax.

Other polls, too, show a public swing toward a carbon tax, including this one conducted for Slate magazine, which showed a carbon tax with a 56% approval rating. Clearly, momentum is moving in our favor.

But despite the common-sense advantages that a carbon tax brings, conventional wisdom has long been that it is a “non-starter.” In fact, just last week White House Press Secretary Jay Carney declared that the administration has “no intention of proposing a carbon tax.”

We’d hoped that things would be different after President Obama used his second inaugural address to pledge to do more on climate change, citing “the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms” as a motivator for pushing harder for environmental reforms to fight climate change.

And while we’re gratified that the Obama administration has now lifted its silence on climate change, we need our leaders to do more than just talk.

We’ve got a stark choice in front of us:

We can refuse to act and let the planet itself continue to levy its own version of the carbon tax – one that costs taxpayers more and more each year and devastates lives and livelihoods in the process.

Or, we can start making major carbon-producing industries pay for the damage they inflict on our public health and the environment by putting a price on carbon. In the process, we can help solve our budget problems and discourage greenhouse gas emissions to boot.

It may be a stark choice, but a clear one.

(photo credit: San Diego Shooter)

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