Tuesday, November 27, 2012

After 30 Years, Al Gore Still Advocates A Carbon Tax

Gore Derangement Syndrome Lives - But Not Here

The inimitable Dave Roberts of Grist had a good interview with Al Gore this month. The Climate Reality founder discusses "carbon taxes, natural gas, and the 'morally wrong' Keystone pipeline."

Since a carbon price is the sine qua non of reality-based climate policy, and Gore has been way, way ahead of the curve, I'll excerpt that portion. At the end, I'll also comment on Grist's comment policy and Gore Derangement Syndrome.

Q. Did you hear [White House press secretary] Jay Carney this morning?

A. No, God help us, what'd he say?

Q. He said, "We would never propose a carbon tax, and have no intention of proposing one."

A. I don't think that comes as a big surprise to anyone. Those of us that hold out some hope that we will find a way to get a price on carbon, and know there are multiple ways to do it, have felt that the convergence of the fiscal cliff and the climate cliff could produce some surprising results. And there have been some private comments by some Republicans to that effect. But certainly that's something you wouldn't wanna bet money on in Vegas.

Q. What do you think of this idea of a revenue-neutral carbon tax?

A. I have proposed a revenue-neutral carbon tax for a long time, 30 years. I proposed it in my first book, Earth in the Balance.

I supported cap-and-trade because a lot of folks felt that it offered the opportunity for bipartisan consensus. And by the way, it may yet gain altitude globally - China, as you know, is implementing it in five provinces and two cities. They have indicated that they intend to use these pilots as a model for the nationwide program. Many are skeptical, but they often do follow through with what they say they're going to do. And [cap-and-trade] just started in California yesterday. Australia is now linking theirs to the E.U. system. South Korea's moving, British Columbia, Quebec - there are a lot of parallel developments that could converge, particularly if China does follow through. It's premature to write [cap-and-trade] off, even thought it's has been demonized and so many people are afraid to talk about it.

But from the very beginning, I preferred a carbon tax. (And by the way, I'd be in favor of both; I don't think they're inconsistent at all.) And yet, the political environment in the U.S. has not changed to the point where it's something you'd wanna bet on. But look, we've got to solve this. It's an irresistible force meeting an immovable object, and something's gotta give. I have enough faith in humanity to believe, against a lot of evidence, that we're going to solve this.

Q. Does this idea of a carbon/income tax swap make you nervous? The income tax is one of the only places we have progressivity in the U.S. tax code.

A. I have not proposed doing it on the income tax, I have proposed doing it on the payroll tax. I am also friendly to the notion of a rebate scheme, though I doubt they'll do that. It needs to be progressive - the rising inequality in the country is too serious to run the risk of worsening that.

Q.Do you worry that you getting out in front of this might brand it in a certain way -

A. Well, they come after anybody who speaks up in favor of doing something on climate. It's not going to surprise any of them that I'm in favor of it. I've said it on practically a daily basis for years and years.

Gore's last answer is dead on. The anti-science crowd demonizes all climate hawks. That is hardly a reason for silence by any hawk on any aspect of climate science, solutions, or policy - quite the reverse. Certainly the public opinion data makes clear that Nobel laureate did not polarize the climate debate - and every leading social scientists in the field I've spoken to agrees (see "Public Opinion Study Debunks Claim Al Gore Polarized the Climate Debate").

Despite the fact that the science continues to support a worse-case analysis than the one Gore advanced in An Inconvenient Truth, the vitriol against him continues to this day, so much so it has its own label "Gore Derangement Syndrome."

And if you want to see an epidemic of GDS, just go to the comments section of the Grist interview - but put on your head vise first. That may be the best argument I've seen in a while for moderating comments, which the overwhelming majority of blogs do. I'm a huge fan of Grist's - they reprint Climate Progress pieces and we reprint theirs - but I'd urge them to at least put an intern on that job. What really is the point of a comments section if it can be overwhelmed by those spreading disinformation and/or Gore Derangement Syndrome?