Should Congress enact, and the President sign, a carbon tax?

My submission to the Political Posturing column in the May 2109 issue of InBusiness Magazine. I added some graphs to this blog post that weren’t in the publication.

No, a carbon tax would be ridiculously ineffective.

Activists tell us that a carbon tax will reduce carbon emissions and thus reduce carbon in the atmosphere and slow or reverse global warming. This is a gross exaggeration.

Quantifying the reduction of carbon emissions from a carbon tax cannot be predicted. Any overall reduction would likely be negligible because the tax does not prohibit the activity — it just makes the activity more expensive. Business will absorb the increased cost, find other ways of reducing cost, or pass on the cost to the consumer. In the end, a carbon tax will punish consumers and put more money in the hands of the government, which won’t spend it to solve an unsolvable and naturally recurring trend.

The EPA tells us in its Carbon Monoxide Trends report that since 1980, there has been an 84 percent decrease (8.8 ppm down to 1.4 ppm) in the national average.

But wait — we’re being told that we need a carbon tax to reduce overall carbon emissions in order to slow or reverse climate change. Yet we’ve reduced carbon emissions over the past 37 years by 84 percent, and we’re still being told that the climate is getting worse, which requires drastic action like a new tax to fix it? How stupid do they think we are?

The carbon put into our atmosphere by fossil fuels is only a small portion of the carbon put in the atmosphere from other sources. Some estimates say that fossil fuels contribute less than 5 percent of the total carbon (see graphic representation below) in our atmosphere and the United States produces about 15 percent of the world’s CO (see pie graph below).

If the USA stopped using all fossil fuels overnight, it would only make a 0.75 percent difference in overall global carbon output. [EDIT November 20, 2020: After a discussion with commenter TA, I added word “output” to end of previous sentence to reflect actual intent] [EDIT January 21, 2020: These numbers have changed slightly. The USA is now considered to be contributing 16%. There is a new pie graph at the link provided above that shows this 16%. So the 0.75 percentage stated above now calculates to 0.8% which is 16% of 5%. ]

So, they want us to believe that an ineffective carbon tax is going to reduce the U.S. carbon output, enough to change the overall global concentration and thus fix climate change. I’m sorry but the numbers and the logic make no sense.

I repeat: How stupid do these people they think we are?

That’s the end of the InBusiness column.

Honestly, some of the carbon tax promoters know that the carbon tax won’t do a thing to reduce our carbon output but it would, as Brad Werntz parroted,

“…promote economic growth, reduce budget deficits, reduce redundant and inefficient regulation, reduce unnecessary subsidies, and reduce the costs associated with climate change”.

So someone who’s ideology seems to reside well left of center thinks the carbon tax would be an influx of tax dollars, a government tax windfall, to which Werntz says,

“Really, what’s not to like?”

In my column submission I wrote,

“…put more money in the hands of the government, which won’t spend it to solve an unsolvable and naturally recurring trend.”

How much more accurate about predicting the reaction of the political left and a new tax could I have been? What is it about taxes and being an ideologically entrenched Democrat like Werntz appears to be? They must think that no new tax is a bad tax even when you know up front that it will do NOTHING to curb the trend you are taxing. Can’t stop it, let’s tax it so the government has more of our money to spend elsewhere.

To close I’d like to briefly touch on climate change. I think climate change is happening and I honestly don’t think that it can be denied but we cannot control mother nature. The real debate is, or should be, why the so-called “settled science” promoters are using science that really isn’t settled at all to scare the hell out of people with apocalyptic predictions that they have already proven to be false. People are parroting predictions as if they are fact, one like Werntz shared in his column link above is,

“…so we should expect sea levels to rise between four and 11 feet in the next few decades.”

Didn’t Al Gore make those same kind of predictions some years ago and not a one of them ever came true? They really are making some ridiculous predictions based on extrapolations of unsettled science.

I came across a really good blog presentation written by Zoltar Speaks about the recurring climate trends and how those that are predicting climate change catastrophes are basically using “tunnel vision” and “bad science” to ignore historical climate trends. The blog post is a couple of years old and called Climate Change and be forewarned it’s long, opinionated, and informative. Here is a sample of the blog post, it’s what I’d call the conclusion.

“There is an agenda driving the climate change alarmists and that agenda is to clean up the environment, which happens to be a really good cause, but lying about the reasons why we need to do it to hype up hysteria in the public is morally bankrupt and just bull shit.  If you want to clean up air pollution then dammit, do it, it will be good for everyone, but don’t spew bad science to try and convince the masses, it makes the whole science argument in favor of cleaning up the environment look like a complete sham.”

Featured Photo Credit: Cropped version of a Bangkok Thailand smog photo I found online, I believe the photo might be from the Bangkok Post but wasn’t identified.

5 thoughts on “Should Congress enact, and the President sign, a carbon tax?

  1. Hi Steve,

    I came across your InBusiness article recently and have two comments:

    1- Carbon monoxide is a very minor greenhouse gas. While it does have a dipole moment, unlike other diatomic molecules like O2 or N2, CO radiates mostly in the spectrum that is on the fringes of the earth’s outgoing longwave radiation (OLR). More specifically, the earth radiates predominantly in the 4 – 40 micron range and CO radiates at 4.67 and has another line at 2.35 micron. On the other hand, carbon dioxide has a strong absorption line at 15 microns which is closer to the peak in the earth’s outgoing infrared. Carbon dioxide is very stable in the atmosphere and can last from hundred of years to hundreds of thousands of years (there are multiple time scales for its decay). That is why it is considered the primary greenhouse gas (water vapor is the dominant absorber of infrared emission from the earth’s surface, but it is a feedback on the climate, not a forcing). At the same EPS site where you got your CO trend graph, you can also look at their graph of primary greenhouse gas emissions in the US https://www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/climate-change-indicators-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions
    The peak in CO2 emission for the US was roughly in 2005 and has been coming down slowly since then. The primary reason is the switch from coal to gas, increase in renewable energy and economic recession.

    2- Unfortunately, you misinterpreted the figure showing the net carbon fluxes into and out of the atmosphere. The left-hand figure shows natural fluxes of 120 GTC/y going into and out of the land surface, while the figure on the right shows natural fluxes of 90 GTC/y going into and out of the ocean. The fundamental take-away from the figure is that the natural fluxes, at this point in time, are roughly in balance. What is disturbing that balance is the anthropogenic sources of carbon which are in red. Roughly 9 GtC/y are emitted from fossil fuels, cement manufacturing and land-use changes. Of that total, 2 GtC/y go into the ocean and 3 GtC/y are absorbed by the land. That leaves 4 GtC/y that remains in the atmosphere for periods of hundred to hundreds of thousands of years.
    What you did was take that 9 GtC/y and divided it by 90 + 120 = 210 to get your “less than 5 %”. This ignores the 210 GtC/y that is being naturally recycled back out of the atmosphere. It’s as if two parents set up a bank account for their child. Every month the mother puts in $100 and every month the father takes out $100. In the meantime, the grandfather is putting just $1 into the account every month. You can say that the grandfather is only putting in 1% of the total going into the account, but in fact the grandfather is the sole reason why the money in that account keeps increasing.

    Cheers

    Like

    1. TA wrote, “you misinterpreted the figure showing the net carbon fluxes into and out of the atmosphere.”, “What you did was take that 9 GtC/y and divided it by 90 + 120 = 210 to get your “less than 5 %”.

      I did no such thing and your math is incorrect. What I wrote is mathematically accurate based on the graphic representation I presented. Here’s the math based on that chart…

      60 = Plant Respiration
      60 = Microbial Respiration and Decomposition
      90 = Respiration and Decomposition From the Oceans
      9 = Fossil Fuels, Cement, and Land Use Change
      219 = Total

      To obtain what percent of the overall that is being contributed by man you must take that portion that is contributed by man 9 GtC/y and divide it by the total contributed 219 GtC/y then multiply that by 100 to obtain a percentage contribution by man.

      9 / 219 X 100 = 4.10958% which is less than 5% and that is what I presented. I could have written that the percentage was just over 4% and that too would have been accurate. In fact I intentionally chose to write less than 5 percent because that numerical value was higher and using it wouldn’t appear that I was trying to diminish mans carbon contribution to the problem.

      My math was correct and my conclusion based on that math was correct.

      TA wrote, “This ignores the 210 GtC/y that is being naturally recycled back out of the atmosphere.”

      You are either not understanding my argument or you are intentionally misrepresenting my argument. Regardless of your intent; I wasn’t talking about net change in my blog, I was talking about percent contribution to the overall and that was very obvious in my post (see excerpt below) because I literally stated that.

      “The carbon put into our atmosphere by fossil fuels is only a small portion of the carbon put in the atmosphere from other sources. Some estimates say that fossil fuels contribute less than 5 percent of the total carbon (see graphic representation below) in our atmosphere..”

      My calculations were accurate based on the information I presented. Your misrepresentation of what I wrote is false.

      TA wrote, “That leaves 4 GtC/y that remains in the atmosphere for periods of hundred to hundreds of thousands of years.”

      That’s an interesting argument that doesn’t seem to be supported by actual facts. The CO and CO2 atmospheric trends have all been going down over the last 40+ years. If the part that remains, as in the net that you are talking about, “remains in the atmosphere for periods of hundred to hundreds of thousands of years” is true then we should not be see any downward trend of CO2 in our atmosphere for periods of hundred to hundreds of thousands of years but yet we are seeing these downward trends and it’s happen over 40 years. Our efforts to reduce our carbon emissions has had a net effect on the overall concentration and your argument that it “remains in the atmosphere for periods of hundred to hundreds of thousands of years” is simply not supported by the facts. What your argument is completely ignoring is that Mother Nature recovers in ways that mere humans can’t seem to accurately predict.

      Now back to this point that I raised earlier; you are either not understanding my argument for whatever reason or you are intentionally misrepresenting my argument. I really do appreciate you taking the time to comment on my blog that’s why I allowed your misrepresentation to be posted but I don’t appreciate being misrepresented and I don’t take kindly to it; so, since this is your first comment on my blog I am going to give you a break and apply Hanlon’s razor to your misrepresentation but please try to do better in the future.

      Thanks for reading and participating.

      Like

  2. Steve,

    Thanks for responding.

    First, you didn’t respond to my argument about carbon monoxide. CO is a very minor greenhouse gas, so it is misleading to cite its decrease in the atmosphere and claim that the amount of carbon in the atmosphere is decreasing. You will note that the Environmental Protection Agency — that you cited as your source for CO — did not even include it as a greenhouse gas. It’s not carbon per se that affects the climate, it’s carbon that is bound to other molecules — like CO2 or CH4 — that vibrate, because they a dipole moment, and have a strong absorption line in the range of the earth’s outgoing infrared emission. H20, as you may know, has a very strong dipole moment which is why it is a strong absorber of infrared (but, as I pointed out, is a feedback, not a forcing). This is pretty basic science as to what the greenhouse effect is. As you may know, without greenhouse gases the planet would be one vast frozen rock with little to no life on it. The great mathematician Joseph Fourier knew this over 200 years ago. You can derive this result yourself from a basic application of the Stefan-Boltzmann equation (I’m even willing to show you how, if you’d like to know).

    Second, your conclusion wasn’t correct about the fluxes of CO2 in the atmosphere. Yes, “the carbon put into our atmosphere by fossil fuels is only a small portion of the carbon put in the atmosphere from other sources” is true. It’s also irrelevant. You can’t make this argument and ignore the natural fluxes that are also removing carbon from the atmosphere. The figure that you posted actually makes the exact opposite of the argument you presented. It shows that the reason for the increase of carbon — and we are talking specifically about CO2 and CH4 here — is solely due to anthropogenic sources.

    Third, you wrote “The CO and CO2 atmospheric trends have all been going down over the last 40+ years.” Whether CO is increasing, decreasing or staying the same is irrelevant with regard to the greenhouse effect, as I’ve already explained and you ignored. However, it is untrue that CO2 is decreasing in the atmosphere. If you looked at the EPA graph, that shows you what the EMISSION into the atmosphere from the US is doing over the past few decades. It says nothing about what other countries are doing. AND most important, it says nothing about the actual concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, which is continually going up. You can find this information just about anywhere: NASA has a graph of CO2 in the atmosphere since 2005 from direct measurements and a much more detailed graph over the past 800,000 years from ice core measurements. https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/carbon-dioxide/ If you have data that shows the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is going down, then point to here.

    Finally, my statement that CO2 lasts from hundred to hundreds of thousands of years in the atmosphere comes from the peer reviewed literature. David Archer at the University of Chicago is one of the foremost experts on the carbon cycle in the world. You can read his classic paper here: http://climatemodels.uchicago.edu/geocarb/archer.2009.ann_rev_tail.pdf

    Cheers

    Like

  3. TA wrote, “CO is a very minor greenhouse gas, so it is misleading to cite its decrease in the atmosphere and claim that the amount of carbon in the atmosphere is decreasing.”

    On that point I agree. After I read that I had to go back and reread what the heck I wrote this morning. It appears that I conflated CO and CO2 in what I wrote in my comment above regarding the decrease of CO and CO2. It’s clear that CO2 has been on a steady rise while while CO has been decreasing, don’t ask me why I conflated the two, I know better, it must have been a brain fart or trying to think to deeply before my morning coffee kicked in. Thanks for bringing that to my attention.

    In addition; after I realized what I did this morning I went back to my original blog post to see if I could figure out why you went down this line of discussion and found that the sentence in my original blog post “If the USA stopped using all fossil fuels overnight, it would only make a 0.75 percent difference in overall global carbon.” Should actually read “If the USA stopped using all fossil fuels overnight, it would only make a 0.75 percent difference in overall global carbon output.” It’s clear that I forgot to put the word “output” in that particular sentence since that’s really the intent of the sentence and the whole blog post. This was fixed in the blog post to reflect intent and the edit was noted.

    I’m done kicking myself now. Moving on.

    Carbon monoxide (CO) is literally part of what makes up the carbon in the atmosphere and that is exactly why Climate Change activists are saying that we need to reduce the CO output in order to reduce the overall carbon in the atmosphere and therefore reduce the possibility of more global warming. It’s all about fossil fuels to the global warming activists! The entire purpose of the original article and this blog post was to show how ridiculous a carbon tax would be to helping reduce the carbon footprint of the world based on the carbon output of the United States.

    In some ways we are saying the same thing in different ways but I’m not going to entertain the rest of your argument about how much carbon the global environment can absorb because that is literally not what my blog post is about.

    Like

  4. Great! See we’re getting somewhere. I appreciate that you are willing to look at the evidence and correct what you wrote. I’m not interested necessarily in arguing politics or the relative benefits or costs of a carbon tax. Reasonable people can disagree. However, I am interested in making sure that the science is conveyed correctly.

    So, here’s what I object to especially in what you wrote, “I think climate change is happening and I honestly don’t think that it can be denied but we cannot control mother nature.” If this sentence is meant to say that climate change, and here specifically I mean the increase in the global mean temperature and the hydrological implications that has, is not due to anthropogenic forces, then that sentence is incorrect. The very graph that you posted shows that the increase in atmospheric carbon — again, either CO2 or CH4 — is due to anthropogenic causes. Now you may doubt that CO2 from fossil fuels is the cause of the temperature increase. However, I am perfectly willing to have a scientific discussion as to why that is precisely the case. I would add one more thing — since I saw it in that Zoltar speaks article you referenced. It is precisely NOT because of some wrong-headed notion that correlation equals causation. The physics is fairly straightforward radiation transfer, known in parts for over 100 years. Observational data of outgoing infrared confirms that it is CO2 and other greenhouse gases that is causing the warming. Much of that data came in part from the US Air Force during the 1950s.

    And if you think that it is hubris on the part of people to think they can influence the climate, what would you say about the lowly cyanobacteria which caused the Great Oxygen Catastrophe over 2 billion years ago and was responsible for a large extinction event?

    I would add two points however, because it appears that you’re not interested in continuing this discussion (which is perfectly fine since this is your blog and I’m only a visitor here — I appreciate you taking the time to hear me out).
    You wrote, “Climate Change activists are saying that we need to reduce the CO output in order to reduce the overall carbon in the atmosphere and therefore reduce the possibility of more global warming.” There is a lot of specious reasoning by those who discuss climate change, but frankly I know of no one who points to CO as a greenhouse gas. If you have a reference to someone who says this, then point to it here. I’d be glad to correct them.

    The last point is that you changed your post to now read, “If the USA stopped using all fossil fuels overnight, it would only make a 0.75 percent difference in overall global carbon output.” It’s a correct statement, but also irrelevant and serves only to hide what the actual science says. Again, the natural fluxes — in going and outgoing from the atmosphere — are in relative balance. As we saw from the NASA graph which showed that CO2 is increasing, and from the graph that YOU posted, we can understand — and hopefully agree — that the carbon that is retained in the atmosphere is purely from anthropogenic sources. Therefore the correct way to make that statement is to say, “If the USA stopped using all fossil fuels overnight, then the increase in CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere would be reduced by 15%.”

    Cheers!

    Like

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