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Toward Democratic Eco-socialism
as the Next World System

8. Emissions Taxes

Book cover: Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know by Joseph Romm

An emissions tax can serve as a progressive climate change mitigation strategy given the seriousness of the ecological crisis. It is imperative that humanity figure out ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions quickly to keep the planet in a relatively safe climatic state. Much ink has been spilled on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including weighing up the pros and cons of emissions taxes and trading schemes. Unfortunately, existing trading schemes, including those in the U.S., the Kyoto Protocol, and the E.U., essentially grant corporations and developed countries property rights to emit greenhouse gas. The emission allowance prices under the E.U. Emissions Trading Scheme have fluctuated wildly, from a high of thirty Euros in April 2006 to three cents at the end of 2007, to thirty Euros during 2008, then down to 6.04 Euros in April 2012, and up to 9.80 Euros in August 2012.

Conversely, a carefully crafted emissions tax has the potential to serve as a transitional reform. James Hansen, a retired NASA climate scientist, has called for a steep carbon tax at the site of production as a strategy for quickly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Ultimately, the record on the few existing emissions tax schemes found in various countries has been modest or mixed in terms of curtailing emissions or promoting a shift to renewable energy sources. Emissions taxes are, at best, only a short-term solution, and a market mechanism at that, and would perhaps not be necessary if energy production were publicly owned rather than privately owned, which is generally the case today around much of the world. Public ownership of utilities and mining could aid a rapid transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. What is needed are governments that exist not to prop up corporate endeavors but to seek to achieve social parity and environmental sustainability.

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