What’s the best way to reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2? Appealing to people’s sense of social responsibility, such as asking them to buy cars with better gas mileage or turn down their thermostats, doesn’t seem to work terribly well. Most of us are more focused on how we’re going to pay the rent or buy that new car than on our personal contribution to global warming. Plus we have no idea how to calculate our carbon footprint, as its called. And targeted government action, such as requiring that cars achieve a certain mileage or demanding that we car-pool to work, are highly intrusive on our lives. Is there a better way?
One idea would be to put a price (okay, a tax) on greenhouse gas emissions, wherever and whenever they occur. That way, the cost of preventing global warming is uniformly distributed into everything we do that results in the increased release of greenhouse gases. We don’t even have to be aware of it. It just means that the prices of all goods and services that we use would go up by an amount that would reflect the actual cost of removing the amount of CO2 those goods or services produced. A carbon tax would mean that each of us would be paying for our carbon footprint, without having to go to extremes of a change in lifestyle. For more on why a carbon tax might be the best idea yet, see the essay by Harvard economist Gregory Mankiw.
Yes, it would be difficult to put the right price (or tax) on carbon emissions. Too much and it could stifle economic growth and prosperity. Too little, and we wouldn’t solve the global warming problem. That’s a topic for the future. Surely it could be done, if we put our minds to it.