Symposium 2015: The majority of greenhouse gas emissions come from automobiles. Is it time to institute a carbon pricing system for individuals who drive automobiles?

Owatanna, MN, Correspondent-Factoring the cost of cleaning up pollution into the overall cost of owning and driving a car is long overdue. However, the way this carbon pricing is done is the key to successfully eliminating greenhouse gas emissions.

The first step is to remove all tax incentives, subsidies, and loopholes in state and federal tax laws for any company involved in the production of energy or the consumption of natural resources. The simplest way to achieve that is by completely eliminating corporate income taxes. It would be a reasonable trade. No army of accountants and lawyers need be paid to generate and subvert tax loopholes or restrictions, which will save companies billions of dollars. However, with no tax or pricing advantage over alternative energy sources, the oil industry in particular will receive no corporate welfare and must become more efficient if they wish to stay profitable.

Second, pass an overarching law that requires all businesses that produce or consume energy or natural resources in any way to take steps to insure that the net pollution effect of their activities is zero. The cost of cleanup of any pollution, including emissions from engines or power plants, shall be borne by the companies. They of course will pass those costs down to the end consumer, who will then be tasked with deciding with his dollars whether to drive or even buy an internal combustion engine car, or seek alternate means of power or transportation.

Leveling the playing field will instantly make wind, solar, electric, and nuclear energy companies and products more competitive, which will give them incentives to develop even better technologies than we have now, and bring them into use at a faster pace.

If the world is serious about reducing pollution to zero net effect on the planet, then everyone must be forced to play the game. However, the rules must state that no one, from the largest corporation down to the single person, shall be given a special advantage.

Gastonia, NC Correspondent-When I lived in Houston, there was a well-maintained set of train tracks that ran right alongside Interstate 10 out west of town.  The west side of Houston is where most of the suburban sprawl has occurred, with the once-quaint city of Katy and the surrounding area now home to tens of thousands of commuters, most of whom hit the lanes of I-10 on their way to and from the city every day.

Union-Pacific announced that it was no longer going to use the rail line, and the city snapped up the land.  Some civic- and green-minded folks suggested that using the existing tracks to put in a commuter rail line might possibly be a good idea, since a huge percentage of the commuters went into downtown Houston, not to other destinations.  Instead, the city and state ripped up the rail line and added six more lanes to the interstate.

This is the sort of thing that would happen far less if it were more expensive to drive.  A carbon tax on every gas-powered vehicle would go a long way toward making things like mass transit, high-speed rail lines and telecommuting more of a going concern.  It’s no coincidence that in Europe and Japan, where gas prices would make the average American explode with rage, there are thriving rail systems and the public transit systems are efficient and heavily used.

Unless it begins costing more to operate a vehicle, nothing is going to change.  Right now, when you factor in the idea that my time is worth money, it’s far more economical for me to use my minivan for trips into Charlotte, my nearest major city, even if I’m going into downtown.  The public transit system is a joke, and there are no prospects on the horizon for it to improve. Instead, the local honchos are adding toll lanes to the existing interstates so the BMW set can get where they’re going faster.

We respond to market pressures, and right now there’s just no pressure pushing us out of our driver’s seats.

Cartwright—The solutions are very simple.  First, we need to impose a special gasoline tax on every gallon of gasoline and diesel sold in America.  This tax should be punitive.  In this instance, yes, you should be punished for your behavior.  I’ve long promoted the benefits of higher gasoline prices at the pump.  You have people driving less, capital gets invested in alternative energy and alternative transportation means, with fewer cars on the road there will likely be fewer accidents which should lower insurance premiums, and of course pollution is reduced.  I’ll gladly pay eight or nine dollars per gallon if it means there are fewer crazy drivers on the road every day and at the same time it helps clean up the air.

Normally, I oppose higher taxes but I think I can make an exception in this case.  Here’s what I would propose.  Let’s start with a $3 dollar surcharge imposed on every gallon of gasoline sold in the United States.  On whole, we consume about 140 billion gallons of gasoline per year.  That would be about $420 billion dollars raised annually.  Of course, this kind of a surcharge is going to have an impact on the amount of gasoline consumed.  Let’s say that gasoline consumption is cut by one third which is about 47 billion gallons per year.  This leaves about 93 billion gallons consumed at a $3 surcharge which equals about $279 billion annually.  To be clear, this surcharge would have to be put into a trust fund.  No government agency could raid the trust fund and spend the money for anything other than the intended purposes.  The funds raised by the gasoline surcharge could only be used for road projects, traditional rail and high speed rail, other forms of public transportation, renewable energy projects, and most importantly planting trees.

Yes, you heard me correctly, planting trees.  Greenhouse gas emissions come most in the form of carbon dioxide.  As I recall from elementary school science, trees and plants take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen.  So, if we plant more trees, won’t we be taking greenhouse gases out of the air and replacing them with oxygen?  Isn’t this a simple approach to reducing climate change that should get all the tree huggers excited?  It’s a pretty simple concept, right?  Two things are happening in the world today—we’re creating more carbon dioxide because more people throughout the world are driving and we’re cutting down trees and forests left and right for development, urban sprawl, or whatever you want to call it.  We’re putting more greenhouse gases into the air and we’re taking out the natural air filters in nature at a more rapid pace than we’re replacing them.  So, shouldn’t we use some of the funds from my gasoline surcharge to designate tracts of land for reforestation?

Here’s another interesting thing to consider.  Burning a gallon of gasoline results in about twenty pounds of carbon dioxide being released into the air.  The average tree can only absorb about forty-eight pounds of carbon dioxide per year.  You can do the math—twenty pounds of carbon dioxide times 140 billion gallons of gasoline consumed per year in the United States equals a massive amount of carbon dioxide being emitted each year just here in our country or 2.8 billion pounds of carbon dioxide.  It takes nearly sixty billion trees to process this carbon dioxide.  We probably have that many trees in America; I don’t really know, but adding a few million more every year wouldn’t hurt one bit.

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