Americans Favor Carbon Tax Over Social Spending Cuts


As America’s budget crisis reaches a head, a new word has entered the political discourse. In the strange world of sequestering (also known as Fiscal-Cliff Part 2) the prospect of drastic cuts to America’s federal budget may open the way to new green tax initiatives.

With the Department of Energy facing a whopping cut of 8.2% cut if sequestration takes place, a recent survey indicates that a carbon tax would be more popular with American voters than cuts to environmental programs.

67% of those asked agreed that, “taxing carbon dioxide pollution from oil, gas and other companies” was a better way of reducing the federal deficit than cutting government spending on environmental or other social projects.

93% of Democrats and 66% of Republicans favor such a carbon tax, according to the survey. Ben Schreiber of Friends of the Earth, who commissioned the survey, highlights the paradox:

“Despite the common-sense advantages that a carbon tax brings, conventional wisdom has long been that it is a non-starter.”

The think tank Resources for the Future puts some figures to the idea. At a rate of $25 per ton of CO2, a carbon tax would raise around $125 billion per year.

Commenting on the survey’s findings, Schreiber notes that, one way or another, the world will have to pay for the reality of climate change. Wildfires, super storms and droughts in Texas and the Midwest are only part of the effect of climate change in America. These events carry a huge human and financial price tag, says Schreiber:

“In 2011-2012, the price tag for extreme weather in the U.S. reached $126 billion.”

The Washington Post agrees with the idea of a carbon tax – where emissions of carbon dioxide are taxed at a rate that discourages their use while raising cash for green investment. A recent editorial states:

“This is the best plan lawmakers can take off the shelf to fight global warming.”

Practical benefits of such a tax according to the Post would include:

  • driving down the amount of energy wasted in homes and businesses
  • reducing the nation’s dependence on imported oil
  • expanding the demand for green technologies – from home insulation to electric cars – and boosting the economy in the process

Professor Dieter Helm of Oxford University takes a similar view:

“What is missing across Europe, the United States and China is a global agreement on a proper carbon price. More than any other measure, a tax on carbon consumption is what’s needed to slow the warming of the planet. “

What do you think? Are American voters ready for the burden of taxation to be shifted onto polluting technologies or industries? What needs to happen to generate the political will for such a move?

  • stevedmhsmith

    I wonder if much of this agreement by people of raising tax on oil and gas comes from a belief that it won’t affect them ‘negatively’? To get a more realistic understanding of people’s views, I’d like to see research that starts off with informing people how such a tax would be implemented and how it would (a) impact them in terms of cost on products and services (if any) and other ‘negative’ impacts (if any), and then (b) positively impact them and wider society, and then proceeds to ask them how much they agree or disagree with that tax.

  • Alastair Shaw

    It’s worth noting that in the UK, where tax on fuel is much higher than in the US, there is significant resistance to it from the haulage industry. For domestic motorists, I think most are resigned to it being a major addition to their petrol bills.