A Practical Method To Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions to Zero

As an engineer who has studied control systems, it has always frustrated me that we don't make what to me is the obvious choice: treat greenhouse gas emissions as the input to a control system, and a tax rate on greenhouse gas emissions as the output. Then, you choose how many years until your emissions should be zero, and let the controller tell you what the tax rate should be. This tax rate would change every month, every year, and would inexorably force emissions down to zero over the chosen time period. Choosing the longest time period possible -- e.g. ~40 years -- would give the system as much time as possible to adjust, meaning that we'll experience the minimum pain possible.

If this increase in emissions tax were paired with a decrease in other taxes (like income tax, corporate tax, and other regressive taxes) so that the tax change every year was revenue neutral, the average tax being paid would not change. Then, people would naturally vote with their wallets for more efficient cars, electricity produced by less expensive methods (and therefore more efficient and less greenhouse gas emitting), food that is less expensive because it is transported a shorter distance, and so on. Fundamental and applied research and development would happen naturally in both the academic and in the private sector, and we can sit back and allow our capitalist system to do what it is so incredibly good at: optimizing based upon money.


Remarks

Over time, income/corporate/other taxes would increase again within a country as the emissions tax brings in less income. By year 40, we'd be back to business as usual. At that point, it would probably make sense to remove the law taxing greenhouse gas emissions, and instead simply outlaw any net emission of greenhouse gases.

If some technology were implemented for removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere directly and permanently, that removal would count as a credit on the emissions tax, so a company could potentially bring their emissions tax to zero without cutting emissions to zero simply by implementing such technology. That would create a market incentive for creating and using such technologies (assuming they are even possible and/or economic).


Possible arguments against

1. "It's a tax grab." No it's not, it's revenue neutral.

2. "It will put an unfair burden on business, and weaken our economy." No, it wouldn't. It puts exactly the least possible burden on business over time. Make no mistake, the only way to bring greenhouse emissions to zero is to change the way you do business, and for some companies or industries that means changing even the business that you're in. On the other hand, the economy is strongest when innovation and new technologies are being developed, and bought and sold. There would be a boom in industries creating technologies to mitigate greenhouse emissions, or creating electricity with fewer emissions, and so on. But yes, your companies and industries would definitely need to change. Thankfully you have some time: 40 years in total. Go! :-)

3. "It's unfair on the resource sector." Actually, no. It's as fair as it can possibly be. Demand wouldn't change immediately, but rather gradually over 40 years, decreasing to zero. Initially, they would still sell oil, gas, coal, etc at the same price and with roughly the same demand. It's the future that would change. So resource companies, would need to start investing in new technologies that make sense in this new tax regime. Those that did would do well if they produced good technology and products, and not if they didn't. It's survival of the fittest in business: I believe we call that system "Capitalism." ;-)

4. "It's unnecessary. Man-made global warming and climate change is a myth." Climate change deniers would gradually disappear and stop feeling compelled to deny once they realized that change was happening, that the pain was minimal, and that they'd better just get on with being good businessmen in their chosen fields.

5. "It puts an unfair burden on the less developed nations." This one I'm not sure about. Perhaps aid given to less developed nations could be adjusted to include significant transfer of both technology and expertise to less developed nations so that they could compete more fairly.


Thoughts? I would be grateful if you would share this with anyone you think might have an interest, especially those directly involved in the science, economics, politics related to this issue.
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