Why a carbon tax is the best solution to the climate crisis

Omarra Hannibal-Williams, Contributing Writer

Last spring term, I took Environmental and Natural Resource Economics, (ECO 228), with Professor McCarty.

Although I am not an economics major, I am an environmental science minor, and the concept of a carbon tax is not something new.

In that class, we spent an extensive amount of time discussing externalities, an economic concept that states that the true price of a good is not reflected in the market price of that good.

The classic example of an externality is shown by having a made-up company dump left over toxic waste from their production of widgets into a river.

People down-river became sick, and had to pay for their own doctors appointments and other medical bills.

The price of the widgets did not increase to help pay for the costs of the doctors visits, and as a result, the “true price” of the widgets is lower than what it should have been.

One of the hardest things about economics is the theoretical nature of some of the concepts. Economics 101, which I also took with Professor McCarty last fall, was a lot harder than I thought it would be, precisely because of this fact. But in the case of environmental economics, the effects of externalities are real.

Take for example Hoosick Falls, NY. Hoosick Falls is about one hour away from Schenectady, and from my hometown, Voorheesville.

My junior year of high school, 2015, we played at Hoosick Falls high school in a sectional basketball game. By that time, it was well-known that Perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOAs, had seeped into the towns water supply, causing cancer and other health problems.

PFOAs have been used since the 1940’s for purposes such as non-stick coating for kitchen supplies. The company that contaminated the water was fined about $10 million dollars in 2005, but did not stop using PFOAs until 2015.

In the case of a carbon tax, right now, companies face no penalties for emitting greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide or methane.

The emission of these gases is the number one cause of climate change. Polar ice caps are melting at alarming rates, which are not only causing sea levels to rise, but leads to a host of a lot of other problems.

These problems include the increasing severity and frequency of extreme weather events, which will cost us more money in the future as opposed to taking action right now.

Hurricanes Sandy and Irene flooded countless homes and businesses, and billions were spent fixing damage.

I was moved to take action right now on Union’s campus and in New York State, and applied to be a Fellow for Our Climate’s Put A Price On It campaign in New York.

As a Fellow, my goal is to educate the campus and surrounding community about a carbon price, and how it is the best long-term solution to climate change.

I have been to several club meetings so far, gaining over 40 signatures on the petition, and plan on attending several more club meetings over the remainder of this term.

I would also like to gain the support of President Harris, and have him join the 50 other presidents of higher education institutions in supporting the Higher Education Carbon Pricing Endorsement Initiative.

Right now, in the New York State legislature, the Climate and Community Protection Act, or CCPA, is on the floor.

It is a mandate for New York to phase out fossil fuels by 2050.

On April 9, there is a Coordinated Youth Lobby Day in Albany, and I plan on hosting a workshop the first week of spring term to train Union students on how to lobby local officials to support this bill. But a mandate is not enough.

The Climate and Community Investment Act, or CCIA, which has also been introduced in the 2019-2020 legislative session in the State Senate, will set in place a $35 per ton fee on emissions.

The funds from the tax will be used to help offset the rising cost of fossil fuels, retrain those who work in fossil fuel-based industries and reinvest in the communities most affected by climate change.

A carbon tax bill is not just a mandate; it has teeth, and will also make sure that companies will pay for the damage they have already done to the planet.

New York State is a key state, and the passage of the CCPA will only be the beginning of an increase in national discourse about effective solutions to climate change.

This specific legislation pricing carbon pollution not only disincentivizes irresponsible industrial behavior.

It uses the funds collected to invest into communities, retrain workers, and helps transition New York to clean energy.

A carbon tax would allow for money to be given back to those who have already paid the price. Bring on the carbon tax.