David Wallace-Wells, “The Uninhabitable Earth,” New York magazine, July 9. (Quoted by David Roberts in We have no system to deal with escalating climate damages. It’s time to build one, at vox.com, Sept 21, in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.)
Carbon taxing isn’t something you expect to see mentioned in What Happened, Hillary Clinton’s memoir about losing the 2016 election to Donald Trump. But deep in the book’s weeds we find a telling new window into how Clinton “blew the biggest slam dunk in the history of American politics” (as one political pro vented to New Yorker editor David Remnick; expletive deleted here).
Around p. 240* Clinton brings up carbon dividends — a form of carbon taxes — as the type of “bold, creative ideas” she says Democrats must offer Americans. She generously name-checks Peter Barnes, an avatar of carbon dividends, and points to Alaska’s “Permanent Fund” that annually divvies up North Slope oil royalties equally to all state households. Then she writes:
[S]ome Republican elder statesmen such as former U.S. Treasury Secretaries James Baker and Hank Paulson recently proposed a nationwide carbon dividend program that would tax fossil fuel use and refund all the money directly to every American … Under such a plan, working families with small carbon footprints could end up with a big boost in their incomes. [Bill and I] spent weeks working with our policy team to see if it could be viable enough to include in my campaign … Unfortunately, we couldn’t make the math work without imposing new costs on upper-middle-class families, which I had pledged not to do. (emphasis added)
Like so much with Clinton, this passage is strong on details and weak on vision.
Clinton is right that carbon dividend schemes will raise incomes of most working families. She is right that their gain will come at the expense of affluent families, whose carbon footprints are larger. Revenue distribution from a fixed revenue pie is, by its nature, zero-sum: what is disbursed to one class of recipients can’t be available to another.
Of course, any policy that transfers wealth from rich to poor is by definition income-progressive, which puts carbon dividends squarely in the Democratic Party tradition of Roosevelt, Truman and Johnson. Climate benefits aside, carbon dividends’ distributional benefits make the policy a natural for progressives, as we pointed out last week in our post, The climate solution that boosts income for over 60% of Americans — the ones who most need it.
But did Clinton’s policy team really “spend weeks” searching for the carbon-revenue equivalent of a perpetual motion machine — one that would diminish inequality without costing “affluent families” a dime? Doubtful. The impossibility would have been obvious in fifteen minutes, especially to her policy-smart husband. Besides, carbon dividends didn’t suddenly originate with James Baker et al.; they’ve been a staple of carbon tax advocacy for nearly a decade. Their distributional impacts are well-established.
What’s more likely, and as Clinton herself hints, is that her team spent weeks trying to find the messaging to sell carbon dividends to her upper-middle-class base. But that should have been easy as well; their message could have gone like this:
Carbon dividends are a policy we can put in place quickly to accelerate our country’s transition from climate-killing, health-killing fossil fuels, with no new administrative machinery, which the rest of the world can emulate. Those who are doing well will have to contribute more for the common good, but this is a way of making every American feel more connected to our country and to one another — part of something bigger than ourselves. (Bold section are Clinton’s own words, from the discussion of carbon dividends in her book; prior text is mine.)
Yes, Trump and his backers would have pilloried Clinton for backing a carbon tax. But she was being hounded anyway for a hundred other reasons, both real and ginned up. Why not take a stand? Indeed, why not take a page from Bernie Sanders’ primary campaign playbook? In his April 14, 2016 debate with Clinton, for example, Sen. Sanders unapologetically supported “a tax on carbon so that we can transit away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency and sustainable energy at the level and speed we need to do.”
Watching that debate, I imagined Americans who were tepid or worse on carbon taxing nonetheless admiring Sanders’ forthrightness. Some might even have been swept up with a new openness to the idea of carbon taxing.
To be clear, failure to back carbon taxing isn’t why Hillary Clinton lost last November. But her inability to stand for something bold like carbon dividends was indicative of her incapacity to transcend policy details and connect them to a larger vision. And that arguably cost her the election every bit as much as Comey, Russia and the other usual suspects.
* Page number from “What Happened” is approximate, as viewed on a Kindle. The conception and shape of this post benefited greatly from CTC supporter and blog contributor Rachael Sotos. Note that our original headline, “Hillary Clinton and the Missing Carbon Dividends,” has been changed.
To view the latest census data on U.S. household incomes is to marvel at — and be appalled by — the unequal distribution of income in America.
In 2016, according to official data released last month, the lowest-earning one-third of U.S. households received just one-twelfth of total money income, which the Census Bureau defines as “the arithmetic sum of money wages and salaries, net income from self-employment, and income other than earnings.”
At the other end of the scale, the top 7 percent earning households — those with incomes of at least $200,000 — pulled in 27 percent of U.S. income last year. Note the symmetry: those at the top earn four times their pro rata share, while those in the broad bottom earn only one-fourth of theirs.
Stark as these figures are, they don’t capture the full extent of the wealth gaps — the one between the rich and the middle class, and the other between the middle and the poor. These gaps accumulate over generations, as the New York Times noted this week in its trenchant dive into the data, Bump in U.S. Incomes Doesn’t Erase 50 Years of Pain.
These disparities underlay Bernie Sanders’ “political revolution” campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination last year. And they added fuel to the sense of white grievance that energized Donald Trump’s successful run for the presidency. They also bolster the case for “carbon dividends” — the idea of distributing all or nearly all carbon tax revenues equally to U.S. households popularized as carbon fee and dividend by the non-partisan Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL), and more recently advanced by the Republican-led Climate Leadership Council (CLC) under the rubric of carbon dividends.
Using incomes as a proxy for carbon emissions — a rough approximation but a reasonable one, given income-based differences not only in using electricity, gasoline and heating and aviation fuels but also carbon embodied in making and shipping consumer goods — we’ve used the census data to estimate that if all carbon revenues are returned to the public, nearly two-thirds (66 percent) of U.S. households will take in as much or more money in the form of carbon dividends as they would pay out in higher fuel and goods prices due to carbon taxes.
Our figure jibes with the U.S. Treasury Department’s finding in its Jan. 2017 report, Methodology for Analyzing a Carbon Tax, that the lowest seven income deciles will be net beneficiaries of a carbon dividends plan (see Table 6) . Our estimate of the share of U.S. households that will be net beneficiaries under carbon diviends, 65.9 percent before rounding, is up slightly from our prior 65.1 percent “better off” finding based on 2012 incomes. Among those 65.9 percent, which encompass 83 million households, the average gain (carbon dividend netted by carbon tax expense) per $100 billion in total carbon revenue is $415 per year.
While that net gain may seem small — just $8 per week — the revenue amount on which it’s based corresponds to a very modest carbon tax, around $23 per ton of CO2. A robust carbon tax that climbed to a level several times higher would generate correspondingly larger net dividends for the benefiting households. Moreover, the more indigent the household, the greater its estimated net gain.
The breakeven household income point is a shade over $85,000, a level 45 percent greater than the 2016 median household income of $59.000; “typical” households will be net gainers if their income is less, and losers if more. Of course, if the share of carbon revenues dedicated to revenue return is reduced, the percentage of households kept whole under carbon fee and dividend shrinks as well. Our calculations suggest that around two-thirds of carbon revenues must be returned as dividends in order for half of households to have their carbon tax fully offset. (See line chart below.)
A conundrum for the climate movement
The ability of carbon dividends to lift incomes of the bottom half or more of U.S. households creates a conundrum for the climate movement, especially now that Republicans, who traditionally align with capital and wealth, are beginning to sign up for carbon dividend proposals.
The progenitors of CLC’s carbon dividend plan, James Baker and George Shultz, are “exemplars of the outcast center-right GOP establishment,” as I described them recently in the Washington Spectator. At least as impressively, 28 current GOP U.S. House members have joined CCL’s Climate Solutions Caucus and thus signaled their possible openness to a carbon fee that reserves carbon revenues for dividends instead of applying them to cut corporate income taxes.
Yet many on the left are insisting that carbon revenues, or at least a large share of them, be invested in government-administered or financed clean-energy development and transportation infrastructure, especially in so-called frontline communities. Because each dollar of carbon revenue can’t be spent twice, the competing demands of carbon dividends vs. “just transition” proposals threaten to divide the climate movement — as they already did in last fall’s divisive I-732 carbon-tax referendum in Washington state, which I reported this past winter in The Nation magazine.
Ironically, it’s possible (indeed, I believe it’s likely) that allocating carbon revenues to dividends would more reliably benefit low-income families more than would spending the revenues on sustainable energy and transportation. Considering further that revenue-neutral dividend approaches might eventually garner meaningful support from some Republicans, it seems self-defeating for left-leaning or other climate advocates to reject them out of hand.
For our part, CTC supports any viable carbon tax proposal, revenue-neutral or not, provided it would not demonstrably exacerbate economic inequality or other social injustice. Thus far we have refrained from endorsing the American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act introduced in July by U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Brian Schatz (D-HI), pending analysis of the regressive aspects of its proposed tax swap to reduce the corporate tax rate to 29 percent, from 35 percent, among other provisions.
That said, crunch time is coming for carbon dividend apostles. If the late summer hurricanes that have ravaged southeast Texas, Caribbean nations and much of Florida won’t induce Republican office-holders to spurn their party’s denialist orthodoxy and embrace revenue-neutral carbon taxing, it’s fair to ask if they’ll ever push for genuine climate solutions.
Note: This post was originally headlined “Worsening Economic Inequality Should Broaden Support for Carbon Dividends.”
Miami (FL) Mayor Tomás Regalado (a Republican), in Harrowing Storms May Move Climate Debate, if Not G.O.P. Leaders, NY Times, Sept 14.
Lisa Friedman, Hurricane Irma Linked to Climate Change? For Some, a Very ‘Insensitive’ Question, NY Times, Sept. 11.
Vox blogger David Roberts, tweeting on Aug. 27.
This guest post is by Rachael Sotos, an aspiring political theorist and long-time CTC supporter who lives in Santa Cruz, CA.
The gaping flaw in the Paris Climate Agreement was hidden in plain sight even before Trump repudiated the 190-nation compact this year. Notwithstanding the precedent-shattering achievement — an agreement signed by virtually all of the world’s sovereign nations — Paris comprised an unenforceable system of pledges, aptly named Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).
True, the first step in any long journey is often the hardest, and the Paris agreement includes a five-year time frame to review and hopefully strengthen the pledges made in late 2015. But let’s be clear: neither the INDCs nor the brave pledges of some U.S. governors and mayors since “Trexit” will radically curb emissions. The world needs a binding agreement with coercive mechanisms to meaningfully address climate change.
Throughout the climate crisis we have been living in a “state of nature” famously described by the 17th century British political theorist Thomas Hobbes. Which makes this a good time to consider Harvard economist Martin Weitzman’s essentially Hobbesian allegory: a World Climate Assembly (WCA) “that votes for a single worldwide price on carbon emissions via the basic democratic principle of one-person one vote majority rule.”
Though Hobbes is reviled by some for advocating absolutist politics, he is also credited with discovering modern political economy and laying the foundations for both modern tax law and rational choice theory. One could even say that Hobbes employed allegories of extreme negative externality to legitimize top-down modes of political authority.
In Leviathan (1651) Hobbes asked his readers to abstract from all familiar, inherited and trusted modes of collaboration, to imagine themselves in a “war of all against all,” bellum omnium contra alles. Rather than a literal prehistorical period, his “state of nature” is the ever-present possibility of market failure in extremis. Absent coercive administrative power, Hobbes argued, there could be no property rights, secure contracts or absolute moral duties apart from self-preservation. Each person is a covetous judge of his or her own situation, and every defensive acquisition is justified.
Enter Prof. Weitzman amid growing recognition that global warming is history’s greatest market failure. Weitzman postulates that when the “impending climate catastrophe … is felt on a worldwide grassroots level,” there will be pressure for top-down solutions, and nations will be “ready to forfeit their free-rider rights to pollute.” The time will come, he argues, when “world public opinion is ready to consider novel governance structures that involve relinquishing some national sovereignty in favor of the greater good.” One such structure is Weitzman’s imagined World Climate Assembly (WCA) — a global plebiscite via which people of all nations contract with each other to jointly create “an overarching global governance mechanism” with sufficient awe-inspiring “countervailing force” to eradicate that Achilles Heel of climate agreements: free-riding. (Weitzman’s paper is available here.)
Hobbes was a master of “novel governance structures.” Sweeping aside the hierarchical hodgepodge of inherited feudal allegiances, he envisioned formally equal individuals (for “the weakest can kill the strongest”) renouncing their unfettered “natural rights” in favor of the coercive power of a national sovereign (technically parliamentary or monarchical). This was his “awe” inspiring, man-made Leviathan — the social contract that people voluntarily enter as self-interested modern individuals, thus ensuring safety and well-being, salus populi.
To be clear: Weitzman’s World Climate Assembly is a mechanism, not global government. What is to be voted-upon at the WCA is an internationally harmonized but nationally retained minimum carbon price. Nations, states within nations, or regions such as the European Union can all chart their own path toward climate commitment. While a system of uniform emissions taxes is easiest to conceive, national or regional cap-and-trade regimes with price floors and hybrids approaches are also possible. Nations or regions will retain and distribute collected carbon revenues as they see fit. Green fund transfers are permissible, but the primary coercive mechanism is “law of the single price.”
WCA representatives will “vote along a single price dimension for their desired level of emissions stringency on behalf of their citizen constituents,” Weitzman envisions, with the votes “weighted by each nation’s population.” Weitzman presents extensive calculations suggesting that the global majority would likely vote for a uniform minimum emission price “tolerably close to the world Social Cost of Carbon.”
In the end, he postulates, the “median” voter-nation would find its emissions abatement costs exactly offset by the benefit of having all other nations reduce their emissions. Half of the world’s population would likely prefer a lower minimum price, with the other half preferring higher; but all will prefer democratically legitimized coercion to the inadequacy and uncertainty of the INDCs. Under Weitzman’s Leviathan, no rich and powerful nation, not even the United States, will be able to trump the greater good.
And if Hobbesian “absoluteness” includes hostility toward institutional division of powers, it nonetheless has attractive features for confronting the climate crisis. According to Hobbes, people willingly renounce their “natural” rights to violence and unlimited acquisition only when their political world allows reasonable certainty of the actions of others.
In the language of game theory, the “state of nature” is the original “assurance” or “coordination” problem. Weitzman plays along, characterizing his WCA as “automatically incentivizing all negotiating parties to internalize, at least approximately, the global warming externality.” Certainty regarding the likely behavior of others is bolstered by the knowledge that the international trading system overseen by the World Trade Organization can be marshalled to impose punitive tariffs on non-complying nations.
Still, the most important feature of a uniform emissions price is its acting as an automatic “countervailing force” that can counter “narrow self-interested free-riding . . . via a simple, familiar, transparent formula that, in Weitzman’s words, embodies a common climate commitment based on principles of reciprocity, quid-pro-quo, and I-will-if-you-will.”
This is Hobbesian “absoluteness”: when we are all in it together and know that we will all be subjected to the same regime, e.g., the law of the single price, we are much more likely to renounce convention and shoot for the moon. In the language of game theory: cooperation is also a stable outcome.
What is being agreed upon, then, is a thoroughly modern Hobbesian social contract centered in transparently assured fossil fuel demand destruction. And while there will be difficulties along the way, Weitzman reminds us that “even just negotiating” within the majoritarian framework bolstered by a coercive countervailing mechanism is a step out of the state of nature.
This guest post is by Philip H. Kahn, Co-Leader of Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s New York City Chapter.
A new report commissioned jointly by the operator and regulator of the New York State power grid has found that a $40 per ton charge on CO2 emitted in generating electricity sold in the state would have an insignificant impact on electricity costs, provided the carbon revenues are redistributed to electricity customers in the form of bill reductions.
The report, with the unwieldy title, Pricing Carbon into NYISO’s Wholesale Energy Market to Support New York’s Decarbonization Goals, was prepared by the Brattle Group for the NY Independent System Operator (NYISO) and the state’s Public Service Commission. Its key finding — that monthly electric bills would likely rise no more than 2 percent and might even fall slightly (by 1 percent) — flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that carbon charges necessarily drive electric rates higher.
Half of the upward cost pressure from the carbon charge would be offset by returning carbon revenues to customers. The remainder would be alleviated through three separate but parallel marketplace responses:
- The $40/ton carbon charge will incentivize natural gas generators to upgrade conventional natural gas-powered plants to combined-cycle plants that typically extract 50-60 percent more kilowatt-hours from each unit of fuel.
- The higher market price for wholesale power will encourage development of more renewable (largely wind and solar) power generation to supply the state.
- The carbon charge will, over time, replace the Zero Emission Credits (ZECs) and Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) that now subsidize nuclear and renewable energy generation.
Carbon emissions from statewide electricity generation would fall by 2.6 million tons per year, according to the report, an amount equal to 8 percent of current emissions from the electric sector. “This estimate is probably conservatively low,” says Brattle, “because it does not account for the potential re-dispatch of existing resources, nor does it include innovative responses that the market might elicit but that we have not imagined.”
The Brattle researchers assumed that all of the revenue raised from the carbon charge would be returned to customers as line items reducing monthly bills. Alternative revenue treatments that direct some of the funds to energy efficiency and clean energy programs operated by the NY State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA) would result in deeper carbon cuts but at the possible expense of somewhat higher electric bills. This approach is supported by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the renowned environmental law group whose advocacy has led to utility and state government funding of end-use efficiency and renewables.
The Brattle report pegged its proposed carbon charge to the “social cost of carbon,” which the U.S. Interagency Working Group on the Social Cost of Carbon last year specified at $43/ton of CO2 and rising over time. A combined carbon price of $40/ton from the carbon charge and the anticipated “market” price of $17/ton in 2025 in response to the tightening cap set by the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI, would total the $57/ton Social Cost of Carbon in that year.
The Brattle Group’s recommendation of a substantial, explicit carbon charge differs from the state carbon pricing bills under consideration in Massachusetts. Both MA H1726 (the state’s house bill) and S1821 (the senate bill) exempt electricity, with the rationale that carbon emissions from power generation in Massachusetts and the other Northeast states (except New Jersey) are already priced under RGGI. The $57/ton charge that Brattle recommends for New York State in 2025 would be more than triple the RGGI-alone price in that year.
Variations of the Brattle approach may be usable in other wholesale energy markets, especially those that are coterminous with a single state, such as Texas and California, and that use RECs to subsidize renewable energy. What makes New York’s case particularly promising is that the subsidies now provided by the ZECs and RECs would be reduced because non-fossil fuel generation would receive the same market price set by fossil generators subject to the carbon adder.
If the carbon adder fee paid by the fossil-fuel generators is returned to the ratepayers then rates will not go up. Other ISOs with RECs in their markets could implement a similar scheme, but multi-state ISO markets would require negotiations between states with different REC regimes.
Implementation of the Brattle Group’s recommended carbon charge would give NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo a way out of his unpopular new program subsidizing several upstate nuclear power plants via Zero Emission Credits pegged to the Social Cost of Carbon. That program, which went into effect in April, adds a charge to all state customers’ monthly electric bills which flows to Entergy Corp., the reactors’ owner-operator.
Proponents laud the nuclear subsidy for monetizing the reactors’ zero carbon emissions and helping NY State meet carbon-reduction targets, but opponents point to the anticipated $7 billion price tag over the dozen years of the subsidy, as well as the lack of equivalent support for energy efficiency and other zero- or low-carbon electricity provision. A universal carbon charge such as the $40/ton fee recommended by Brattle would reduce the nuclear-only subsidy while retaining the monetary reward that could enable the reactors to continue operating. As the carbon adder is increased, the subsidies would diminish, ultimately to zero.
Here we cross-post my article published in The Washington Spectator magazine yesterday, under the headline, A Carbon Tax With Legs. Except for a handful of line edits below, the two versions are the same.
For years, carbon tax advocates scoffed at the notion that Exxon-Mobil would back a tax on climate-damaging carbon pollution. We saw through the vague hypotheticals in which the oil giant cloaked its occasional expressions of support. Rather than invest political muscle in carbon tax legislation, Exxon for decades funded a network of deception that blocked meaningful action on climate.
So why are we taking notice that this past June Exxon formally endorsed a so-called Republican carbon tax plan? And why am I not up in arms that the plan entails granting Exxon and other fossil fuel owners immunity from legal damages for the climate havoc caused by extracting and burning these fuels?
It comes down to two reasons. First, there’s little chance that oil, coal, and gas companies could ever be made to pay more than token amounts for the ruin their products cause. Second, though bankrupting big oil may seem appetizing, it’s a distraction from the real goal of “demand destruction” — shrinking and eliminating the use of carbon-based fuels. The fastest path to that goal is through a robust carbon tax that manifests the harms caused by those fuels in the prices the marketplace sets for oil, coal, and gas, as the new proposal would do.
The carbon tax plan is dubbed “Republican” because its public faces are those of George Shultz and James Baker, exemplars of the outcast center-right GOP establishment. Two factors set this plan apart from current Republican orthodoxy.
First, the Shultz-Baker tax is no slouch. It would start at $40 per ton of carbon dioxide and rise from there, putting it miles above anything floated by oil companies or Republican officeholders. The price is high enough not only to nail the coffin on coal, by far the dirtiest fossil fuel, but also to put a serious dent in oil usage.
After a decade, according to my modeling, U.S. carbon emissions would be 27 percent less than last year and 36 percent less than in 2005, the standard baseline year in climate analysis.
Second is the equitable distribution of the carbon tax proceeds. They would be disbursed to American families as “dividends,” with equal revenue slices for all. This approach is not only income-progressive, making it a black swan among Republican policy ideas; it also buys support for raising the tax level over time, since the dividends would rise in tandem.
The Shultz-Baker tax may actually have political legs. While the current White House and Congress are tribally bound to vilify anything smacking of Al Gore or Barack Obama, the 2018 midterms and the 2020 presidential election could bring a reckoning on climate policy. With a majority of Americans in a recent poll calling climate change “extremely or very important” to them personally, Republicans may soon be seeking an escape hatch.
Three attributes in the Shultz-Baker proposal meant to win over the center-right are anathema to progressive elements in the climate movement. We can call them: no investment, no regulation, and no litigation.
“No investment” means dedicating the carbon revenues to the dividend checks, leaving none for government to construct carbon-free energy and transportation systems or to remediate the “frontline” communities most ravaged by fossil fuel infrastructure. Yet economists are convinced that the price-pull of the carbon tax will bring about this transition.
“No regulation” means rescinding EPA climate rules, principally the Obama-era Clean Power Plan prized by environmental powerhouses like the Sierra Club. But the Clean Power Plan is nearly “mission accomplished”: its target is already four-fifths met (and rising) as coal-fired electricity production is eaten away by natural gas, rising wind and solar power, and energy efficiency.
Finally, “no litigation” means letting carbon corporations and shareholders off the hook for producing and promoting their climate-ruining products — a bitter pill for the broad and insistent fossil fuel divestment and “Exxon knew” movement spearheaded so effectively by Bill McKibben. Yet would that be a grievous loss? Not according to Michael B. Gerrard, who directs the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School: “No lawsuits anywhere in the world seeking to hold fossil fuel companies liable for climate change have succeeded,” Gerrard told me recently via email. “Losing the ability to sue these companies for climate change would not be giving up a huge amount if it were in exchange for a large enough carbon tax.”
So is the promised carbon tax large (and solid) enough to justify dealing away the triad of litigation, investment, and regulation? My colleagues and I at the Carbon Tax Center believe it is.
The proposal is gathering steam. Not just Exxon but a dozen other corporations, including General Motors, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Pepsico, and three other oil companies (Shell, BP, and Total) formally endorsed the plan in June, along with the Nature Conservancy and the World Resources Institute. The political path for the Shultz-Baker carbon tax, not much wider than a human hair when it was launched last winter, is broadening rapidly.
Charles Komanoff, an economist, directs the Carbon Tax Center in New York City.
We’ve just posted the 2017 update to the Carbon Tax Center’s spreadsheet model of U.S. CO2 emissions. That’s our powerful but easy-to-use tool for predicting future emissions and revenues from possible U.S. carbon taxes. The model, which runs in Excel, accepts any carbon tax trajectory you feed it and spits out estimated economy-wide emission reductions and revenue generation, year by year.
Here’s what’s new:
1. A year of new data: The most obvious update is that we’ve incorporated 2016 baseline data on energy use, CO2 emissions and emission intensity into each of the model’s seven sectors.
2. Oil refining is now allocated to usage sectors: Last year we pulled oil refinery emissions out of “Other Petroleum Products” and into its own category, which accounted for an estimated 6.4% of U.S. CO2 emissions in 2015. We’ve now taken the logical next step and allocated those emissions into the economic sectors that require refining crude into product in the first place: autos (principally gasoline), freight (largely diesel), air travel (jet fuel) and the catch-all “other petroleum” encompassing home heating oil, propane, kerosene and residual oil used by industry. The lion’s share of Refineries’ 6.4% slice of CO2 emissions is now within autos; not only is gasoline by far the largest-volume petroleum product, it also consumes the most energy per unit among the major petroleum products. Although our model is again down to seven sectors, from eight, the change promises a more accurate prediction process by tying demand more closely to emissions.
3. Slimmed-down graphics: We’ve weeded out extraneous graphics so you can focus on what’s key: comparing emission reductions between the Climate Leadership Council’s carbon tax, a carbon tax pegged to the “social cost of carbon,” and future emissions absent carbon pricing. Other graphics break down emissions by sector (see graphic above), depict reductions in oil consumption and show carbon-tax revenues nationally and by household. Most importantly, you can input your own starting tax level and growth path and see how fast (or slowly) emissions fall. That’s still done in the spreadsheet’s “Summary” tab, which we’ve cleaned up to make it easier to navigate.
And don’t overlook these two features we added in 2015:
1. Smoothing the uptake of the carbon tax: The model now captures lags in households’ and businesses’ adaptation to more-expensive fossil fuels. You, the user, set the adaptation “ceiling” rate; the model automatically carries over any excess to future years. This feature is helpful for trajectories like the Whitehouse-Schatz bill, which kicks off with a bang at $45 per metric ton of carbon dioxide but then rises only slowly. Under our default setting, in which the economy in any year is assumed to be able to process only tax increments up to $12.50 per ton of CO2, the reductions from that initial $45/ton charge are spread over four years rather than, unrealistically, assigned to the first year.
2. Demand impacts vs. Supply side impacts: At the bottom of the Summary page is a new section comparing the projected CO2 reductions from changes in fuels’ carbon intensities (“supply side”) versus reductions from reduced energy usage (“demand side,” e.g., lower electricity purchases, less driving or flying). Under our default carbon tax — the one proposed by former Rep. Jim McDermott — an estimated 58% of projected CO2 reductions are on the supply side (i.e., due to decarbonization); a large minority, 42%, come about through reduced demand, illustrating that subsidies-only policies miss out on huge CO2 reductions. Indeed, clean-energy subsidies undercut decarbonization by stimulating energy usage through lowered energy prices, as we pointed out in our 2014 comments to the Senate Finance Committee.
Please download the spreadsheet — here’s the link again — and run it in Excel. See for yourself the relative efficacy of a carbon tax trajectory that increases by a fixed amount each year, as does the McDermott tax, vs. one like Whitehouse-Schatz that starts high but rises only by small, percentage-driven amounts. See also how much more quickly emissions decline under these and most other carbon tax scenarios, compared to the emission reductions from the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.
As you work (play?) with the model, jot down your thoughts so you can tell us what works and what needs improving. Especially the latter, as we just wrapped the update an hour ago and there are bound to be glitches. Thanks.