The single best policy to combat climate change is an internationally enforced carbon tax. There is pretty much a consensus on this among economists. But despite the fact that the experts agree, and that the issue of climate change is of great public interest, there seems to be almost no discussion of this policy in mainstream circles. William Nordhaus, winner of the 2018 economics Nobel prize, is finally writing about his “climate club” proposal, for this year’s May/June issue of Foreign Affairs. All I could find before that, outside of academic publications, was a post by Matthew Yglesias on Vox:
What ought to happen is that the US sits down with the European Union and Japan and decides on a carbon tax. The initial tax should be low, but it should be set to escalate. And the three big players in the global economy should also agree to impose a fairly stiff tariff on any country that doesn’t agree to join the carbon tax club.
Right away, a bunch of countries will want to join the club, and with each new country that joins, staying out of the club becomes costlier.
That pretty much sums it up.
I looked on YouTube, and there seems to be no good videos explaining a carbon tax. These two are the best I could find:
They are alright, but it could be explained much better. This from MRU is on cap and trade, not carbon tax, but it has a clearer explanation of the economics involved:
But in none of these is there mention of how a carbon tax might be enforced at an international level. Why isn’t there anything better on this? This is an issue that has led millions, across the globe, to protest. It’s supposed to be one of the biggest issues of our time. Yet, the best policy solution seems to barely be discussed outside of academic economics papers. What are the billions going to higher education doing? What happened to educating the public?
Later in his post, Yglesias wrote:
But activists, unlike me, need to find a politics that actually works politically. I think it’s pretty clear that this wonky pitch has failed, over and over again, in a range of times and places.
And he then goes on to praise the Green New Deal.
This reminds me of a recent blog post by Bryan Caplan:
When you look at the real world, though, you see something strange: Almost no one actually pushes for the textbooks’ clever-and-appealing policy proposals. Instead, the people inspired by the textbooks routinely attach themselves to trendy-but-awful policy proposals. If you point out the discrepancy, they’re often too annoyed to respond. When they do, reformers shrug and say: “The clever-and-appealing policy never has – and probably never will – have much political support. So we have to do this instead.”
The moral: If the only way you can get your great idea implemented is to mutilate it and/or package it with a pile of expensive junk, you really should wonder, “Is it still worth it?”
But beyond that, what pitch is Yglesias talking about? The public was never pitched. No one has ever heard of the “climate club” proposal. There never has been a serious attempt to educate the public on this. I mean, how hard can it be to create a Kurzgesagt type video explaining the “climate club” proposal? That would really be the minimum. Academic institutions aren’t even trying. And people who know better have already given up.
The video about a carbon tax with the most views at the moment is barely longer than a minute and has under half a million views. Meanwhile, the latest Michael Moore documentary, promoting population control as a solution to climate change, has already 1.5M views. It lasts 1h40 and was released 3 days ago.
If higher education is not going to educate the public, someone else will.