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Climate expert: don’t trade carbon, tax it

James Hansen, one of the US’s leading climate scientists, says he plans to send a letter this week urging President-elect Barack Obama to fight global warming with a carbon tax rather than a cap-and-trade system.

According to the Worldwatch Institute, Hansen calls cap-and-trade “convenient, but it will not solve the problem.”

Obama has spoken in favor of a cap-and-trade system aimed at lowering greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, and by an another 80 percent by mid-century.

Hansen says a carbon tax provides a more effective means of helping the nation move toward a less carbon-intensive way of life. Under his recommendation, fossil fuels would be taxed in rising increments to curb both consumption and emissions, with all proceeds from the tax being returned directly to US taxpayers.

Hansen’s letter to Obama also calls for the new president to direct the National Academies of Science to conduct a new study to assess the full implications of climate change. Such research would not only update already-old data in the last report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Hansen says, but would help bolster the president’s case for aggressive action to fight global warming.

“It would give him cover,” Hansen said in a briefing last week. “Otherwise critics say it’s just a few scientists saying this, or the IPCC is politicized.”

Sure enough, speak of the devil, noted climate change denier Sen. James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, came out — again — this past week saying just that.

1 Comment

  • Jane Burston, Carbon Retirement (
    Posted September 28, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    The issue with a carbon tax however is that it doesn’t limit the volume of emissions – it just lets companies decide what they are prepared to pay for their polluting behaviour.

    The situation in which a tax might be more efficient in the US than a cap-and-trade scheme is if the government isn’t prepared to make substantial caps on emissions under such a scheme – in which case the reductions a tax might lead to will be better than nothing!

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