The City of Lights, Paris, has been illuminated in recent days by cars set alight by thousands of protesting “Yellow Vests”—largely middle class people who earn their living by driving or who commute to get to work. The cause of their ire is a scheduled 25 cents-per-gallon increase in gas taxes, and about 10 cents on diesel, to fight climate change.
French President Macron, deeply unpopular, just reversed course on the new green tax—Parisians are already paying about $7.06 per gallon for gasoline, almost half of that in taxes.
If Paris streets burned over a proposed 25 cents per gallon climate change tax, imagine the global conflagration over a $49 per gallon tax.
That’s what a United Nations special climate report calls for in 12 years, with a carbon tax of $5,500 per ton—equal to $49 per gallon of gasoline or diesel. That’s about 100 times today’s average state and federal motor fuels tax.
By 2100, the U.N. estimates that a carbon tax of $27,000 per ton is needed—$240 per gallon—to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius.
Of course, that isn’t going to happen. The economic wreckage of such a punitive tax would plunge the global economy into a permanent depression—and that’s assuming politicians could enact such huge tax increases over the will of their voters.
Keep in mind that the unrest in France was triggered by a looming 25-cent hike, which is a little less than 10% more in taxes than French drivers already pay. To meet the $49 per gallon tax hike recommended by the U.N., fuel taxes in France would have to go up 17-fold.
The violent protests in France were fueled by intense frustration felt by a middle class that sees itself squeezed. They don’t earn enough to be part of the elite unconcerned with fuel taxes, but they work hard enough that they don’t qualify for the generous welfare benefits handed out to the nation’s poor and to newly arrived immigrants from Africa and the Middle East.
Here in America, Republicans in Congress passed a resolution against carbon taxes over the summer while Democrats embraced the concept in their party platform. Some incoming members of the new Democratic majority in the House are calling to create a select committee to map out a “Green New Deal” that would move the U.S. toward using 100% renewable energy for the electric grid while guaranteeing jobs for everyone.
In the meantime, opinion polls indicate that 54% of Americans do not believe global warming will cause major problems within their lifetimes.
So how do climate activists get their way? Some openly talk of imposing authoritarian governance to override democratic institutions. Former NASA climate researcher James Hansen suggested in 2007 that “the democratic process does not work.” Other scientists have called the threat of global warming the equivalent of war while calling for the crushing of dissent and the jailing of “deniers.”
Those who see climate change as a dire and urgent threat have some work to do to convince voters in the Western democracies to give up their way of life in exchange for unspecified benefits of a slightly less warm world—and that’s assuming China, India and over a billion people in Africa can be convinced not to try to pull themselves out of poverty—something that may only be done with greater use of fossil fuels.
Thus, one well-worn tactic employed by those who would presume to tell the rest of us how to live, where to live, and how to work—all of the good of the planet, of course—is the alarmist study, making copious use of lies of omission and commission.
An example of the former can be seen in the new National Climate Assessment. The report’s first chapter lists recent natural disasters, citing this summer’s deadly Carr Fire in California as an example. But while the report seeks to link wildfire to climate change, it glosses over the real reason fires have grown in intensity and size: the 30 years of increased environmental restrictions on logging, brush clearance and preventive burns that caused a massive and dangerous fuel buildup—a problem that was predicted years ago and has nothing to do with global warming.
The sin of commission in the service of scaring middle class voters into doing that they’re supposed to can be seen in an economic modeling study paid for by our federal tax dollars as well as underwritten by two billionaires who would be president: Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg. Here we’re told that the U.S. economy will take a 10% hit by 2100 unless we reduce our carbon emissions. Two problems, though: the authors assume the worst-case and least likely scenario, with average temperatures more than 14 degrees Fahrenheit hotter by 2100; and they derive two-thirds of their economic losses estimate by claiming a large amount of premature deaths due to the hotter temperatures.
The latter claim is highly problematic as death rates in regions far hotter than in the U.S. aren’t meaningfully different, when accounting for the standard of living. Why? People adapt rather easily.
This makes for scary headlines in the New York Times or CNN, but it is far from sound science or even good economics.
The bottom line is this: economic freedom—the kind you get with a large middle class—leads to prosperity, economic growth, and technological innovation. And it’s these three things: wealth, growth and technology, which allows humans to thrive on planet Earth, not $240 per gallon fuel taxes imposed by an elite that cares not for the masses.
This commentary was originally featured in Forbes on December 7, 2018.
The Honorable Chuck DeVore is Vice President of National Initiatives for the Texas Public Policy Foundation. He previously served three terms in the California State Assembly.