Yellow Jackets and Fuel Taxes: How NOT to address climate change

I’m more then a little late addressing the Yellow Jacket’s riots in France. However, that’s in large part because I tend to try and focus solely on US politics, instead of the political affairs of foreign governments. However, I was reading an article in New Scientist (from mid-December, I’m a little behind on my reading, kids will do that to you), that got me riled up on the issue, because it tries to normalize the concept of hiking fuel taxes, which could lead to US politicians picking up the idea (although with how well Macron’s proposed tax hike went we are probably safe from that).

The reason behind the author’s support of the tax hikes, climate change. The author, Olive Heffernan, argues that fuel taxes, especially on diesel, are necessary because transportation emissions needs to drop in order to contain global temperature increases. She argues that not only should Macron’s tax hikes stay, but other countries should take note and follow his example.

She goes on to equate an increase on fuel taxes to increases on cigarette taxes, her argument being that they are the same because cigarettes are bad for your health and diesel is bad for the environment, so we just need to get used to the higher taxes to leave the world a better place.

There are a few major problems with Heffernan’s arguments. The first is the idea that cigarette taxes and fuel taxes are even remotely similar. Cigarettes are a nicety, fuel is a necessity. If cigarette prices get too high, you cut back if you can’t afford them. If fuel prices get to high you can’t not go to work. You can’t leave your kids at the sitter because it costs too much to go pick them up. You go on living and cough up the extra money for fuel.

Claiming that France needs higher fuel taxes to curb driving ignores the fact that France already pays an insanely high price for fuel, over 7 dollars a gallon. That’s more than twice what most Americans pay. Additionally, France and the rest of Europe already tax the hell out of fuel. In France, gasoline is taxed at 64 percent, diesel at 59 percent. That means of that 7 dollars a gallon for fuel, 4.52 cents of it goes straight to taxes.

The second problem with Heffernan’s argument is that, in the United States, the average tax for a pack of cigarettes is just over 44 percent of the retail price. That’s 20 percent less then what France pays in taxes for fuel already. And they want to take more.

This of course, ignores the crux of Heffernan’s argument, that these taxes are a necessary evil to combat climate change. The problem is that’s just not true. Yes, global emissions from vehicles need to be brought down to address climate change. But you do that by attacking the companies that are making the vehicles to begin with.

You incentivize their production of all electric and hybrid vehicles, making it more cost effective for the auto manufacturers to make them, and cheaper for the consumer to buy them. And while that takes time to make an impact, there are things you can be doing immediately to combat climate change.

You can ensure that building and HVAC units are upgraded to minimize energy consumption. You can encourage public works projects that protect and expand environmental zones. You can invest in green technology and renewable energies. There is a lot you can be doing.  

But you don’t raise taxes on necessities that are going to have life altering impacts on the lower and middle class. France has given us a blueprint on how NOT to address climate change. And what Heffernan misses is that there is more than one way to skin a goose, and the path France picked is just dead wrong.

There is NOTHING “radical” about AOC’s Green New Deal

Photo Credit: Senate Democrats

While much has been made about the “Green New Deal” proposed by Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez, the biggest controversies seem to be coming from what’s not in the resolution. Critics have clung to text from Ocasio-Cortez’s website, which included, economic security for those “unwilling to work”. And while that was posted on Ocasio-Cortez’s website, it isn’t what was in the resolution presented to Congress.

It’s the same when people bring up “airplanes being made obsolete” or “reducing carbon issues from beef”. None of that is in the resolution, it’s all from text on Ocasio-Cortez’s website on how SHE wants to lower carbon emissions. But even if you don’t agree with her specific plan you should still agree with her resolution. Because everyone should be able to agree on the fact that carbon emissions NEED to be reduced and that we NEED to reach net-zero global emissions.

The resolution is intentionally kept vague and doesn’t provide any specifics so that people with differing views on how to reduce carbon emissions can agree to the resolution. Additionally, it provides common sense information on what Congress should be looking into doing to ensure a world that is suitable for future generations.

The resolution starts out by pointing out facts about manmade climate change. These facts are backed up by the scientific community, and every expert in their respective fields. Only Trump and some of his far-right conspiracy theorist supporters are still in the camp of denying the human impact on climate change.

After presenting some eye-popping statistics, including:

(3) global warming at or above 2 degrees Celsius beyond preindustrialized levels will cause—

(A) mass migration from the regions most affected by climate change;

(B) more than $500,000,000,000 in lost annual economic output in the United States by the year 2100;

(C) wildfires that, by 2050, will annually burn at least twice as much forest area in the western United States than was typically burned by wildfires in the years preceding 2019;

(D) a loss of more than 99 percent of all coral reefs on Earth;

(E) more than 350,000,000 more people to be exposed globally to deadly heat stress by 2050; and

(F) a risk of damage to $1,000,000,000,000 of public infrastructure and coastal real estate in the United States;

 it goes onto some more generic initiatives, that not too many people can disagree with, even if we disagree on how to get there. Still there are some provisions in the resolution that have provided some minor controversies. For example,  

(E) upgrading all existing buildings in the United States and building new buildings to achieve maximum energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability, including through electrification;

The biggest controversy of this statement is “all existing buildings”, but that doesn’t have to be a major upgrade to make a significant impact. Many climate experts recommend a simple step like switching to LED bulbs or treating your windows to let in less light which can reduce heating and cooling costs.

If every building in the country was upgraded with these simple steps it would make a significant difference. And while we can argue about how to implement such a plan, what shouldn’t be argued is that it’s a worthy goal.

Another section that might be deemed “controversial”

(O) providing all people of the United States with—

(i) high-quality health care;

Once again this is a prime example of an action that shouldn’t be controversial, even if we disagree on how to get there. The problem is right now the GOP has no idea how to get there, so agreeing to the fact that every American deserves “high-quality health care” can be a hard sell.

But it shouldn’t be, nothing in this resolution is radical or ground-breaking information, it’s the reality of the world we live in, and it’s time for Congress to wake up to that fact. Only once we get everyone on board, Republican, Democrat, and Independent, can we start making progress to reducing carbon emissions in the United States and do our part to ensure a world that the younger generation and their family can live in.

Click this link for the full text of the resolution presented to Congress.