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All serious plans for mitigating climate change include a carbon tax.

Such a tax is similar in some ways to the taxes on cigarettes and liquor: we know alcohol and nicotine are both deadly poisons and pleasure-giving substances. We know outright prohibition doesn’t work. In the best of all possible worlds, taxes do two things at once — change behavior in prosocial ways and also painlessly furnish funds to run the government.

Since few people will go to the trouble to grow their own tobacco or distill their own alcohol, once a tax on these is accepted, society benefits in two ways: less of these products are consumed and revenue is generated.

And — an important point — these sumptuary taxes (as they are called) can be adjusted according to changes in social perceptions. Is there a movement to decrease government “meddling” in the decisions of free individuals? Lower the tax. Alternatively, is there growing concern over the health and behavioral issues (e.g. drunk driving)? Then raise the tax. When a single substance has both desirable and undesirable aspects, we can never have perfection. But we can, to some extent, control the balance.

This is not theory – this is done on a large scale every hour of every day year round. Every time any individual decides to buy, or forego buying, liquor or cigarettes, this principle is put into practice.

Now, dear reader, I will spare you yet another lecture on the climate crisis — there have been many and they are all worthy endeavors considering the dire peril we are drifting into. Let me instead refer you back to the first sentence.

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Once a tax on fossil fuels — that is on carbon — is imposed, we will, in principle, have taken an important step forward in staving off disaster.

With inoculation against COVID-19, the only time it hurts is the moment the needle penetrates. Similarly, with a carbon tax, the sting will occur almost entirely within the few weeks it takes for folks to adjust. And the reasons for supporting both are the same: the inoculation and the tax are good for both the individual in question and for society in general (taxes are “good” when they pay for needed services – military and teachers need to be paid).

Consider the tax on gasoline. It is generally accepted that those who drive should pay for the roads and bridges their vehicles require. As electric vehicles replace fossil-fuel cars and trucks, roads will still be needed but less gasoline will be sold.

Phasing in EV’s and a carbon tax simultaneously is a fair way to avoid a skyrocketing gas tax rate that would otherwise be needed. And, since the electricity that will be driving cars is exactly the same as that which is used for, say, electric toothbrushes, the carbon tax will provide a small obstacle to both uses, resulting in somewhat fewer miles driven and more manual tooth brushing.

While there are many who still cannot make the connection between coal and the climate crisis, there are few who do not now have a vivid image of the protection against COVID-19 that inoculation offers. New cases are reported almost daily in West Virginia, the U.S. and around the world. And in virtually every report it is made clear that almost all these new cases and deaths have occurred among those who were not vaccinated.

COVID-19 elimination and climate crisis mitigation require similar strategies: inoculation for the first, carbon tax for the second.

John Palmer resides in Huntington.

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