Celebrating baby steps: Why any carbon tax is a good carbon tax

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An argument has broken out on the DeSmogBlog (again) over whether the perfect is the enemy of the good – that is, whether government must get its climate change policy exactly right or stand up to the (often well-deserved) scorn of its critics.

This debate cropped up in January after we slammed Barack Obama for presenting himself as the greenest of all candidates, regardless that some aspects of his proposed global warming policy (and some elements of his voting record) suggest otherwise.

Several people – including some closely associated with the DSB – complained afterwards that Obama IS the greenest of all candidates. While it may be churlish, it is nevertheless accurate to say that he is the best of a bad lot. So our critics argued – we thought convincingly – that it would be better to praise Obama for being out front, rather than condemn him for not being far enough out front.

Last week, Chris Mooney penned a thoughtful post about the current debate among Democrats and environmentalists as to whether it would be better to support imperfect legislation this year or to hold out for better legislation next year, when most people assume the Democrats will have more complete control. The argument for waiting is that a lame bill this year might give footdraggers the excuse, next year, to say that the problem has already been addressed.

Then Bill Miller jumped in to criticize the British Columbia government for imposing a carbon tax while leaving virtually all of the oil-and-gas-supporting public infrastructure and tax system pretty much untouched. Miller reads the carbon tax as an insincere and inadequate measure, perhaps only calculated to get into taxpayers’ pockets from another angle.

We could argue about government sincerity forever and not resolve anything. We could also wait a very long time for government to create a comprehensive climate change program – one that is so flawless that it deserves unqualified support.

But if we know anything about government, I think we know this: change (for good or ill) comes incrementally. I can’t imagine that anyone understood how devastating an influence the automobile would have on a livable urban environment, but 100 years of decisions have brought us to our current, traffic-jammed, CO2-soaked reality. We can’t back out of that overnight.

But we can – and should – make a start. And every economist who has studied this issue has said that a carbon tax is the best instrument to make the market start pricing fossil fuels correctly.

So I say, Bravo! I say let’s celebrate today’s little victories and then start lobbying for better actions tomorrow.

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