In his recent column, Jonathan Crimmins characterizes a bill to tax carbon dioxide pollution in Maine as “punishment for the way we live.”  Yes, the purpose of this legislation is to change our behavior: we citizens of the world must reduce and eventually eliminate our carbon footprint to avoid tremendous damage to our economy and ecosystem as a result of climate change.  The U.S. government, in its comprehensive Fourth National Climate Assessment report, leaves no room for debate: Climate change is real; it is caused principally by our burning of fossil fuels; and its effects will be devastating unless we act soon. 

But no, a tax on carbon dioxide pollution is not intended as a reprimand for unethical or unreasonable behavior.  Our excessive consumption of fossil fuels is perfectly understandable:  their price does not reflect the massive costs we impose on the future; so, we consume excessively.  The simple solution is to impose a tax which reflects those costs. The tax will make it in our individual best interest to cut back.  Estimates of those future costs vary considerably, but a tax of $50 per ton of carbon dioxide, increasing each year at a gradual rate, is for many a reasonable adjustment to signal the true cost of our emissions. 

Crimmins is correct that reducing our carbon footprint will require a sacrifice, but he is wrong that a tax will harm the average Mainer.  It all depends on what is done with the tax revenue collected.  A proposal called “carbon fee and dividend” would levy a national tax on all fossil fuels and return the revenue to every US citizen as an equal, per-capita share.  This dividend would pay at least 60 percent of Maine households more than their increased cost of living due to the tax:  that is, it would leave most Mainers better off than before. 

A national carbon tax and dividend is essential to addressing climate change in the most effective, efficient, and equitable fashion. The best first step to mitigate climate change is to convince our legislators to enact this policy, soon. 

Michael Jones,