A Possible Solution to Global Warming
As Thomas Friedman keeps pointing out again and again, energy independence is our most important issue. Global warming, the economy and our national security are all tied up in this one issue. But unlike Friedman, this article by Jonathan Alter isn't calling for a gas tax. As he says about the gas tax: “The idea of adding a dollar-a-gallon tax at the pump is deader than Phil Leotardo in the final episode of ‘The Sopranos.’”
Instead he's proposing a “Sky Trust” (aka “clean air trust” or “carbon revenue recycling”). The closest comparison is the annual dividend check that all Alaska residents have been getting since 1976 as a share of the state’s oil revenues.
The theory behind a Sky Trust is the idea that the atmosphere belongs to all of us. Anyone who pollutes the atmosphere has to pay compensation to the owners (that’s us). After all, if you dumped your garbage on your neighbor’s property you'd have to pay him/her, right? This idea that the sky is a Public Commons is already well established. The “cap and trade” system of pollution permits and credits is based on this.
Millions of people would scream bloody murder at the notion of a huge gas tax on top of the $4 a gallon (and climbing) they're already paying. They don’t want to spend the additional money and they don’t trust the government to spend that money wisely (ya think?). But the Sky Trust would be a fee, an assessment. And instead of government spending, it would be a dividend check for YOU. For all of us.
Peter Barnes, author of “Capitalism 3.0,” is one of the enthusiasts of a Sky Trust. He says: “U.S. consumers will ultimately pay for carbon scarcity through higher prices, which will depress their purchasing power significantly. Dividends are a way to replenish consumer purchasing power and keep the economy from tanking.”
According to Barnes’ rough calculations, every American would get about $1,000 a year ($300 billion in revenues divided by 300 million Americans). Another calculation has a family of four getting $4,900 per year. Everyone would be paid the same amount, same as Alaska does with its oil dividends.
As Alter says: “A sky trust is win-win-win for the economy, the taxpayer and the environment. It uses market principles to put more money in people’s pockets and reduce pollution simultaneously.”
Whatever you think of a Sky Trust, the energy crisis is our most burning issue and we've done nothing about it since it reared its head in the 1970s. We need to start brainstorming and coming up with ideas, and this is one of them. What do you think?