Who Hijacked Our Country

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

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?

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Blogger Snave said...


I would like to get annual checks from each of the outfits listed in the link (I hope the link works; if not, just go to www.scorecard.org ), or at the very least, I would like to see those companies have to pay big dollars into a public trust fund for environmental protection and clean-up.

That's a brilliant concept. It gives a positive nod to capitalism as well as to the environment.

What American doesn't like the idea of money in his or her pocket? I don't see how this idea could miss. That is, unless, the affected corporate interests lobbied against it, which they will...

This is the kind of idea that will have to be promoted, promoted and promoted some more until there is big public support. Because they seem to be mostly about getting elected and then re-elected, politicians might latch onto it in great-enough numbers to try and put forth legislation if there is a large public demand.

Very cool stuff, thanks for posting about it!

June 27, 2007 at 11:18 AM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Snave: Interesting link. Yes I'd like everyone on that list to get it socked to them (and to get some of their money of course). Rightwingers will dismiss this idea as "socialism" but Alaska (where every resident gets a yearly dividend from the oil industry) is probably the most Libertarian state in the U.S. Big Oil is king, they hate environmentalists and anybody else who tries to intrude on "property rights," and there's this freewheeling "you can do anything you want here" attitude everywhere. If Alaskans were sold on this idea, I think it can catch on in the rest of the country, with lots and lots of promotion.

June 27, 2007 at 12:37 PM  
Blogger Snave said...

I have never quite been able to wrap my head around the Alaskan attitude and the way things work up there... log, mine, drill whatever because it's ours and we can do whatever we want with it? Maybe that's harsh, but that's what it seems like.

I intend to spend some time there one of these days, not just sightseeing but talking to locals about life there, because I find it all fascinating.

June 27, 2007 at 6:18 PM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

Snave: Alaska is different, that's for sure. My wife and I drove there in 1983, up the Alaska-Canada Highway through Northern British Columbia, the Yukon and into Alaska. Beautiful drive. I liked the drive better than Alaska itself. We were in Anchorage most of the time. Even though it's a sterile faceless city, it still has that wild frontier sort of feel to it (or it did 24 years ago anyway).

They definitely want to be able to log, mine and drill wherever they want without any Lower 48 bureaucrats telling them what to do. They also have possibly the most liberal pot laws in the country. If I'm not mistaken you can possess up to an ounce with no worry of being arrested as long as you don't sell it or smoke it in public.

Most people who visit Alaska either can't get back to the Lower 48 soon enough (that was me) or they move there and never leave. They refer to every place outside of Alaska as "Outside." They really think that way, that there's Alaska and then there's the rest of the world. It's different there.

June 27, 2007 at 9:01 PM  
Blogger I.M. Dedd said...

The irony is that if the oil industry wasn't subsidized to the degree it is, gas would be at least double the price it is now.

That's just plain old irony...not ha ha funny irony.

June 28, 2007 at 5:32 AM  
Blogger LET'S TALK said...

Yes it's very different in Alaska.

I don't know about the “Sky Trust”, how do you charge anyone for what belongs to all, yet it belongs to no one.

I feel that a fine should be charged on people and companies who pollute the atmosphere.

If we elect another Bush in the near future that plan or any other would go out the window.

June 28, 2007 at 5:52 AM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

I.M. Dedd: Yup, gas is expensive any way you look at it, whether it's the price we pay at the pump or the amount of our tax money that subsidizes the oil industry.

Let's Talk: I'm also in between about the Sky Trust idea. I posted about it because we need to do something and this Sky Trust is an example of thinking outside of the box, which we need to do.

June 28, 2007 at 12:12 PM  
Blogger J. Marquis said...

Thanks for posting this, Tom. Sounds like an interesting concept. The Dems need to focus on taxing corporations instead of the public whenever possible.

I took a cruise up to Alaska a couple years ago. I didn't find it all that exciting...we have the same scenery here in Washington state plus a whole lot more culture.

June 29, 2007 at 8:10 AM  
Blogger Tom Harper said...

J. Marquis: Yeah, this idea (and others like it) needs to be explored. We need to come up with something, whether it's this or not.

Good point about Alaska, that Washington has the same scenery plus culture.

June 29, 2007 at 8:56 AM  

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