For the one thousandth time, an authoritative new report tells us with great certainty that—if we do not take drastic, immediate action to slash carbon emissions—humanity faces catastrophic damage from climate change. Here are two words: Carbon tax.
You place a tax on carbon. You make it expensive to emit carbon. You change the economic feasibility of burning fossil fuels. You create a strong economic incentive to develop clean energy.
Capitalism dictates that companies do whatever makes them a profit. Companies do not have souls. They will continue to extract, refine, and burn fossil fuels as long as it is profitable. They know that they will not be the ones to pay the future costs. They simply take the present profits. If you make the business of extracting, refining, and burning fossil fuels unprofitable, it will in short order cease to exist. This is the single most direct path to cutting carbon emissions. Climate change is the ultimately the result of people wanting to make money. Tax it until it is impossible to make money on it.
You can mitigate the costs of a carbon tax. You can give tax credits to curb its impact on low-income people. You can even cut other taxes in the exact amount of a carbon tax to result in no new tax burden at all. In a borderline sane world, even Republicans would be able to get behind this plan. And indeed, many Republicans have already said they favor a carbon tax.
Unfortunately, those Republicans are not the ones who hold the power to implement a carbon tax. The logic of capitalism also dictates that corporations should capture as much political power as possible in service of increasing profits, and our political system is a result of this dynamic. Therefore even though it is abundantly clear that climate change is one of biggest problems facing mankind, the most powerful nation on earth is controlled by a political party that will not even admit that climate change exists. They do this in service of short-term corporate profits. This is the system that we have acquiesced to.
A carbon tax is a basic, easy to understand idea. It directly solves the problem at hand. Smart people have known for decades that it is foolish for us not to have some form of carbon tax. A well designed and quickly implemented carbon tax could quite literally save hundreds of millions of people from facing catastrophic risks to their lives over the next few decades.
There is absolutely no indication that we will get a carbon tax any time soon.