This is the third installment of a five-part series on climate policy adapted from regular Triple Crisis contributor James K. Boyce’s March 31 lecture for the Climate Change Series at the University of Pittsburgh Honors College. This installment focuses on the costs associated with the institution of a carbon price, both the private costs of measures to reduce emissions and the larger private costs that would be paid for emissions that are not eliminated. The first two installments of the series is available here and here.
The full lecture and subsequent discussion are available, as streaming video, through the University of Pittsburgh website. Click here or on the image below.
Just How Much Would It Cost?
Back in 2009, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner (R-Ohio), commented in the debate running up to the vote on the American Clean Energy and Security Act—known as the Waxman-Markey bill, after its main sponsors, Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.)—that if this bill were passed, it would be the biggest tax increase on working families in American history.
Now, that was probably political hyperbole, but Boehner wasn’t entirely wrong. It would be like a tax increase, and it would be substantial. It has to be substantial if it’s going to engender the kinds of changes in consumption of fossil fuels that are needed to push forward the clean energy transition. We’re talking about big changes: an 80% reduction in our emissions by the year 2050 below some baseline level. We’re talking about really a revolution in energy, and the kinds of price increases that would be ultimately needed to drive that forward are not inconsequential, and so Boehner had a really serious argument there.
What was the Democratic response? “No, no, it’s not a tax, really it’s not like a tax, and really it’s not a big price increase, it’s not going to hurt people all that much, it’s equivalent to a postage stamp a day.” Now, that postage-stamp-a-day estimate came from an estimate of something quite different from the price increases that households would face.