Just before Thanksgiving, Grist political blogger David Roberts posted a sharp challenge to carbon-tax advocates, contending that we were, in effect, ascribing “magical” properties to carbon taxes. Roberts spelled out 10 drawbacks to carbon taxes, with this bottom line: Any carbon tax legislation that could make it through Congress would likely be feeble and regressive, and perhaps even counterproductive.

David is arguably the green community’s most astute blogger, particularly on environmental politics. His qualms about pushing for a U.S. carbon tax deserve to be taken seriously.

Read David's original post. Here's our point-by-point response. Let us know what you think.


Thank you, David, for elucidating your reservations about placing a carbon tax at the heart of U.S. climate policy.

Until now, your many Grist posts critiquing carbon taxes have focused on political infeasibility. Now you've presented your policy objections. Thanks for bringing your concerns out into the open.

No surprise: The Carbon Tax Center indeed views a U.S. carbon tax as the sine qua non of effective climate policy -- provided it builds toward a substantial price that rises steadily and predictably over time. With a ramped-up tax, the initial carbon charge can be modest, giving businesses and families time to adapt, while still broadcasting a clear price signal to begin shifting millions of decisions toward less energy and emissions -- big decisions that determine design of vehicles and transport and that set the pace and nature of investment in low- and non-carbon energy; as well as the full gamut of household-level decisions, many of which can’t and won’t be touched without a carbon tax. Almost as importantly, a robust carbon tax changes the culture by broadening the definition of pollution and valorizing conserving behaviors with monetary rewards.

Here are our counterpoints to your 10 points.

1. A carbon tax is conservative and progressive.

We don’t think of a carbon tax as a market mechanism; there’s no need to create a new market. It’s a price mechanism. Call it a market corrective if you wish, but the term “market” is both a misnomer and a turnoff for carbon tax adherents (actual and potential) who don’t identify with market ideology.