For The Record

Paul Krugman says life is messy. Always has been, always will be. Only far-away history appears to have “bold colors and straight lines”. I’m inclined to agree.

I also think that creating an accurate model of reality is hard, and that with time we can increase our accuracy; so maybe we understand truths about the past that we simply don’t have the computational capability to organize in the heat of the moment.

In any event, I’ll go with “messy” for now.

Our policy efforts addressing greenhouse gas emissions have been not just messy, but abysmal. And, unfortunately, the real Earth isn’t waiting for the model Earths we have in our heads to catch up. I guess our efforts will largely be expansions on the current, messy hodgepodge of emissions caps; regulatory limits; occasional, limited emissions trading markets; and such. If this is how we get it done, then good. Count me in.

But I think it is also important to say what it might look like if we did something cleaner, simpler, and more effective. So, for the record, my opinion is that we should tax all fossil fuels when they come out of the ground on the basis of their contribution to greenhouse warming. We can talk about the price we set, but it should be a number that brings fossil fuels way down on the demand curve. The proceeds of this tax should be returned to each individual on a per capita basis.

The virtues of this is that it does not regulate what folks can and can’t do, but makes each pay for the costs they impose on all of us by burning fossil fuels. Want that private jet? Go for it! But the cost to fuel it should be double or triple what it is now. All of us get financial compensation for the costs we incur from fossil fuels, including not just warming but from diseases like asthma, the loss of the gorgeous clear-air days of yore, and more.

There would be no complex regulations with loopholes, innovation and economic activity are spurred, no sophisticated carbon accounting is needed, and most of all, it would work. Quickly.

I guess we will take the messy road, and, well, okay. But this is what I think would be best. Just sayin’.