The contest between the current Seattle mayor, Mike McGinn, and his challenger, state senator Ed Murray, reminds us, again, that politicians who say they fear climate change almost never discuss the costs of the measures they favor to reduce those risks.
(Before I go further, let me say that I do not share their views. In the current debate I am what is sometimes called a "luke-warmist". I agree that the earth has warmed, and that some of the warming is caused by humans, but do not, for now, fear catastrophic changes. But, like many others, I am fascinated by the apparent contradictions between what those who do fear climate change say, and what they do. And the Seattle mayor's race gives us an especially neat example of those contradictions.)
Mayor McGinn came into politics as a leader in one of the Green religious groups, the Sierra Club. His opponent, Ed Murray, has all the conventional beliefs of Seattle "progressives", or, as I would call them, leftists. If either has ever had an original idea, or challenged conventional Seattle thinking, it has escaped my attention.
The only argument about the threat of climate change between the two, and their supporters, is on how strongly each supports the cause.
But neither has anything in their campaign sites (McGinn and Murray) about how the obvious measures to reduce global warming would affect Seattle — which they would, in a big way. (Nor have our local reporters spent much time pressing them on these issues.)
If you ask most economists how to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, they would tell you to tax them. Economists favor a "carbon tax" on the grounds of economic efficiency; change the incentives and people will burn fewer fossil fuels, working out the best ways to do that with millions of individual decisions. And put that way, the idea sounds sensible, sounds like something that would impose only a small amount of pain, spread widely, especially if the tax money is "recycled" back to the taxpayers with income tax cuts, or something similar.
But, if you look at how a carbon tax would play out in the real world, you would see that the effects would vary widely — and that Seattle would be particularly hard hit.
A carbon tax would, necessarily, increase the costs of jet fuel and flying, generally. How much? I'll leave that question to transportation economists, but it is hard to believe that you could get the reductions in jet fuel use that climate change alarmists want without at least doubling the cost of an average ticket.
This would affect Seattle in many ways, but two stand out. A carbon tax would reduce tourism sharply; Seattle is a long way from most population centers, and it would make it far more expensive for most tourists to travel here. And a carbon tax would make it harder for a certain airplane manufacturer, now headquartered in Chicago but with many employees in the Seattle area, to sell airplanes.
It is understandable, if not admirable, that two men running for elected office choose not to discuss these little difficulties, but it is a little dismaying that our local reporters — who generally share McGinn's and Murray's views on the threat of climate change — have not asked them how Seattle would be affected by a heavy carbon tax, or any other practical measure for reducing carbon dioxide emissions.
Cross posted at Jim Miller on Politics.
(There are, of course, other ways to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Governments could, for example, subsidize crash programs to replace electricity from coal and gas plants with electricity from nuclear plants. A carbon tax would make such plants better bets as investments, but you might want to encourage the switch in other ways, too.)Posted by Jim Miller at October 15, 2013 08:21 AM | Email This