If you hadn't read the headline to this post, how many Americans would you have guessed would be in favor of a carbon tax? Not many. After all, our mythology demands a built-in aversion to taxes, a staunch dedication to treating the notion like four letter word. No new taxes!, we're told. Not even for the richest 1% of Americans!
Of course, that mythology is bunk -- vast majorities of Americans are in favor of raising taxes on the wealthiest individuals and closing tax loopholes on corporations. We're also, it turns out, willing to consider a carbon tax. Imagine that: majority support for an idea deemed DOA by the political establishment and chattering classes. Yet, sure enough, we have these findings from a new study, Public Support for Climate & Energy Policies in November 2011, completed by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication:
- 65 percent of Americans support a revenue-neutral carbon tax that would “help create jobs and decrease pollution,” including majorities of registered Republicans (51%), Independents (69%), and Democrats (77%).
- Likewise, 60 percent of Americans support a $10 per ton carbon tax if the revenue were used to reduce federal income taxes, even when told this would “slightly increase the cost of many things you buy, including food, clothing, and electricity.” This policy is supported by 48 percent of registered Republicans, 50 percent of Independents, and 74 percent of Democrats.
- 49 percent of Americans support a revenue-neutral carbon tax if the revenue was instead returned to each American family equally as an annual check. Only 44 percent support this policy if the revenues were instead used to pay down the national debt.
Sure, that's not overwhelming support--and much of it would evaporate after a concerted conservative campaign to knock it down--but it's support indeed. As such, there's a strong argument to be made for bringing the carbon tax closer into focus: With Occupy Wall Street rallying attention to the income inequality gap and Americans growing increasingly frustrated with corporate greed, a tax that hits industrial polluters and relieves the individual tax burden could start sounding pretty good to plenty of folks. Calling for a carbon tax on polluters could, feasibly, even become a political winner (the Yale study also finds astonishingly high support for regulating CO2 as a pollutant), as anger percolates at the GOP's intransigence to raising taxes even on the wealthy and corporations.
If the movement to highlight income inequality continues to gain steam, a 'tax' might increasingly seem less like a mythological four-letter word, and more of a mark of contributing your dues to society. In which case, a carbon tax could begin to stand a chance against the right-wing noise machine. Hey, a guy can dream, right?