A Project for Better Journalism chapter
Opinion, Student Life

Garbage in the Air

A select number of local and international politicians are trying to get a carbon tax enacted, in Massachusetts. Why? Because fossil fuel companies release polluting carbon into the air,  scot-free. Carbon gas is invisible, so the problem is not as publicized as, for example, plastic waste, even though carbon pollution is the predominant environmental problem.

According to the Carbon Tax Center, “carbon emissions are driving global warming.” As such, it is a main cause of the destruction of the environment. If it continues at the current rate, it could end our entire existence.  The working public and the environment are bearing the high cost of carbon emissions with our health and environment at risk, while the corporations that create most of these emissions aren’t carrying their share of responsibility.

Carbon is a natural element in the atmosphere, but human influences are altering the carbon cycle so that the escalated amounts of carbon become extremely damaging. Fossil fuel companies such as Exxon Mobil are dumping enormous amounts of carbon into the atmosphere (9.9 billion metric tons per year). Carbon pollution “is changing the Earth’s climate; acid rain…is destroying forests and killing fish; and air pollution… is killing tens of thousands of American citizens every year, while  making tens of millions ill”.  The polluting companies are making around 500 billion in profit while doing all this damage. Unlike regulations that prohibit dumping garbage into the open, there is currently no tax on the emissions of carbon. That must be changed before it is too late to save what is left of our swiftly diminishing wildlife.

Carbon pollution has “increased by about 30% since the beginning of the pre- industrial era around 1750 because of the combustion of fossil fuels and changes in land use practices.” (http://clinton4.nara.gov/WH/EOP/OVP/24hours/vpenv.html) That is an extremely high percentage for a dangerous gas. According to studies done by the White House there is a discernible influence from carbon on the rate of global warming, and if there is no action taken to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere these rates will continue to skyrocket. I fear that if the rates carbon emission remain the same, there will soon be no wildlife in many parts of the county and the world.

I was able to lobby on this subject this past Friday to Stan Rosenberg, Ellen Story (an avid supporter of the tax), Peter Kocot, Ben Downing, Stephen Kulik, and our own Mayor David Narkewicz.  They were all invited by the Social Justice Committee of the B’nai Israel Congregation’s Tikum Olum program to hear from and dialogue with their constituents on a variety of social justice issues.  They all seemed supportive of the idea and concerned about the environment as well. However, none of them besides Ellen Story seemed absolutely convinced that a carbon tax should be enacted.

The most effective way to do this is to enforce a tax on the emissions of carbon. Some countries, such as Australia, have enacted a Carbon Tax. However, Australians had some negative things to say after it was enacted. “Under the carbon tax, many landfill facility operators charged their customers in relation to future carbon liabilities that were expected to accrue as the waste being deposited decayed over many decades.” Clearly this problem was a flaw in the design of the law. Australia was the first country to enact the tax, and has provided an example of what mistakes to avoid. British Columbia, on the other hand, has enacted a successful carbon tax, backed by 54% of its voters. The tax is said to be simple and straightforward. For every ton of carbon released there is a 25 dollar tax, but the tax is still too low to make “radical changes”. Even so, the use of carbon has dropped 15%, a substantial decline.

There are many in the U.S who agree with the carbon tax, including public officials. Senator Sheldon, for example has gained public recognition for his activism for the carbon tax; he has weekly speeches which he posts on YouTube, scientists and economists such as Gregory Mankiw of Harvard, and conservatives like Bob Inglis.  Nevertheless, there has not been much progress in enacting carbon taxes in the US.

The simple design of the carbon tax would discourage manipulation of the system and help reduce corruption in our corrupt system.  A tax on carbon would not only put a price on the damage of  pollution, but force companies into figuring out an alternative, more sustainable source of energy. The changes in climate that result from carbon pollution adversely affects human health (especially increases in vector-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue and yellow fever). A tax on emissions will reduce the rates of these diseases. If we are forced to chose between a few extra dollars out of our pockets, or the environment, the responsible choice would be to sacrifice that dinner out for the next generation’s well being. If you support the carbon tax please sign the pledge on http://www.carbontax.org, and help save this planet.