If the United States is going to make real progress when it comes to combating climate change, that process must begin with creating a financial incentive structure. People might be willing to commit to improving the climate, but that will be possible if and only if they stand to lose money otherwise.
That’s exactly why the state of Washington put a measure on the 2018 ballot that would tax companies for causing carbon emissions that lead to climate change. Initiative 1631 would have charged a fee of $15 per ton of carbon dioxide emitted, and that price would have risen by $2 a ton per year until 2035.
Unfortunately, a campaign by oil refiners spent a whopping $30 million—more money than has ever been poured into an initiative campaign in Washington history—to convince voters that I-1631 would raise gas prices for individual drivers and homeowners, and that it wouldn’t do anything concrete to lower emissions. Ninety-eight percent of that money came from out of state, primarily from BP, Phillips, and Koch Industries. And their assault on logic worked. I-1631 lost by a margin of 56 percent to 44 percent.
Notably, however, many of the top figures in Washington’s state government were solidly on the environmentalists’ side.
“Given what the oil industry has done—unfettered, unlimited in time or amount—to the one atmosphere we have, it shouldn’t cause a lot of angst or tears to be simply asking them to not treat our atmosphere like a sewer,” said Jay Inslee, the state’s Democratic governor.
Why was there even a carbon tax emission referendum on the Washington ballot? The state faces a number of unique environmental challenges. The Evergreen State has seen carbon emissions alter the acidity of the nearby Pacific Ocean, which has damaged oyster farms in Seattle’s Puget Sound. It’s also battled dry conditions that have fueled forest fires, leading to smoky conditions for much of this year. The Post reported on one Seattle area wedding that was ruined because the photographs were clouded in smoke and the bride was battling asthma.
At the end of the day, though, the initiative in Washington was simply about making the planet a more sustainable place for future generations. That should have been something that people from all backgrounds and political parties could get behind.
“I have three grandkids,” Inslee said. “I’d like them to have a shot at a healthy Washington.”
Given that Washingtonians really do care about carbon emissions, this probably won’t be the last time a carbon-fee initiative appears on ballots in Washington state.
Photo: The Washington state capitol building in Olympia. Credit: Shutterstock