Hansens Carbon Tax Concept – why it won’t work

I suggest anyone interested in learning more about one of the carbon tax ideas watch these videos.


I have listened to this series by James Hansen a couple of times. I have never been a supporter of the carbon tax concept because I do not believe it will solve anything. But I have no doubts about it being tried for many years by most of the countries around the world.

A carbon tax does not address consumption. It continues to emphasize the monetization of the environment but does nothing to change human behavior or perception. A cultural change at the very roots of civilization is what is required. Humans had this once – and we lost it when the capitalistic model was adopted. Endless growth, consumption and resource extraction was the result. Yes, we have a ‘better world’ in some respects, but we’ve also trashed the place rather badly and wiped out a lot of life. Now we risk human extinction due to climate change because we still link everything to monetary values and profit margins – which monetized the entire natural world we rely upon for sustenance.

I’ve always said, “it didn’t have to be this way” – and until enough of us realize this, nothing is going to change. We WILL continue to plunder what remains.

Hansen advocates a carbon tax on fossil fuels – which is akin to saying “go ahead and use it” – the tax then is to be given back to every citizen which will then “stimulate the economy”. I fail to see how this will help anything. It does not address the core issues at all.

Under this scenario, this is what happens:

a) Fossil fuel companies raise prices, which are paid by the citizenry to purchase fossil fuel products and services;

b) The carbon tax funds raised are then redistributed back to the citizens. In effect, citizens are ‘paying ahead’ to purchase more expensive fossil fuels.

c) Fossil fuel consumption (and greenhouse gasses) do not go down because consumption of these polluters does not go down either.

d) This proposal is a merry-go-round concept, nothing changes. Stimulating the economy will simply mean more consumption, when less is needed. Redistributing carbon taxes back to the citizens is no different then not having a carbon tax at all, ie., you’re paying Peter to pay Paul who pays Peter, etc. Nothing has changed.

e) Consumption of fossil fuels HAS to go down (lower greenhouse gas emissions) across the entire economy. We need a strategy that is very different then this one (imo).

f) We are not going to “buy” ourselves out of this predicament (this is the same strategy that got us here).


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14 thoughts on “Hansens Carbon Tax Concept – why it won’t work

  • December 28, 2015 at 6:53 pm

    (some) problems have solutions. but predicaments have consequences

    primates ARE the existential predicament
    our ‘problem’ is reality’s ‘solution’ to our stupidity

    what does Peak Consequences look like … and when?

    • December 28, 2015 at 6:56 pm

      We are finding out – right now and in the daze ahead…

      Tons of bad stuff happening planet wide – but it’s easier to just go on pretending that fairies fly and our crimes against nature don’t count.

  • January 2, 2016 at 3:45 pm

    When Hansen advocates a carbon tax on fossil fuels, it is most definitely not akin to saying “go ahead and use it”. That could not be clearer. For example, after tax on cigarettes is increased, consumption goes down. In exactly the same way if the carbon tax is introduced and given back to every citizen (a ‘dividend’):

    petrol will get more expensive, people will buy more fuel efficient cars and pocket the dividend

    high carbon food will get more expensive, but low carbon food won’t, so people will buy more low carbon food and pocket the dividend

    flights will get more expensive, so people will make shorter or fewer trips and will pocket the dividend

    coal generated electricity will get more expensive, so people will swap to renewable energy suppliers and will pocket the dividend

    We all know what we’d like to do with a lovely windfall payment, and it would be under our control.

    This whole process would work on the supply side as well, if you reduce carbon use in delivering your product/service you undercut the competition and stay in business.

    • January 2, 2016 at 4:21 pm

      Welcome to the blog!

      Hansen’s idea is not new, but it’s ‘creative accounting’ that completely fails to factor in reality. The continued production of ‘stuff’ under the guise of ‘more efficient’ is not a solution to our continued pollution. It’s still the bait and switch tactic. We need to produce less stuff, not more, and not maintain current levels.

      People won’t pocket anything – and even if they did, they’ll still spend it sooner or later, fueling the very economic activity that needs to be reduced. Cigarettes are a choice, but daily living is not. The demand is always for more energy and consumption – not less. More money in “our pockets” won’t change a thing except increase our demands on the environment, energy and resources thereby increasing carbon emissions.

      This is why it won’t work – economic activity continues and even escalates and all this economic activity is carbon based. There is simply no way that continued or increased economic activity will EVER help the environment.

      There’s really no such thing as ‘low carbon food’ under Big Ag by the way – unless you grow it yourself, at home or eat VERY local (less then 70 miles). Transportation and mechanized agriculture make food the largest carbon emitter of all. Population and resource consumption is a major factor when studying warming, but even vegans don’t solve the population issue – or the ag issue unless they grow their own food themselves or eat only local (and stay home).

      I like the idea of renewable energy as much as anyone, but if it’s still reliant upon fossil fuels for the production of the grid, wind towers, solar panels, replacement parts, installation, etc., etc., it’s not “renewable” at all, it’s still just another scam to greenwash the reality of where the source energy comes from. And that is the problem with all these discussions – few realize that less is the only real answer. Less energy, less resources, less population, everything else is just the three-card monte trying to fool people into believing they’ve “done something” when it’s the same levels of energy, resources and carbon being used and produced. Nothing changes.

  • January 3, 2016 at 5:18 pm

    Thanks for engaging. I don’t think you are being consistent. You say ‘Cigarettes are a choice, but daily living is not.’ But you also think that it is an option to just stop economic activity. But unless we kill off 99% of the population and return to living off the land in tribes, ‘daily living’ is economic activity.

    Our only hope is to de-carbonise economic activity as much as possible, including food production. One easy way is to reduce meat and dairy consumption and the easiest way to do that is a carbon tax that will make meat much more expensive but other protein foods like beans only marginally so. (I think the greenhouse gas emissions involved in beef/dairy is about 30 times that of vegetable protein). So while you may well be right that, when judged against small holders, there is no such thing as ‘low carbon food’ under Big Ag ,…… there absolutely is compared to the current situation.

    The same applies to the other issues, you seem to be sacrificing the possible on the altar of the ideal. There are so many easy hits to get carbon emissions down to say a quarter of current using existing technology and strong economic incentives. Let’s get that going asap and then later work on the more profound reforms you search for.

    • January 3, 2016 at 5:50 pm

      No, what you are advocating is the continued expansion of the human enterprise – and that is what I do not agree with. Current human demands upon the planetary resources are far too excessive. Replacing this with ‘renewables’ but doing nothing about the increasing (and current levels) of demand is counter-productive and will lead to the same collapse. It’s all being fueled by the economic engine which your insisting has to be maintained by changing tactics (but only marginally so). No it doesn’t. But of course, it will continue because most of humanity (at least the modern world) cannot even envision anymore that there is another way (use less, be less).

      Absolutely we should decarbonize, but that won’t be enough when we continue to demand more. It will require a fundamental shift in our thinking and expectations – and this is where Hansen and other fail. They are not advocating the ‘less’ approach, just a replacement strategy that will continue to fund the economic engine. Humans have got to learn that we do not need more.

      And it’s not the hope you think it is. Not even close. It would be start of course, but it is not our salvation, it will not save us from what we’ve already done. It doesn’t even remotely go far enough – which is why I do not support it.

      You’re not going to find me in agreement with your other concepts either. If you don’t understand the supply side of how we eat now, then you won’t understand what low-carbon food truly is. Big Ag is heavily dependent upon fossil fuels for growing, fertilizing, pesticides and transportation and distribution, which most is then repeated by us consumers as we “shop” for our sustenance, which makes agriculture the largest single contributor of greenhouse gases. Stated plainly – this model will never be low-carbon because it is fundamentally carbon-intensive. There is no pathway for this to change (ever). Only local food can ever be considered low-carbon and even this definition needs deep clarification.

      The ‘possible’ your referring to is the hopium that this blog has refuted for years. Humanity may achieve carbon-reductions, but it’s still not going to be enough to avert catastrophe. Real reforms do not continue the human enterprise as it exist today, but this level of discussion isn’t even on the table anywhere. It’s not even recognized as a desirable goal. Instead, it’s considered unrealistic altogether, so it’s simply ignored.

      You’re not going to fix what’s wrong by repeating the same fundamental errors of the past and insisting we continue as we are, you’re just going to deceive yourself into thinking “you’ve done something”. This is the problem with the current approach and models be considered – civilization and economics is NOT changing in any of the fundamental ways that would actually matter. It’s still the same shell game as before.

      The answer is a dismantling of everything we’re now doing – a huge topic in and of itself – and even this has exceedingly little chance of success (many believe even this has zero chance of success). But on the other hand, it would be the best chance we will ever get too. Everything else falls far too short.

      Accepting our folly and mortality is proving to be extremely hard for some of us to do (including me), but I can definitely foresee our extinction in the near future, especially so when all I read is business as usual under the guise of “doing something”.

  • January 4, 2016 at 1:17 am

    Great, thanks for your thoughts.

    I feel the discussion has made clear our different approaches and why you think a carbon tax is not enough. I can’t see in your replies, though, why it can’t be successful within its own terms – as a way of greatly reducing CO2 emissions in the medium term. I agree that it is not a sufficient solution to all the global environmental problems.

    All the best


    • January 4, 2016 at 10:41 am

      Ok, one final try:

      It won’t be successful because it does nothing on the economic side as is being claimed. The assumption that a “tax” will slow-down energy consumption, but put that tax right back into consumers pockets to spend somewhere else (which would nearly always translate into more carbon-based energy – figure on 99% of the time) is quite ridiculous (imo).

      If you only consider the extreme levels of consumer debt right now and the near-total lack of savings people have, as a representation of why “money in their pockets won’t lower consumption”. Consumption, and thus energy-demands, does not go down (any) because a tax does not change total consumption (just a habit or two). But we’re talking about energy – carbon-based energy in reality – and that consumption hasn’t changed by a “tax”. And that’s what I meant about daily living – the demands of daily living will remain the same – and thus, energy consumption remains the same – and thus we’ve achieved NOTHING.

      But we will sure be fooling ourselves that we’re “doing something”.

      But in reality is it far worse then this. We’re going to lose precious time that the world does not have any (at all) to waste. The longer we continue our contribution to the problem (population, emissions, consumption, etc.) the worse it gets and the more intractable is the problem. We’ll spend years dicking around with this carbon-tax concept stupidly thinking it’s ‘helping’ because we can’t do basic math or count the real cost of our civilization and how it really is all oil-derived. Even ‘renewables’ are oil-derived. So we lose decades fighting the wrong battle – and totally lose the war (our very survival), which is really a war on ourselves and our “demands” for living (we did this, therefore, it is we who must change – not continue to repeat the same mistakes of the past by demanding this civilization).

      That is what Hansen’s concept means. He’s advocating we lose the war by adopting a tactic that will (further) destroy us all. It sounds good – but it’s really a red herring.

      You’re suggesting that we’d ‘win the battle’ for now and that should be sufficient success for the time being, but that is simply not true. Emissions are but one part of a larger problem. If we were to win, we would need to solve them all. And Hansen has not grasped this yet.

      Think of it this way if all this still hasn’t helped:

      The “static model” (which is pure theory – it does not exist)

      consumption + population + civilization = rising carbon emissions

      Emissions will go up no matter what under our current living arrangements. This means we lose the war – no matter what. We can’t emit anything. Nor can we continue present levels of consumption since we’ve already devoured so much of the biosphere, far faster then it can be replaced.

      Then the expanding model (which is our current reality):

      increasing consumption + increasing population + expanding civilization = rising carbon emissions

      Hansen’s concept is this latter one. Consumption will still increase. Nothing is being said about population or civilization (growth).

      Now “play” with each element of the equation. Unless you lower EACH one, you still wind up with rising emissions. Do you understand what that means? It means extinction.

      Nobody is addressing this. Which means we are failing, badly, and will continue to fail, badly, fooling ourselves “we’ve done something” when in reality, we’ve paid Peter to pay Paul who pays Peter. It’s a shell game, a three-card Monte that fools the (current) participants into ‘believing’ necessary changes have been made when the reality is far different.

  • January 4, 2016 at 12:17 pm

    You’ve just repeated what you said before with the same inherent mistakes.

    I can spend a pound in a way that has a small carbon impact (xbox game) or an absolutely vast one (flight, winter greenhouse organic tomatoes, beef). A tax will incentivize the former and this has happened where it has been tried such as BC, Canada – where the level was very modest compared against Hansen’s proposals.

    • January 4, 2016 at 12:46 pm

      You’re dreaming. “Where” carbon emissions come from doesn’t matter (in terms of total carbon contribution). And you’re still insisting that incentives to further economic activity is somehow a ‘solution’. You’re the one making the same mistakes.

      “One, James Hansen, says that to think world leaders are doing something significant about the problem is “baloney”, and urges the use of nuclear power and every other form of energy which does not involve the release of carbon.”
      Double dilemma for Paris Climate Deal

      And so is Hansen. Nuclear is not carbon-free. Nuclear will never, ever be carbon-free.

      “The other, Michael Mann, argues that the world is “closer to the dangerous 2°C warming mark than many experts acknowledge”, and that continuing global carbon dioxide emissions from human activities at present rates will commit the Earth to 2°C in less than three years from now.

      Both men differ substantially on the right way to act, and key parts of their proposals appear too unpopular or too impractical to work. But they do agree that the situation is so urgent that it demands immediate action.

      Mann writes: “We don’t have a third of our total carbon budget left to expend…We’ve already expended the vast majority of the budget for remaining under 2°C. And what about 1.5°C stabilisation? We’re already overdrawn.” Hansen believes that “we need all hands on deck”.

      Read the article. Even Hansen’s idea isn’t being accepted.

      We do not have the time anyone thinks. We cannot piss around with ridiculous proposals and pretend that they are a solution when all we’re doing is repeating the same problems of the past.

  • January 4, 2016 at 4:01 pm

    No need to aim for carbon free, let’s just get CO2 emissions right down as the priority. As it can be done without messing up people’s lifestyles completely we can aim for a compromise and get a lot achieved.

    Once CO2 emissions are under some kind of control we can move on to methods to take CO2 back out of the atmosphere. A Carbon Tax would help achieve that too, of course.

    There are other problems for sure, but here we are limiting the discussion to CO2 emissions which seems to be the most urgent.

    • January 4, 2016 at 7:30 pm

      That is the problem. Too many people think we can still play around. The “no need for carbon free” claim “should” be sufficient to “help”.

      This is not true. Perhaps you missed this: “And what about 1.5°C stabilisation? We’re already overdrawn.”

      So – if we are “already overdrawn” then how can emitting anything else possibly help? Because that is what you are insisting on. You keep making the same huge mistakes here. Sorry – but I did not drink the koolaid.

      People’s lifestyles are going to be messed up – completely. There is nothing in the world that can stop this now. The world will face starvation very soon (already now at nearly 1 billion hungry and starving as mentioned here on a recent blog post). If you truly believe that emissions “are the most urgent” then your arguments are indefensible – because you are advocating more emissions.

      The compromise approach absolutely 100% guarantees this. Nothing will be “achieved” except the party-on attitudes and lifestyles for a few more years while we still can. Is that what you really want?

      Moreover, it is a huge assumption (not fact) that we will get emissions “under control”. How? Where? When? Civilization is a heat engine, ie., the “source” for human emissions – it will absolutely NOT get emissions under control under the present or foreseeable living circumstances that nobody is willing to change or even address. So we will fail, and fail rather badly because we had the intelligence to recognize the source problem but could not bring ourselves to address it. How pathetic is that?

      I also absolutely do not believe that emissions will be gotten under control because I’ve seen what other countries are doing – and what they are not doing. Go look for yourself if you do not believe me – emissions keep rising, powerplants keep getting built (and proposed after Con Job 21) and much, much more. The world, like you – is not serious. They still do not see the severe danger – and yet Mann is telling us (as are others) that catastrophic and irreversible climate change will happen under these present emission rates. I already know that it’s even worse then that – it will happen absolutely no matter what we do (already covered on this blog).

      You keep harping on the tax as a solution, when it’s just more fodder for the economic contribution to emissions. It’s an asinine idea just like Hansen’s nuclear power idiocy.

    • January 6, 2016 at 6:31 pm

      That is correct – it was not posted because it was a repeat of the unproven claims you’ve made. You’re continued insistence without providing any evidence, counter-arguments to any of the points raised or helpful information was the reason. You’re just being argumentative without merit (repeated insisting you’re right does not make it so). Goodbye is good – this blog is not for you. I am not interested in pretending that our current civilization is desirable or salvageable when it clearly is not.

      There will be many differing proposals humanity will try in order to save itself – not all of them are good, desirable or efficacious. Carbon taxes are one of these – there will be more. The failure to address root causes will lead to even more failures and we’ve scant little time left for any of that.

      I do suggest you at least read Robert Scribbler’s site – and the comments there. There are some very well informed people who understand the problems facing humanity. Not everyone is up to speed on the same topics, but overall, they seem to “get it”. You don’t.

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