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The Carbon Tax on the Ballot in Washington State Is Not the Right Way to Deal With Global Warming

Published in The Nation

The imperatives of the climate crisis and the logic of economic austerity are at war—and Washington State is on the front lines.

So-called “revenue-neutral” carbon pricing—whereby the proceeds are used to fund tax cuts—has long been a cherished hobbyhorse of free-market economists and the odd Republican who favors climate action. It’s also the policy of choice for big polluters like ExxonMobil. And now this right-wing friendly model is being pushed in Washington State, thanks to Initiative 732.

I-732, on the ballot on November 8, would be the first revenue-neutral price on carbon in the United States. It is widely unpopular among the state’s Democrats, Republicans, and even the business lobby, and has only managed to win the support of one significant environmental group. But on the off chance it is approved by voters, it would be a disastrous precedent that could set back the climate justice movement for a decade—time that we simply can’t afford to lose.

Some have accepted the logic that something is better than nothing, even arguing that a “tax swap” could substitute for a just transition to a low-carbon economy. The evidence proves otherwise. In British Columbia, two-thirds of the tax cuts have ended up in corporate pockets, while carbon emissions have been rising in recent years and the fracking industry has boomed.

By some estimates, I-732 would raise gasoline and electricity prices less than 15 percent by 2040 in Washington State—hardly enough to jumpstart an urgent, sweeping phase-out of fossil fuels. Meanwhile, it would offset carbon revenues by cutting taxes for big corporations, including major polluters. (According to the Seattle Times, Boeing could see windfalls of tens of millions annually.)

And while polluters get rewarded, the communities of color that have born the brunt of fossil fuel pollution, and the working people whose jobs are at risk as we move away from fossil fuels, are left empty handed. The money raised by the tax won’t be used to fund green jobs in low-income communities, or to retrain workers currently in high carbon sectors. In other words, this is the epitome of an unjust transition.

Read the rest of the article in The Nation

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