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An ExxonMobil-Backed Carbon Tax Will Not Save the Planet

Daniel Lerps / Flickr

Amid warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that there’s a closing window to act to prevent a climate catastrophe—and critiques that its report released Monday was far too conservative—critics are calling out ExxonMobil for pledging a $1 million contribution to a campaign for a carbon tax as a sneaky attempt to control the debate on climate action and dodge greater financial liability.

“This is a scam: Exxon wants a super low price on carbon so they can boost their natural gas business and avoid other regulations,” 350.org co-founder Jamie Henn responded in a series of tweets.

“Read the fine print,” Henn continued. “As part of the deal for supporting a price on carbon, Exxon wants to be freed from all climate liability. They know that just like Big Tobacco they could be on the hook for billions in damages for lying about climate change.”

Progressives and climate campaigners have argued both for and against market-based solutions such as a carbon tax, but have tended to agree that fossil fuel giants back such proposals not because they support climate action, but because they want to undermine efforts such as lawsuits that have sought to hold Exxon and other oil and gas producers accountable for their decades of denialism and contributions to the global climate crisis.

“Market-based carbon pricing schemes are a false solution to climate change, and a dangerous distraction from the urgent transition to a truly clean, renewable energy future we must undertake now,” Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter said in a statement on Tuesday.

“It comes as no surprise that ExxonMobil and other oil companies are calling for anything and everything short of moving off fossil fuels entirely—most notably, the unwieldy and unproven concept of carbon taxes,” Hauter added. “The IPCC report acknowledges that carbon taxes would have to be incredibly high to make even a dent in the crisis.”

Responding to Exxon’s latest move, Kate Aronoff, who has written extensively about the climate crisis, said, “It’s not a lot of money, but they’re not very subtly trying to stake a claim to whatever climate policy debate happens.” She also noted that the tax proposed by the Exxon campaign group, Americans For Carbon Dividends, “is way too low.”

Referencing a new analysis from Alex Kaufman at the Huffington Post on the potential impact of a carbon tax, Henn pointed out: “DC-types love carbon pricing but usually fail to mention that there’s no political way you could get the price high enough to actually solve the climate problem. It’s only one piece of the puzzle.”

Writing within the context of the IPCC report released Monday, Kaufman outlined how its warnings—however conservative, when compared to other recent climate studies—challenged but “doesn’t seem to have shaken many Republican climate hawks’ faith that market tweaks alone can deliver the unprecedented emissions cuts needed to avert disaster.”

While Josiah Neeley, a senior fellow at the right-wing climate policy think tank R Street Institute, insisted to Kaufman that “a market-based, revenue-neutral carbon tax is perfectly capable of achieving rapid decarbonization as is called for in the new IPCC report,” the actual authors of the report don’t agree. As Kaufman noted:

Asked during an IPCC press conference on Sunday night if carbon pricing could radically overhaul the global economy in the next decade, two IPCC authors started to laugh. James Skea, a co-chair of an IPCC working group, said it was “one among that portfolio of instruments that can be used” but could not serve as a panacea.

“There are some areas where carbon pricing may not be the most appropriate approach,” he said from Incheon, South Korea.

Referencing Kaufman’s article and the IPCC report on Twitter Monday, Bill McKibben, another co-founder of 350.org, also concluded: “One takeaway from today’s climate report is that we’ve waited long enough that almost no-one thinks a carbon price alone can get us where we need to go. It’s one part of a ‘portfolio of solutions.'”

Hauter, meanwhile, urged Congress to pass the Off Fossil Fuels for a Better Future Act (OFF Act)—unveiled by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) last year—which she called “the most ambitious climate legislation ever introduced.”

“The alarming findings of the latest IPCC report,” Hauter charged, “validate an aggressive approach to deepening climate chaos that scientists, advocates, and elected officials across the country are steadily endorsing: a rapid transition off fossil fuels that would make our society almost entirely reliant on clean, renewable energy in the next ten years.

Jessica Corbett / Common Dreams

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