California already has a long history of so-called sin taxes designed to reduce environmental and health risks. Some of the revenue from its tobacco tax, for instance, funds early childhood development programs. And a plastic tax is a sort of sin tax, only on a global scale. “In general, a great way to raise revenue is through sin taxes,” says MIT economist Christopher Knittel, who studies carbon taxes.
Sixty-two percent of Americans currently say the government is doing too little to protect the environment, the highest in 12 years and well above the low point of 46% measured in 2010. The only time when the “too little” percentage was higher than 62% came in 1992, when Gallup first asked the question.
Between the 1960s and 1990s, Canada and much of the Western world enjoyed a broad environmental consensus focused on real, tangible action on clean air, water and soil, with most major parties all taking moderate environmentalism and conservationism seriously. The last real international agreement that Canada signed onto that wasn’t a mere aspirational UN confab was the 1991 Canada-US Air Quality Agreement – virtually eliminating acid rain on the continent – between the Mulroney and Reagan-Bush administrations. It was an era that saw differences in environmental policy between major parties in most countries counted in degrees.
This consensus was possible because environmental policy was about the environment. A policy designed to reduce the presence of something in the environment could more often than not be taken at face value. But in the period between the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Kyoto Accord, the environmentalist movement in North America began taking its cues from its cousins in Europe like the German Green Party, which explicitly fused far-left class and economic theory with militant environmentalism.
The 1997 Kyoto Accord was a watershed moment in smashing the cross-ideological environmental consensus. A plan to save the planet somehow required wealthy capitalist nations to transfer vast sums of wealth to poor developing, communist, and post-communist nations. Wealth redistribution was now fundamentally linked with the new environmentalist movement.
In 2019, it’s difficult to find a party or group championing action on global warming that isn’t offering as the solution some form of re-treaded socialism.