James Hansen and Eliot Spitzer say carbon-emitters should pay up.


Climate scientist extraordinaire James Hansen has the solution to climate change.

It’s a tax, of course – a carbon tax. Paid by carbon-emitting companies, and not to the government but “distributed to the public.” As Hansen told Eliot Spitzer, “If we would just make fossil fuels pay for their true cost to society, we could begin to move to different energies and energy efficiency.”

Sure, no problem. After all, we make lots of things “pay their true cost to society,” don’t we? Let’s see, there’s…no, wait, how about…OK, here’s an example…no, never mind.

Let’s first note that a huge swath of America, together with the political movement that caters to it, doesn’t believe in “society.” But even if we get all nostalgic and take as a given the existence of a “common good,” paying for our “true cost” just isn’t in our DNA as Americans.

Churches, as we noted in an earlier article, don’t pay their true cost. How can they when no one even asks what that cost might be?

How about the financial firms that caused the housing collapse and the Great Recession? Are they paying for it?

On a global scale, if “society” means the world, America doesn’t pay its true cost in terms of the resources we use and the luxuries we take for granted. Hell, our Congress can’t even sustain its minuscule Food for Peace program to give the poorest countries a tiny boost towards parity.

Here’s a big one: Is the developer who’s putting up a building across the street from me going to pay me back somehow for all the months of 7 AM construction-noise wake-up stress?

But seriously. If we’re going to rely on the idea of people or institutions paying their “true cost” for what they consume – consume economically or otherwise – we’ll fall flat on our faces. And from that position it’s hard to do certain things – like, oh, I don’t know – preserve the Earth as we know it for future generations?