What If a Tax on Carbon Emissions Isn’t the Right Goal?

by | Aug 22, 2019 | John C. Goodman, The Environmental Blog | 5 comments

Perhaps planting one trillion trees through a tree-planting program would be equally or more effective…

Economists favor a carbon tax as the most efficient way to forestall global warming because they assume that the goal should be to reduce the amount of carbon. But what if that assumption is wrong?

David Henderson gives three reasons why it may be wrong: (1) controlling methane emissions appears to be far more important than controlling carbon, (2) geo-engineering (e.g., emitting sulfur dioxide to counteract the effects of warming) may be more economical than reducing carbon and (3) it may be more cost effective to remove carbon from the atmosphere by planting trees.

According to a July 4, 2019, article in The Guardian, planting one trillion trees would be much cheaper than a carbon tax and much more effective. At an estimated cost of 30 cents per additional tree, the overall cost would be $300 billion. That’s large, but it’s a one-time cost. Moreover, writes the Guardian’s environment editor Damian Carrington, such a tree-planting program “could remove two-thirds of all the emissions that have been pumped into the atmosphere by human activities, a figure the scientists describe as ‘mind-blowing’.”

A carbon tax, by contrast, would simply slow the rate of emissions into the atmosphere.