Georgist Proposals and
the Global Warming Controversy
[A response made 23 December, 2007, to comments
made by Charles S. Haughey, 9 July, 2007]
I want to thank Mr. Charles S. Haughey of Northridge, California, for
commenting on my paper The Green Tax Shift, submitted to Common Ground
- USA as a possible Background Paper. In that paper I mention two
bills introduced in Congress (HR 2069 and S 280) to address the issue
of global warming, or global climate change. Dialog on vital issues
among Georgists is important and constructive, and should be
Mr. Haughey in his July 9, 2007 letter to Nadine Stoner presents six
points (with 15 sub-points) concerning my paper.
1. His first point is: "Both bills presume a problem of global
warming and seek to solve it."
In the sub-points he attempts to portray global warming as merely a
long-term natural cyclical trend, not affected by the actions of man.
He states that these long-term trends are in no way related to CO2
It is undoubtedly true that there are long term trends concerning
warming and cooling of the earths atmosphere. In the past these
trends, without the impact of industrialization, took 1,500 to 10,000
years to go from trough to peak. What took over 1,500 years in the
past, however, could happen within a hundred years or less when these
natural trends are augmented by the CO2 discharged by human activity,
primarily the burning of fossil fuels.
He is probably correct that the long-term trends are not caused by
CO2 levels. Increased CO2 levels, however, accelerate the rate of
temperature change over the short-term.
The suggestion that the two congressional bills seek to "solve"
global warming is not accurate. Global warming is here, and it is
likely that nothing we can do will "solve" it. All we can
hope for is to lessen the negative impact that it will have on the
quality of life of future generations.
2. His second point is: "Both bills presume that the global
warming is due to man-made CO2 activity."
As suggested above, man-made CO2 contributes to global warming, but
it is not the sole cause. There is no doubt among the vast majority of
scientists that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased due
to human burning of fossil fuels.
3. His third point is: "Your letter accepts the premise of
global warming as a man-made problem and proposes a choice between the
two Congressional bills as solutions to the problem."
Again, global warming is intensified and accelerated by man, not
entirely caused by man. The two bills introduced in Congress do not
represent the entire choice available to us; they are merely the first
two bills that seek to address the problem. And as mentioned above,
they will not "solve" the problem - it is probably too late
for a solution. They can only delay and perhaps mitigate the negative
impact of what we are doing to our environment.
4. His fourth point is: "You reference the letter from Ed
Lawrence as justification for Georgist action as a Georgist problem
needing a solution."
Mr. Haughey states that: "George would have taxed land use,
including extraction, and this is now in effect with heavy taxes on
I am not aware of any "heavy taxes" on fuel extraction.
He goes on to say that I propose to "
tax and control or
regulate commerce in the use of the extracted product, precisely
contrary to George's teaching
." What I am proposing is to
have the public be compensated for the privilege of disposing of
pollution in the atmosphere, which is part of the public commons
belonging to all of us, not merely to the oil companies, auto
manufacturers, and chemical companies. When corporations and drivers
of Hummers & SUVs have this privilege of dumping CO2 into the
public commons, George would certainly, if he were here today, say
they should compensate the public for the privilege of doing so.
Mr. Haughey says that I suggest that the carbon tax receipts "
be given to the poor - not a Georgist idea." He is right that
this is not a Georgist idea, but wrong in suggesting that I proposed
I specifically suggested that proceeds could be used to provide a "citizen's
bonus" as is being done with oil royalty revenues in Alaska. This
bonus would go to everyone, not just the poor. I also suggested that
it might be used for public transit, which would reduce the emission
of greenhouse gases. This would benefit the poor, but it would also
benefit middle and upper income people as well if they chose to
commute by public transit rather than by car. It is true that without
a citizen's bonus (or an off-setting reduction in employment taxes)
that a carbon tax would be regressive, and Henry George would not
likely favor a regressive tax.
5. His fifth point is: "The fact that global warming appears to
be happening now, but will probably turn to cooling within a dozen
yeas, which is a much greater problem than the warming."
He quotes Professor Timothy Patterson's statement that global cooling
may be a problem in the future, and says that some solar scientists
predict that by 2020 the sun may be entering a period of lower
brightness, thereby bringing on global cooling. But if we wait and do
nothing until then, it may be too late to take any meaningful action
to address the issue. Increasing temperatures and CO2 are not things
that may happen in the future - they are already happening.
6. His final point is: "Man's activities have a small, and not
easily measured effect on our climate."
Man's impact is not small, and just because it is difficult to
measure the effect exactly does not mean that we should ignore this
It is good that Mr. Haughey raises the points that he does.
Considering them and responding to them leads to a better
understanding of the issues on both sides. Unfortunately, politicians
such as George W. Bush use such questioning as an excuse to justify
doing nothing about global warming.
We should ask ourselves: What if global warming is being accelerated
by man's use of fossil fuels, and we did nothing about it - what would
be the impact?
We all know the answer: rising sea levels, changes in the ocean
currents such as the Gulf Stream, and massive migration, war, disease,
water shortages, and famine.
On the other hand: What if Mr. Haughey and George W. Bush are right,
and our burning of fossil fuels does not in fact contribute to global
warming - but we take steps to address it anyway - what would be the
The impact would be improved public transit in our country (creating
many new jobs in the process); improved gas mileage for our
automobiles; a longer period of time to develop alternative energy
sources before we reach the point of peak oil; and less need to go to
war to secure overseas oil sources. Any increases in funding public
transit and developing alternative energy sources could likely be
off-set by reductions in military spending, so there would not need to
be an adverse impact on U.S. taxpayers.
Considering the likely impacts, is it better to address the problem
of global warming now (even if it were not accelerated by man's
actions), or is it better to ignore the issue?