Americans Would Agree to a Carbon Tax if the Revenue Funded Clean Energy

Forget what you know about America, we don't hate *all* taxes.

Jul 22 2014, 5:45pm
Wendell Berry, a clean energy supporting American. Image: Wikimedia

That Americans hate taxes is supposed to be an eternal and universal truth, the direct inverse of how much Americans love freedom. But that's mostly a mythology erected by the anti-tax elements of the power structure that find such a myth useful: Sure, Americans, who are rational beings, dislike paying more for things unnecessarily. But when we know that tax revenues would be directed towards important projects, we will in fact often change our tune and support tax increases

To wit: Americans would be entirely game for a carbon tax, a new poll finds, if the cash would fund clean energy research. The survey, conducted by the University of Michigan, actually brings us a pretty familiar spate of findings. When asked if they would support a carbon tax, and the revenue was left unspecified, only 34 percent of Americans said they would. 

However, if they were told the cash from the carbon tax would go toward funding research and development for renewable energy programs, support jumped to 60 percent. A third option, wherein the revenues were returned to the public in a sort of dividend scheme favored by climatologist James Hansen, received 56 percent support. A fourth, wherein carbon tax cash is used to buffer the deficit, was summarily rejected.

This isn't new—in the past, polling that specified that carbon tax revenues would be used to do nice things generated a majority support

This, however, is before any actual policy gets proposed, and its opponents start yelling on cable television about how much it would actually cost, and how anyone who supports it is an American-hating socialist. It's also just a poll, with a relatively small sample size (<800 people) at that, and people are prone to act differently at the ballot box, especially when their cash is actually at stake. Australia, for instance, just ditched its hard-won carbon tax. In the US, there's no legislation of the sort anywhere close to being proposed on the national level; we're dealing squarely in hypotheticals here.

Still, it's nice to have another round of evidence that when those rational American beings are thinking rationally—before the Limbaughs and Inhofes of the world start scaremongering—they'd support a measure to wean the nation from carbon fuels to clean ones. After all, the future depends on that transition occurring sooner rather than later, and if there is a way to sustain that support through the muckraking, a strong carbon tax could be the ideal tool for rapid decarbonization.