We all know that Donald Trump insists that he is too ignorant to recognize the dangers to the planet of human-caused climate change. While the NYT has pretensions of being more interested in science and reality, it printed a column this morning by Steven Rattner that suggests the opposite.
Rattner says that we have to do something about climate change, but quickly dismisses the idea of a Green New Deal as far too expensive. His alternative is a carbon tax that would start at $43 a ton and then rise at the rate of 3 to 5 percent annually. As authority, he cites a letter signed by 3,300 economists supporting the tax. (I was one of these economists. I disagreed with the emphasis on the tax route, but felt it important to have a statement from economists across the political spectrum that emphasized the urgency of doing something on climate change.)
While a carbon tax should be an important part of a solution to global warming, the claims advanced by Rattner are literally absurd. His column included a graph that shows emissions falling by 20 percent in 2021 when the tax is first introduced. They continue to fall rapidly so that by 2035 in the 3 percent increase scenario emissions are down by 31 percent from the baseline and in the 5.0 percent scenario they are down by more than 37 percent.
The reason this is absurd is that the levels of tax proposed by Rattner are very modest and would have only a limited effect on emissions. According to Rattner, the $43 a ton tax would add 38.2 cents to the price of a gallon gas. By 2035, in the 3.0 percent tax rise scenario, this would be up to about 58 cents. In the 5 percent increase, it would be up to 76 cents.
The idea that this sort of modest rise in fossil fuel prices would have anything close to this large an effect on energy consumption is absurd on its face. Currently, gas prices in the U.S. are around $2.80 a gallon. They had been over $4.00 a gallon earlier in the decade. That higher price was not associated with massively lower consumption. Rattner's tax doesn't even get us back to this level by 2035.
His projections of emissions reductions are complete inventions that make Trump's projections of tax cut-induced growth look conservative. It is outrageous that the NYT would print such a flagrantly inaccurate piece on such an important issue. A serious newspaper would immediately remove the column from its website and replace it with an apology/correction.