This is part 2 of a 3 part series. Please read part 1 here.
Take for example the apocalypse to end all apocalypses (literally, in that if the more radical projections are to be believed it is already too late to stave off Armageddon): climate change.
From the outset, it should be noted that to believe that climate change is not an immediate catastrophe in the making, in need of immediate and drastic action on the part of the world community, is not to deny its scientific foundations nor the necessity of evolving in how we produce and consume energy as a species. Human-caused climate change is real, but as to the severity of the effect and the long-term consequences of current trends there is anything but consensus.
And in that vein, (typically) left-leaning Americans,who in their words sound the alarm and militate for immediate and severe cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, do not act as though climate change will actually cause the death of millions or fundamentally and in the very near-term transform life on Earth. Ask a proponent of the carbon tax whether they would make a dollar-for-dollar trade with the income tax, such that a carbon tax replaced the income tax in a revenue neutral manner, and you will almost certainly be laughed out of the debate. Yet, if the effects of catastrophic climate change are just around the corner, is it not worthwhile to trade whatever mitigation of inequality and perpetuation of Rawlsian justice was effectuated by the income tax for a policy that will literally save the world?
Think about it. While it might not be your first choice, as a believer that the worst predictions of man-caused climate change will hit before we as a society develop the technological and economic capacity to innovate and grow our way past the crisis are you not duty bound to secure carbon cutting measures, which will move the nations of the world toward zero emissions and a more benign effect on the planet, in any way possible? If your immediate reaction is to reject such a proposal because a carbon tax is inherently regressive,and the income tax at least marginally ameliorates some of the worst inequalities in society, fair enough. But drastic sea level rise and massive crop failures, combined with more frequent severe weather events, are also regressive, in that it is much more difficult to deal with these problems if your income puts you in the lower quintiles. And catastrophic climate change is the ultimate regressive tax on the income and longevity of the world’s poor. You might not like it, but with these stakes, if you truly believe they are so high, how can you not accept such a compromise, if perhaps through gritted teeth and with muffled curses of political opportunism that would be all too justified?