Climate Change Denial, Oil Taxation, and Politics: Key Takeaways from Carnegie Endowment’s Smart Tax Release

Photo By Len Radin/CC By -NC-SA 2.0


Hayley Hoverter-Trujillo|June 30, 2016


“Trying to achieve a safe climate without the marketplace is doomed to fail,” former Carnegie Endowment President Jessica T. Matthews said in her introduction to the Smart Tax, which she unveiled June 15th.

This event, “Pricing Oil for a Safe Climate,” featured presentations from both authors, Deborah Gordon and Jessica T. Matthews, as well as a panel, which featured Sheldon Whitehouse, a junior Senator from Rhode Island and Walter Minnick, a co-founder of the Partnership for Responsible Growth.

Jessica T. Matthews is a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment, a former member of the board of the Wall Street Journal; not to mention, former VP of the World Resources Institute. John Kerry posted a video on Carnegie’s website lauding her accolades. Deborah Gordon is director of the Energy and Climate Program at the Carnegie Endowment who primarily focuses on oil research. The full report is about 35 pages and can be found online.

They said in the report that “a smart tax can be administered at the refinery level, allowing refiners to pass the charges up the supply chain to producers and crude transporters and down to product transporters and consumers in a mechanism comparable to netback pricing” (2).

One of the most interesting discussions to come out of the talk regarded climate change’s representation in politics.

“Republican officials are not climate deniers. They understand the problem. The Problem is not convincing them, but the problem is making it politically safe,” Minnick said.

As an example, he referenced the “Scalise resolution,” written by Majority Whip Steve Scalise, which condemned the carbon tax. It passed in the House on June 10th, with no republican’s dissent. “It’s short term. Ryan lets the House dictate what they vote on. They’re going to be a minority party after November. It’s ingratiated in them that they don’t have a political right… [so they want] no more taxes,” Minnick added. Another reason for the vote is that it’s “harder to vote for something you voted against in the previous Congress.”

Minnick echoed Matthews’ sentiment that business’ absence in debates about solutions to climate change is futile. He identified the main issue with getting climate legislation passed: “Republicans are responding to constituent pressure, rather than leading with their chin. That has to come from business pressure. Business has been silent because they don’t want to get involved with a partisan issue during an election year.”

“I live in the senate. What’s very clear to me is every Republican that has walked through climate change all get to the same place,” Senator Whitehouse said later. “I did about 20 congressional meetings to understand how to get Republicans to vote for something that makes a great deal of sense.”

“There are members of the senate that would be helpful. They’re afraid that their party will get caught on the wrong side of history,” Whitehouse added.

The panel also spoke more broadly about support for climate change initiatives across parties.

Walter Minnick’s Partnership for Responsible Growth began running advertisements in the Wall Street Journal on June 14th that attacked the publication’s stance on climate. According to their website, it’s a “12-part ad series” aimed at “[bringing] mainstream climate science to readers of this publication’s opinion pages, and show that pricing carbon is a bipartisan, market-based solution to the climate challenge that will increase economic growth and American competitiveness.”

Senator Whitehouse says that he hopes that the advertisements create a mindset shift.  He referenced one such advertisement at the event: “Wall Street Journal had an ad on the editorial page that said they’re worse than Exxon mobile.”

The Washington Post reported that the publication charged thousands of dollars more for the advertisement.

The source for the WSJ critique is a new study by Climate Nexus, “How The Wall Street Journal Opinion Section Presents Climate Change,” which looked at 20 years of their opinion pages, finding overwhelming evidence of climate change denial.  “In 2009 for example, the Journal published nine editorials opposing cap and trade. 46 Op-eds, however, frequently deal with science but are often written by authors with a vested interest in the fossil fuel industry” (page 7).

Tuesday evening, one such author, a Wall Street Journal columnist, Holman Jenkins Jr., attacked the advertisements.

He said he believes that “the evidence of climate change is not what causes climate change.” He went as far as to say that the IPCC agrees with him, saying that their uncertainty level in their latest report has a “less than 100% confidence that a human role accounts for half the warming between 1951 and 2010.” His assertion that this is evidence against causation is puzzling, especially given that all statistics involve uncertainty levels. It’s important to note that the latest IPCC report, AR5, actually categorizes this finding as “extremely likely, ” and the uncertainty level is very low. as you can see from the chart on page 6 of the report.

He goes on to say that we don’t know that climate change is manmade, which is “why the IPCC relies on computer simulations.” His dismissal of those who believe climate change is manmade as “nincompoops” might dispel hope that the advertisements are performing as intended.

But the panel remained hopeful. “We’re trying to reach who needs to be persuaded. It’s okay to oppose climate fact. It’s not okay to oppose the editorial page,” Minnick said.

Although the Smart Tax seems promising, it’s clear from the event that we have a long way to go before climate science fuels universal public support of climate action.

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