The Billionaire Inspired “Climate Karma Tax”: Part II

May 29, 2019 1:05 PM ET
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Has the carbon tax been effective at lowering global GHG emissions? In a word no, but maybe it’s not the tax itself that’s flawed but rather that it’s never been properly targeted at the people who are holding back progress.

2229 Billionaires have amassed approximately 9 Trillion dollars by creating a rigged system that enriches themselves while plundering the planet. How can we incentivize those self proclaimed, “big-brained problem solvers” to aggressively address climate change? Here’s an idea – set new rules to the game so that the faster they fix it, the more of their wealth they keep.

In my first article on the Karma Tax titled, “Forget the Carbon Tax: The Climate “Karma Tax” Is The Perfect Solution,” I looked at the big picture of how our economic and political system ended up to be a playground for the corporate elite and billionaires and how we might motivate them to help prevent a climate breakdown. In this article, I take a deeper look at why we as consumers are incapable of driving the necessary changes without the “blessing” of the corporate elite.

Twisted, Complicated and Even Bizarre

The obvious tactic for a global environmental challenge like climate change was, and still is, a regulatory response but the corporate elites, wall street, fossil fuel companies and billionaires who control our economic system, largely oppose it. They have a good thing going and they have no appetite for change that could possibly erode their vast fortunes. They use their influence to block or stonewall most progressive government legislation while simultaneously working to streamline their wealth hoarding machine. What should be straightforward and simple becomes twisted, complicated and even bizarre.

They use their influence to block or stonewall most progressive government legislation…

Rather than put a ban on harmful activities or charge higher environmental fees to discourage behaviour and help pay for the inevitable cleanup, governments give companies leeway with vague deadlines, if any, to continue their harmful behaviour while they look for ways to deal with their impacts. The only reason that this might appear to make sense is that we have been conditioned by corporations and the corporate owned media to think that this is somehow a reasonable approach. It’s like walking into your home, seeing a foot of water on your main floor and learning that someone left the upstairs bathtub running. Instead of running upstairs to turn off the water, you deduce that the real problem is that there is too much water on the main floor and that you need to get rid of it. The idea of turning off the bathtub never enters your mind…the water must continue to flow, damage and all, much in the same way that nothing can interfere with business. Only a government that is compromised in its ability to make decisions for the benefit of the 99.9% would think like this.

Let’s consider the issue of plastic pollution and in particular, single use plastic. There is no reason why single use plastic bottles, straws and bags can’t be immediately discontinued. For those who like to look at the minutia rather than the big picture – yes there are some people who are physically unable to hold cups and need straws and there are some places where you might need plastic bottles but for the vast majority of people in the developed world it’s not necessary. So, why are they still being manufactured?

Can We Force the Change?

Some argue that if we all do our part as environmentally aware consumers, we can change the system. This strategy relies on incremental behaviour change which could take 20 years. That option has been squandered – we’re out of time – we have an emergency and we need radical solutions now. But that’s only a small piece of the narrative.

The evil brilliance of our predicament is that corporations have created a environmental plundering consumption machine that has systematically turned our precious forests, lakes and ecosystems into dollars and cents, while conveniently sending the cleanup bill to the government. They don’t want to stop the gravy train so they’ve convinced the public that this is their problem to solve. Then they sit back and carefully monitor the system to be sure that any new solutions or legislation don’t interfere with their carefully manufactured form of capitalism.

…corporations have created a environmental plundering consumption machine that has systematically turned our precious forests, lakes and ecosystems into dollars and cents…

In simple terms, they don’t want to turn the bathtub off – they would rather you frantically bail out your living room while they stand by and commiserate with you, but the machine must continue along.

We’re not in this position because we’re not doing our part! You can’t blame consumers for doing what’s legal, convenient and less expensive when legislation could turn that all around tomorrow. If companies need to find a new business model or retool then so be it – when did business become a risk free endeavour that needs to be protected by government?

We Need to get Their Attention

The Climate Karma Tax is not so much about using the money from billionaires, although it would be nice to have access to it, but rather, it’s about finding a way to engage them so that they stop interfering with progressive legislation. If they can’t see how a climate breakdown will be devastating to all of us or if they think that they can ride it out on a flying carpet made of 100 dollar bills, then we need to get their attention and align their thinking with the rest of us.

The current consensus for the carbon tax is that we all need to pay it so that we can begin to change our collective behaviour. This is pure neoliberal nonsense. It’s just another billionaire inspired politically compromised solution that misplaces the burden on ordinary people while shielding the elite from taking a proportional responsibility for the harm that they caused.

It’s just another billionaire inspired politically compromised solution…

Sometimes when everyone is sure that there’s a perfect a solution to a problem, it’s time to take a closer look and this is a textbook example. Carbon taxes have not been effective and they have done very little if anything to lower global emissions – in 2018 CO2 emissions hit their highest level in recent history. But maybe it’s not the tax itself that’s flawed but rather that it’s never been properly targeted at the people who are holding back progress.

The Bill is Due

The time has come for those who accumulated enormous wealth via a rigged system to take responsibility for their collective harm and pay up.

Each year, for the next 7 years those 2229 billionaires will pay for the entire planet’s carbon emissions starting at a rate of $50/tonne and rising by $10/tonne each year. Based on Canada’s carbon tax model, extrapolated to each country based on their % of Global GDP (80 Trillion), the total cost for year 1 is expected to be 1.15 Trillion. This amount will be matched by the participating countries on a GDP weighted basis. The inaugural bill will be issued in the first week of January and the billionaires will have 7 days to decide amongst themselves how to pay for it.

Billionaires will finally be on the same team as everyone else…

The only way to avoid the tax is to reduce emissions by at least 15% each year. The metric that will be used to gauge success will be global GHG emissions along with other wellbeing metrics to ensure that mass impoverishment isn’t the chosen path to avoid the tax.

Billionaires will finally be on the same team as everyone else and whether they are acting for the climate or for their own financial interests, it really doesn’t matter. What’s important is that they are properly motivated to use their influence to drive immediate legislative changes to prevent a climate breakdown, or if they choose, they can slowly watch their fortunes disappear. Introducing the “Climate Karma Tax.”

This is not a drill!

Note: Practically speaking this idea would have to take place country by country and countries that don’t participate would be subject to high tariffs. Additionally there would also have to be an “exit fee” for billionaires who try to renounce their citizenship and move to a country that is not part of the climate karma coalition.

If the US and China don’t join the coalition then it’s hard to imagine how success could be achieved but for now let’s just assume that a new US government comes into power with this as a campaign promise.

Click to read the first article on the Karma Tax titled, “Forget the Carbon Tax: The Climate “Karma Tax” Is The Perfect Solution,”

Brad Zarnett is a sustainability strategist, thought leader and speaker. He is also the Founder of the Toronto Sustainability Speaker Series (TSSS). You can follow Brad on twitter: @bradzarnett, LinkedIn: Brad Zarnett and now on Medium Brad on Medium