A carbon [tax] experiment

Posted July 7th, 2007 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in Civics 101

It turns out, Dingell wasn’t just talking about the possibility of needing a carbon emission tax   fee a few weeks ago. OK, he hasn’t actually introduced a bill yet but, in the NYT this morning, he elaborates on his plans to introduce a bill, and says he is “counting on failure.” In other words, this will be an experiment intended to show that “Americans are not willing to face the real cost of reducing carbon dioxide emissions” and shake up the political debate about global warming. Responding to global warming or any other form of change ultimately rests on the capacity to make controversial decisions, which is what is really being put to the test here – so the heat is on!

I’m away from home so will unfortunately miss the just announced DC Live Earth concert but found out that there is a Live Earth Concert right here in Charleston SC – where I happen to be, with the lead performance by none other than Danielle Howle, who often plays in DC. She is a storyteller par excellence so maybe I’ll blog that later this evening. And just before that, none other than Stephen Colbert will make the first pitch – of a pint of “Stephen Colbert’s Americone Dream” ice cream, to Jerry, (of Ben & Jerry’s), at the Riverdogs baseball game. Then he will be part of the radio broadcast for an inning of the game, and lead the crowd to sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” I may never make it home…. 

Hang on to your seat – the tectonic plates of policy discourse are shifting

Posted June 21st, 2007 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in Civics 101

Is Congressman Dingell getting ready to retire or something? David Roberts unearthed the following remarks from CongressNow which is only available by subscription:

…Boucher, who chairs the House Energy and Commerce energy and air quality subcommittee, last night said that no decisions have been made about a carbon tax, despite comments by House Energy and Commerce Chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) yesterday that a carbon emissions “fee” may be necessary to affect climate change in addition to a cap-and-trade scheme….

…”My own judgment is that we are going to adopt a cap-and-trade system and some form of carbon emission fee to achieve the reductions we need,” Dingell said when discussing climate change legislation he intends to bring up in September…

Wonder if the Pigou club had anything to do with this? I know he didn’t call it a “gas tax” but, as summarized in a previous post – the Pigou Club Manifesto published by Greg Mankiw as an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, outlines all the reasons policy wonks keep pushing for a gas tax increase, in spite of campaign consultants who tend to steer clear of such proposals. It is good for creating incentives to reduce consumption, carbon dioxide emissions, and road congestion, and places some of the burden on oil companies who would [maybe] reduce prices as consumption goes down. He also argues that consumption taxes are better for economic growth than income taxes because the latter discourage saving and investment, and therefore encourage R&D for gasoline substitutes. And, last but not least, it is a national security issue. To which I would add, that if we all knew what we would get in return, there might even be greater willingness-to-pay a higher gas tax. It would be a small price to pay for a dedicated fund for mass transit that would reduce the need to drive. Like in Europe, where fuel taxes are used to fund an excellent public transportation system. He concludes: “don’t expect those vying for office to come around until the American people recognize that while higher gas taxes are unattractive, the alternatives are even worse.”

Other previous posts about a gas carbon tax: Seeing purple – which summarizes some remarks made by Daniel Bromley, and a follow-up post,


Addendum: And in case you need any more good arguments for a gas tax, here is a link to everything posted on the topic by the geniuses over at the Environmental Economics blog. The Ecological Economics blog has also had quite a bit of commentary on this one.

must read

Posted June 13th, 2007 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in Civics 101

Eric Boehlert’s column at Media Matters, re: The Media Assault on Reason, provides an excellent review of the media reviews of the packaging of Al Gore’s book. To To find out what is actually in Gore’s book, you are just going to have to read the actual book – the whole thing. I’m sorry to have been out of town when Gore was here to present it and am only half way through it but will eventually have some comments on it in context of the issues of framing and science, i.e., putting science into context, and creating space for news that doesn’t fit into lazy narratives about who invented the internet, which is, of course, what this blog has been about all along…

Al gets it

Posted May 17th, 2007 by Sylvia S Tognetti and filed in Civics 101

As attention gathers around Al Gore’s new book, The Assault on Reason, I’m waiting to see if Frank Luntz helps to reframe and build consensus around climate and related matters, as Gore is actually doing, or whether he continues to just call for building consensus and finding “ways to be environmentally protective and not anti-economy,” – and dismisses Gore and friends as angry and hysterical, in which case he can be dismissed as “a Luntz” and his extended 15 minutes, if not over, will become a lesson for the history books. Regardless, Al seems to be ready for him and his kind – below a few quotes from an excerpt that just appeared in Time magazine:

American democracy is now in danger—not from any one set of ideas, but from unprecedented changes in the environment within which ideas either live and spread, or wither and die. I do not mean the physical environment; I mean what is called the public sphere, or the marketplace of ideas.

It is simply no longer possible to ignore the strangeness of our public discourse. I know I am not alone in feeling that something has gone fundamentally wrong. In 2001, I had hoped it was an aberration when polls showed that three-quarters of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was responsible for attacking us on Sept. 11. More than five years later, however, nearly half of the American public still believes Saddam was connected to the attack.

At first I thought the exhaustive, nonstop coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial was just an unfortunate excess—an unwelcome departure from the normal good sense and judgment of our television news media. Now we know that it was merely an early example of a new pattern of serial obsessions that periodically take over the airwaves for weeks at a time: the Michael Jackson trial and the Robert Blake trial, the Laci Peterson tragedy and the Chandra Levy tragedy, Britney and KFed, Lindsay and Paris and Nicole….

…When I first ran for Congress in 1976, I never took a poll during the entire campaign. Eight years later, however, when I ran statewide for the U.S. Senate, I did take polls and like most statewide candidates relied more heavily on electronic advertising to deliver my message. I vividly remember a turning point in that Senate campaign when my opponent, a fine public servant named Victor Ashe who has since become a close friend, was narrowing the lead I had in the polls. After a detailed review of all the polling information and careful testing of potential TV commercials, the anticipated response from my opponent’s campaign and the planned response to the response, my advisers made a recommendation and prediction that surprised me with its specificity: “If you run this ad at this many ‘points’ [a measure of the size of the advertising buy], and if Ashe responds as we anticipate, and then we purchase this many points to air our response to his response, the net result after three weeks will be an increase of 8.5% in your lead in the polls.”

I authorized the plan and was astonished when three weeks later my lead had increased by exactly 8.5%. Though pleased, of course, for my own campaign, I had a sense of foreboding for what this revealed about our democracy. Clearly, at least to some degree, the “consent of the governed” was becoming a commodity to be purchased by the highest bidder. To the extent that money and the clever use of electronic mass media could be used to manipulate the outcome of elections, the role of reason began to diminish.

As a college student, I wrote my senior thesis on the impact of television on the balance of power among the three branches of government. In the study, I pointed out the growing importance of visual rhetoric and body language over logic and reason. There are countless examples of this, but perhaps understandably, the first one that comes to mind is from the 2000 campaign, long before the Supreme Court decision and the hanging chads, when the controversy over my sighs in the first debate with George W. Bush created an impression on television that for many viewers outweighed whatever positive benefits I might have otherwise gained in the verbal combat of ideas and substance. A lot of good that senior thesis did me.

The potential for manipulating mass opinions and feelings initially discovered by commercial advertisers is now being even more aggressively exploited by a new generation of media Machiavellis. The combination of ever more sophisticated public opinion sampling techniques and the increasing use of powerful computers to parse and subdivide the American people according to “psychographic” categories that identify their susceptibility to individually tailored appeals has further magnified the power of propagandistic electronic messaging that has created a harsh new reality for the functioning of our democracy.

In the article he also says:

If I do my job right, all the candidates will be talking about the climate crisis. And I’m not convinced the presidency is the highest and best role I could play. The path I see is a path that builds a consensus—to the point where it doesn’t matter as much who’s running. It would take a lot to disabuse me of the notion that my highest and best use is to keep building that consensus.

But if he should he decide to run, bloggers will have his back this time.

Luntz may be history anyhow as it isn’t clear he would even know how to begin to reframe climate and related issues. In the Frontline interview, he also said: “you tell me where global warming fits in on the more immediate issues –  Iraq, Iran, terrorism, health care, prescription drugs, education…” I will, but not today. It takes much more effort than finding jingles that resonate and this isn’t my full time job. If we want to bring people around we have to go through the painstaking and discomforting process of constructing a new frame of reference rather than using inadequate ones just because they work. This dilemma is what motivated me to start blogging in the first place.


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