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Should Congress enact, and the president sign, a carbon tax?

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From the pages of In Business magazine.

Welcome to "Political Posturing," featuring opposing views on current issues important to Wisconsin's business community. In this column, small business owner Brad Werntz and manufacturing manager Steve Witherspoon offer their opinions from the left and the right, respectively.

Yes, climate change is an existential threat.

By Brad Werntz

Flying through the clouds at a pretty good clip as I write this, I’m thinking we’re burning a ton of fuel. Meanwhile, in the news today is a warning that the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Shelf is both inevitable and unstoppable, and so we should expect sea levels to rise between four and 11 feet in the next few decades. Now, as I think about the issue of a carbon tax, both my inner hypocrite and my inner pessimist have the best of me, and I wonder: Really, what’s the point?

But this just illustrates how easy it is to fall into the wrong line of thinking. When faced with an existential threat, it’s neither cool nor prudent to shrug it off, nor is this response supported by history. When the Germans invaded Poland and the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the Greatest Generation didn’t respond with: “Meh, dealing with all of this will wreck our quality of life, so we’ll just leave this for future generations …”

Instead, they galvanized, engaged, and solved some really big problems. Did they have to sacrifice to do it, and change their way of living? Yes, of course they did, and these sacrifices and changes are now part of what makes America great.

And as sacrifices go, a carbon tax isn’t much by comparison. In fact, a 2013 study by the Brookings Institute found that a carbon tax would promote economic growth, reduce budget deficits, reduce redundant and inefficient regulation, reduce unnecessary subsidies, and reduce the costs associated with climate change. Really, what’s not to like?

Honestly, my only concern about a carbon tax is that it could let people think that it’s enough to deal with the existential threat that climate change represents, and they’ll check the box for “Solved That!” Unfortunately, this is nowhere near the truth. In fact, we need to do more, a lot more quickly.

Brad Werntz is a small business owner in Madison.

(Continued)

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