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

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.



No, a carbon tax would be ridiculously ineffective.

By Steve Witherspoon

Activists tell us that a carbon tax will reduce carbon emissions and thus reduce carbon in the atmosphere and slow or reverse global warming. This is a gross exaggeration.

Quantifying the reduction of carbon emissions from a carbon tax cannot be predicted. Any overall reduction would likely be negligible because the tax does not prohibit the activity — it just makes the activity more expensive. Business will absorb the increased cost, find other ways of reducing cost, or pass on the cost to the consumer. In the end, a carbon tax will punish consumers and put more money in the hands of the government, which won’t spend it to solve an unsolvable and naturally recurring trend.

The EPA tells us in its Carbon Monoxide Trends report that since 1980, there has been an 84 percent decrease (8.8 ppm down to 1.4 ppm) in the national average. But wait — we’re being told that we need a carbon tax to reduce overall carbon emissions in order to slow or reverse climate change. Yet we’ve reduced carbon emissions over the past 37 years by 84 percent, and we’re still being told that the climate is getting worse, which requires drastic action like a new tax to fix it? How stupid do they think we are?

The carbon put into our atmosphere by fossil fuels is only a small portion of the carbon put in the atmosphere from other sources. Some estimates say that fossil fuels contribute less than 5 percent of the total carbon in our atmosphere and the United States produces about 15 percent of the world’s CO. If the USA stopped using all fossil fuels overnight, it would only make a 0.75 percent difference in overall global carbon.

So, they want us to believe that an ineffective carbon tax is going to reduce the U.S. carbon output, enough to change the overall global concentration and thus fix climate change. I’m sorry but the numbers and the logic make no sense. I repeat: How stupid do these people they think we are?

Steve Witherspoon works in manufacturing management in Oregon, Wisconsin.​

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