Guest Opinions

Tax on fossil fuels could move country toward energy independence

Aaron Swisher
Aaron Swisher

As of last week, wildfires were burning across six states in the South. For those of you familiar with this area of the country, the fact that wildfires could subsist in this area — let alone be prolific — is astounding. Yet there are still those who deny any sort of change in the Earth’s climate. Moreover, while 97 percent of scientists agree that these changes are caused by human activity, as a society, we still seem to be debating whether or not this is really the case. However, this manufactured debate, created by the fossil-fuel industry, is really quite irrelevant.

Not long ago Ronald Reagan claimed that sometimes it is better to be safe than sorry. During his presidency we were unsure how strong the Soviet Union was militarily. But Reagan made the case that we should overbuild our military, just in case the Soviets were stronger than we thought. The same principle applies to climate change. Even if there were real uncertainty as to whether climate change is caused by human activity, it would behoove us to take steps to mitigate it.

And the best solution isn’t that difficult. As part of a comprehensive economic package, our government should replace the lower brackets of the income tax with a tax on energy, such as a BTU tax. Since Republicans seem to favor consumption taxes over income taxes, there should be little resistance to this based on principle. This tax will drive up the price of energy created with fossil fuels. As prices rise, there will be a push to use less energy. This drive will not only help solve climate change, it will help us become energy-independent and put the country in a stronger strategic position for the long term. Instead of supporting cleaner energy alternatives with tax credits and subsidies, people would move into these alternatives based upon their price in comparison to fossil fuels. Additionally, as the price of energy rises in relation to the price of labor, there will be less of a push in the corporate sector to automate jobs — one of the main drivers of job loss in recent decades.

The climate is changing; we can see it with our own eyes. Those who’ve tried to convince us that this is not the case are now trying to convince us that there is nothing we can do about it. We can’t afford to believe their propaganda. Idaho farmers and ranchers could very well lose their livelihoods if we ignore the climate change problem by convincing ourselves that there is nothing we can do. On the contrary, we can not only help our environment, but our economy as well, if we craft the right solution. It would be better to attempt to solve this problem and later learn that there is nothing we could have done, than to ignore the problem and later learn that we could have solved it.

Aaron Swisher, of Boise, is an economist and the author of “Resuscitating America — An Independent Voter’s Guide to Restoring the American Dream.”