It’s time for a carbon tax

Earth Day. Conceived by Sen. Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin and organized by Seattle’s Denis Hayes, the mission is to educate and mobilize Americans around the environment. For the political class, Earth Day is cause for enviro speechifying and “I care” platitudes that echo with the lightness of Christians who only attend church on Easter.

Yes, we love the Earth. Regarding climate change, cleaning up Puget Sound, ocean acidification, habitat degradation, and energy security, however, rhetoric by itself is a poor salve. We need plans, and we need to act.

To battle climate change and rebuild America’s infrastructure, the most prudent strategy is what writer Thomas Friedman terms a “radical center” solution. A phased-in carbon tax could raise a trillion dollars over 10 years. It would placate conservatives if it’s linked to individual tax-rate cuts while directly addressing climate change. A carbon tax of $20 a ton is a radically sensible brainstorm that merits consideration. And as Friedman warns, “If we treat every good big idea as ‘dead on arrival’ then so are we.”

Closer to home, we can encourage Republican U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert to pressure fellow Washington Republican and House Natural Resources Committee Chair Doc Hastings to give his and Rep. Suzan DelBene’s proposed Pratt River Wilderness bill a hearing and a vote. It’s time. Reichert’s credibility and farsightedness on conservation provide political leverage. The legislation will safeguard more than 22,000 acres of rare, low-elevation forest land in the Middle Fork and South Fork Snoqualmie River valleys. The bill also will protect nearly 30 miles of the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River and 10 miles of the Pratt River with a Wild and Scenic River designation.

We always need to eyeball extractive industries and their fallout. On Thursday, conservationist J. Michael Fay presented a slideshow at the UW’s Burke Museum documenting the ravages of a largely unregulated $8 billion-a-year mining industry in British Columbia. We figure we live in Eden, but one Google Earth picture is worth 1,000 activists.

When Earth Day was first celebrated in the Pacific Northwest 43 years ago, a U.S. Senator with Everett roots observed, “As the relentless degradation of our environment moves at a faster pace, time is running out. We have begun the decade of decision, and the next few years will determine our ability to reverse the tragic course of the present. Whatever problems we face, nothing will seal our collective fate faster than disinterest, apathy or the despair of those who have no faith in our capacity to succeed.”

It’s a truism resonant today. We can succeed in saving our environment, presupposing we have the courage to act.

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