Fighting climate change does not mean going vegan

Here at R Street we like to think of ourselves as red meat conservatives. I mean that literally. On Friday, R Street will host its annual “Meatfest,” where R Street staff will celebrate the close of another successful year by heading to Fogo de Chão and eating unlimited quantities of tasty cooked animal flesh. Meat is to R Street what cowbell is to Blue Oyster Cult. You can never have enough.

So it was pretty disturbing for me to read that special taxes on meat are being contemplated in order to fight climate change:

Some investors are betting governments around the world will find a way to start taxing meat production as they aim to improve public health and hit emissions targets set in the Paris Climate Agreement. Socially focused investors are starting to push companies to diversify into plant protein, or even suggest livestock producers use a “shadow price” of meat — similar to an internal carbon price — to estimate future costs.

The idea is being analogized to taxes on tobacco and sugar.

Ideas like this give climate advocacy a bad name. Granted, climate change is a thing, and R Street has long supported a broad-based carbon fee to deal with the risks of climate change. But when governments selectively impose taxes on some sources of emissions but not others, they can give the impression that “fighting climate change” is less about protecting the planet than it is about waging culture war fights indirectly. As I wrote previously about a proposal to tax having children because of their carbon footprint:

Calling a tax on kids a carbon tax is a bit like calling a tax on Coke (but not Pepsi) a soda tax. The tax might reduce consumption of one type of soda (namely, the best kind), but it’s unclear the extent to which it would reduce overall soda consumption, as opposed to just encouraging people to drink other types of soda.

A lot of skepticism about climate change is driven by the idea that elites just want to tell people how to live their lives, what lightbulbs to use, what car to drive, what not to eat. And that’s bad! A plane trip to Burning Man has a larger carbon footprint that grilling steaks in your backyard. Ignoring the first while attacking the second is not only bad policy, it’s bad strategy. Because meat is delicious, and if you tell people they have to eat veggie burgers to stop climate change, they are going to tell you to scram.

  • jfreed27

    Yes! Why even bother with the paid deniers and front groups who thrive creating the delay of a false climate debate?

    A revenue neutral carbon fee with a dividend, makes enormous sense (cents, too)! !
    Economists and scientists say it is the best way to create healthy and safe communities. It is not a tax. This way citizens would RECEIVE the carbon fees as a monthly check, for example. That would protect us from price spikes in dirty energy.

    Polluters PAY the fees, so it holds fossil fuel corporations responsible for the damages. or “externalities”, they cause, hundreds of billions of dollars per year (Harvard School of Medicine).

    It would more rapidly limit further pollution than by regulations alone, as happened in BC Canada with a similar, popular policy. BC lowered emissions and also lowered taxes with their fees.

    A study by respected non-partisan Regional Economic Modeling, Inc. found the dividends would help to create 2.9 million additional jobs in 20 years, while reducing carbon emissions 50% in that time, as fees stimulate low carbon technologies .

    To those who reject the science: perhaps nothing will change your mind. But what have you got against cleaner air, less asthma in our kids, fewer heart attacks, and more money (the dividend) in your pockets?

    To those accepting the science: Any effort to
 limit the problem of climate trauma is worth it. For example: the cost of sea level rise ALONE is so great that no effort to prevent it is unwarranted.

    Elon Musk was asked “what can we do? ” Musk: “I would say whenever you have the opportunity, talk to the politicians.,,,,. We have to fix the unpriced externality [social cost]. I would talk to your friends about it and fight the propaganda from the carbon industry.”

  • Johann Zerbe

    Carbon taxes can be great, they push consumers and industry gently to change their behaviour, and revenue can be recycled to incentivize shifting towards renewable energy. Up here in Canada, we have a federal carbon tax starting in 2018, with about 80% of canadians already paying a provincial carbon tax. Would love to see something similar down in the States.

    I do take issue with this article, as it is largely unresearched, and a rather weak argument. People who claim there should be an extra tax on meat usually do so for the reasons that meat consumption has health consequences, which cost the system (especially under socialized health care) and that these consequences are not reflected in the price.

    While the meat industry should in theory be subject to paying the carbon tax ( I’m not fully sure but there are some agricultural industries that are exempt from carbon taxes in Canada) there would still be ‘externalities’ not accounted for by the tax. The amount of carbon tax paid is calculated by estimated CO2 emissions, either through fuel usage or in production emissions. I’m guessing that meat producers pay carbon taxes only on the fuel they use, and perhaps on the emissions of their facilities (electricity/heating etc.) However as we know, and what I believe the ‘elites telling people how to live their lives are saying’ is that cows release insane amounts of methane, and consume huge amounts of feed and water throughout their lifetimes, which gives them a massive carbon footprint. These methane emissions and costs to society (water is cheap but becoming scarce) aren’t truly reflected in the cost of meat.


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