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.