We need to shake ourselves loose from governments that are beholden to corporate interests and the elite. Like a snake shedding its skin we need to leave those politicians and their ideas behind.
The type of awareness that Greta has raised for climate change is unprecedented. No one could have anticipated that a 15 year old girl from Sweden sitting alone outside of the Swedish parliament could have turned that single action into a worldwide movement. But she did and the reason it worked is that it was a genuine stand against a ruling class that stopped paying attention to the 99%. I think we need to be very mindful to not tell young people who have the most to lose, what they need to do, what is achievable and what will work.
We need to learn from the misguided exchange that Senator Feinstein had with a group of passionate students (7 -16 yrs) from the Sunrise Movement. After the senator heard their pleas to address the climate crisis she said:
I’ve been doing this for 30 years. You come in here and say it has to be my way or the highway. I don’t respond to that…I know what I’m doing. Maybe people should listen a little bit.
With all due respect to Senator Feinstein, I don’t think she has the first clue as to how to address this emergency. She and her political allies like Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are stuck in the past. And in that same light, I think we also need to be weary of the billionaire class that likes to think that they can solve problems like “superheroes”.
As Anand Giridharadas explores in his must read book, “Winners Take All”, billionaires have a way of solving problems in ways that maintain the status quo. Whether by accident or by design billionaires and the corporate elite avoid systemic solutions that could erode some of their wealth in favour of “market solutions” that shelter their wealth or even give it a chance to grow. That’s the beauty of “doing well by doing good” it looks like you’re trying to help, you think that you’re trying to help but in the end, you’re only helping yourself by sharing your wealth in ways that leave the door open to accumulating more wealth. I explore this in greater detail in my article titled, “How Billionaire Greed Ruined a Perfectly Good Strategy Called Corporate Sustainability.”
The beauty of “doing well by doing good” is that it looks like you’re trying to help, you think that you’re trying to help but in the end, you’re only helping yourself by sharing your wealth in ways that leave the door open to accumulating more wealth.
So, no thank you Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill McGlashin, Meg Whitman and Jack Ma and any other righteous billionaires who suddenly feel like they have what it takes to save the planet — just pay your taxes and your unpaid bills for the social and environmental harm that you caused and we’ll take care of the rest.
The reality is that no one really knows what to do or how this will play out. Each day the playbook is being written and those young people just might have the best chance of writing a winning script.
The time for incrementalism has passed — we squandered that option. A climate catastrophe is heading our way and small tweaks to business as usual won’t save us. We must adopt drastic measures to make sure that we don’t exceed our carbon budget and we must view incrementalism as a supplemental approach not the main strategy.
Business For Good?
The time has come for us to call corporate sustainability and the rest of the CSR inspired initiatives for what they are — a cover to distract the public from the tidal wave of harm that business is unleashing. The outputs from business over the last 20 years have degraded every major ecosystem on the planet and it’s turned an urgent climate challenge into a full blown emergency.
The concept of “business for good” is perhaps the single greatest oxymoron of our time.
The concept of “business for good” is perhaps the single greatest oxymoron of our time. A direct line can be drawn between our climate crisis and the poisoning of our economic and political systems by corporate elites and Billionaires. Thanks to their political support (interference) both financially and through their influence as “elites” they have been able to turn a somewhat balanced capitalist system into a climate plundering and wealth hoarding disaster. There’s a good reason that climate change has become a political issue — there are literally billions and even trillions of dollars that were stolen, both directly and indirectly, from average citizens during the last 40 years. So who better to take responsibility for funding the cleanup and the creation of a new economic system that those very same bandits.
Politicians don’t have to follow the neoliberal script which has failed us on so many fronts. They still have the choice to make decisions on behalf of voters and not their corporate donors. We need to stand firm and elect new governments that will work for the 99% while simultaneously holding the elite responsible for the oversized harm that they caused.
If someone is convicted of murder, we don’t put their parents, siblings aunts, uncles and neighbours in prison. The person who commits the crime is the one who “does the time”. But somehow when it comes to the crime of destroying our planet’s ecosystems, those who created, maintained and profited from the system are asked to pay equally along with everyone else for the harm that they caused. In our gut we know that this is wrong — it upsets our sense of fairness and yet the politicians and media have many of us nodding our heads, thinking that this is a foundational aspect for addressing climate change.
In our gut we know that this is wrong…
Before you start arguing about how all of us need to alter our habits and do what we can — wait — I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t change. I think we should all try to bike or walk more often, eat less meat, fly less, carry cloth bags for grocery shopping and use refillable water bottles and coffee mugs. What I am suggesting is that when it comes to a financial penalty (carbon tax), those who created the system and captured the lion’s share of its wealth should pay according to the oversized harm that they caused; they should not be able to pass the bill along to ordinary citizens who are struggling to make ends meet.
According to Greta, in a recent speech at the “People’s Climate March” outside the Danish parliament, just one day after a reported 1.8 million young people skipped school in 2,350 cities to join a global climate strike:
“Everyone and everything needs to change but the bigger your carbon footprint, the bigger your moral duty.”
I would add this…
“The bigger your contribution to creating the wealth hoarding and climate plundering system and the more wealth that you extracted from it through your direct or indirect lobbying efforts, the bigger your responsibility, both morally and financially.”
The Carbon Tax Flaw
A carbon tax for everyone feels a lot like a political strategy cooked up by the corporate elite, billionaires and neoliberal thinkers to appease voters and make them think that the politicians are on the job solving climate change (fake leadership) while in fact it’s mostly about protecting the super rich from paying proportionally for the harm they caused.
…it’s mostly about protecting the super rich from paying proportionally for the harm they caused.
The fact is, at least in Canada, that the tax alone isn’t expected to achieve anything near the necessary systemic changes that will give us our best chance of hitting our Paris targets. At best, it’s a partial and incremental solution that is underwhelming considering our dire predicament — we simply don’t have 20 or 30 years to wait for massive behaviour change.
We need new thinking. We need to consider the carbon tax as the right tool that is being deployed in the wrong way.
Designing a Climate Protecting Economy
We need to shake ourselves loose from governments that are beholden to corporate interests and the elite. Like a snake shedding it’s skin we need to leave those politicians and their ideas behind.
The guiding principles for a Climate Protecting Economy are that it:
- Takes its cues from science,
- Serves the 99% not the corporate elites and billionaires
- Rewards behaviour that creates societal wellbeing and simultaneously punishes behaviour that creates harm
- Targets those who created and profited from the system with a ”climate protection tax” to help pay for the transition.
We need to get past the fantasy that the “market” can solve global environmental challenges like climate change and plastic pollution and accept that regulation must play a key role.
B) Gratuitous Uses of Energy Need to be Tamed
We must immediately slow down the unnecessary burning of fossil fuels. We need to go beyond symbolism — if ordinary people feel the pinch from an extra 10–20 dollars a week at the pump or on their home heating bills, then we need to ensure that those who have vast wealth and who are using our atmosphere as their personal trash bin, also feel the pinch. There’s no point in having a tax that’s financially meaningless for those causing the most harm. Here are some energy tax ideas that target extreme wealth;
a) 10,000% percent tax on fuel for private jets (and yachts)
b) 1000% tax on first class plane tickets.
c) 200% tax on the purchase price of any car worth more than 100k
d) 1000% tax on energy bills for any homes that are larger than 8,000 sq. feet
C) Turn the Taps Off
Climate and ecosystem destroying activities that don’t disrupt daily life must be stopped using all available government tools. An easy starting point for this policy would be a(n):
- Immediate end to all oil and gas subsidies
- Immediate end to all pipeline projects
- 5% interest surcharge on oil and gas loans or lines of credit
- 1000% increase on oil and gas insurance policies
- Ban all plastic bags, bottles, straws, cups, plates and utensils as well as coffee cups and pizza boxes that use fossil fuels in their manufacturing process.
D) Incentivize Climate Protecting Behaviours
There are many behaviours that can reduce our reliance on fossil fuels — we need to encourage them with incentives paid for by the “Climate Karma Tax” (details below). Some ideas that we can consider are:
a) Pay people to ride bikes or walk to work
b) Pay people to plant trees
c) Make public transit free
d) Pay people to eat a vegetarian diet
e) Pay people to upgrade the insulation in their homes
f) Invest in city geothermal energy projects — especially on parkland
g) Invest in renewable technology like Toronto’s deep lake cooling that utilizes cold water from the depths of Lake Ontario to cool downtown Toronto office buildings.
E) Wide Scale Government Initiatives (paid in part by the Climate Karma Tax)
a) Each country will plant 10 trees per citizen within the first year
b) All carbon taxes paid by citizens for their car, home or grocery store food, who have incomes below 500k, will be reimbursed 100% via the Climate Karma Tax plan — more details below.
c) Massive investment in;
i) innovation designed to bring new technologies to market
ii) protecting cities from floods
iii) cooling centres for oppressive summer heat
iv) relocation fund for citizens whose homes are destroyed by climate fueled disasters like forest fires and floods
v) renewable energy grid projects
vi) financial assistance and reeducation for anyone who loses a job because of the transition
What Will Actually Change?
There’s no doubt that a full scale shift to a climate-protecting way of life will require changes in our lives BUT what will actually change? Remember that the other side of the coin is a climate disaster:
- We will have to remember to bring containers, utensils, bags, cups etc. when we go out for coffee or eat meals on the go.
- We will design a new system for ordering take out — no more wasteful containers or pizza boxes.
- Those of us who like to use fossil fuel burning machines like ATV’s, motor boats, race cars, motorcycles or snow machines for leisure activities, may find that these activities are more expensive
- Some grocery store food with a high carbon footprint may be more expensive for those who earn more than 500k/yr.
- Airplane travel may be more expensive for those who earn more than 500k/yr.
How Will We Pay For It?
The time has come for those who accumulated enormous wealth via a rigged system to take responsibility for their collective harm and pay up via the Climate Karma Tax.
Each year, for the next 7 years, 2229 billionaires from around the world who control a staggering 9 Trillion dollars will pay for the entire planet’s carbon emissions starting at a rate of $50/tonne and rising by $10/tonne each year. Based on Canada’s carbon tax model, extrapolated to each country based on their % of Global GDP (80 Trillion), the total cost for year 1 is expected to be 1.15 Trillion. This amount will be matched by the countries on a GDP weighted basis. The inaugural bill will be issued in the first week of January and the billionaires will have 7 days to decide amongst themselves how to pay for it.
The only way to avoid the tax is to reduce emissions by at least 15% each year. The metric that will be used to gauge success will be global GHG emissions along with other wellbeing metrics to ensure that mass impoverishment isn’t the chosen path to avoid the tax.
Billionaires will finally be on the same team as everyone else and whether they are acting for the climate or for their own financial interests, doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that they are properly motivated to use their influence to drive immediate legislative changes to prevent a climate breakdown, or if they choose, they can slowly watch their fortunes disappear.
This essay is meant to be an outline for a way forward. It’s not a policy paper, or a political strategy and it’s not intended to open a values based discussion on what type of government ideology is best. It’s simply meant to evoke conversation.
To read more about the “Climate Karma Tax” please click here.
Brad Zarnett is a sustainability strategist, thought leader and speaker. He is also the Founder of the Toronto Sustainability Speaker Series (TSSS). You can follow Brad on twitter: @bradzarnett, LinkedIn: Brad Zarnett and now on Medium Brad on Medium