The idea that pollution should be taxed isn’t new. But returning the money to the people impacted—in other words, everyone—is a little more novel.
That’s what our proposal would do. We think polluters should pay. Not only will this penalty drive polluters towards cleaner solutions—it’ll help the rest of us deal with the impacts of climate change.
Three-quarters of the revenue from our carbon tax would be returned directly to residents in the form of a quarterly check. It’s particularly important to us that all residents share in the money raised by this tax.
In that way, our work overlaps with the movement for a universal basic income (UBI). What is a UBI, and what does it have to do with the carbon tax? Sarah Glazer explains in a recent article published in CQ Researcher.
A bipartisan idea
UBI has a long history, endorsed by everyone from 19th-century land-tax advocate Henry George to The Wire writer David Simon. Notably, the idea of a universal basic income has supporters on both sides.
Liberals like it because they think everyone should have a basic, decent standard of living—a floor which a UBI can secure. Conservatives like that the cash transfer doesn’t expand the government as much as a welfare program, and gives recipients the freedom to choose how to spend their receipts.
There are important differences in these motivations and their implications for the conception and implementation of a UBI. But interest has been strong enough for politicians to test the idea; experiments in UBI are currently underway in Utrecht, Netherlands; Nairobi, Kenya; and Ontario, Canada.
But one of the best pieces of evidence for the rebate we will offer has a longer history, and is closer to home. The Alaska Permanent Fund sends a check to Alaskans every year. (As you can imagine, it’s very popular.) Their checks, like ours, will be paid for by fossil fuel revenue.
Our proposal goes a step further. It makes polluters pay for the costs they’ve offloaded onto the rest of us—costs like asthma from air pollution, water damage from flooding, and even, as time goes on, possible impacts like higher food prices or lower economic productivity.
What it means to our campaign
The rebate is not a universal basic income, but a partial basic income. The money involved is substantial—enough to change people’s lives, if not enough to live on. A typical DC family can expect $500 in first year of our proposal—enough to pay for food for a month, a movie ticket a week, or (almost) a bus trip a day.
Moreover, we’ve made the choice to send more money to low-income residents and households. While not a feature of all UBI programs, this is in keeping with three key principles of our coalition: the poor have:
- Borne the brunt of pollution to date
- Will bear the brunt of climate impacts
- Are least resourced to deal with both 1) and 2).
It’s also a practical consideration: poorer households must pay a greater share of their income towards energy bills. The higher rebates should shield them if energy companies pass those costs on.
We are excited for the chance to give back to people. Some of the revenue from our proposal will go to green infrastructure investments and local businesses . But the rebate is at the heart of our proposal—it’s democratic, it’s equitable, and it will help people.
That’s what this is all about, right?
- Hayden Higgins, DC Divest