September 20, 2016

Will the Naive Left and the Self-Interested Kill the Most Significant Environmental Advance in Years?

The Sierra Club should be embarrassed.
The Washington Environmental Council should be embarrassed.
Seattle's Climate Solutions should be embarrassed
Global warming warrior Bill McKibben should be embarrassed
The Alliance For Jobs and Clean Energy should be embarrassed
Fuse Washington  and Puget Sound Sage should be embarrassed
The Association of Washington Businesses should be embarrassed
Nucor Steel, Kaiser Aluminum, Northwest Pulp and Paper, and the Avista Corporation should be embarrassed.
The Washington State Labor Council should be embarrassed.

These groups are putting their political agendas and perceived financial interests ahead of the general good.

For self-interested reasons they are ready to kill one of the most important environmental advances in years.

For self-interested reasons they want to destroy the chance to greatly improve the most regressive state tax system in nation.

Specifically, they are working against I-732, the Washington State carbon tax swap that will be on the ballot this November.   And they have nothing to offer to replace it.

I-732 is one of those wise, revolutionary ideas that come along all too rarely.  It starts with the most effective approach to reducing the use of carbon and one that uses the power of the free market:  a carbon tax.

But it doesn't use the money to grow the size of government.  Rather it gives the money back to the people and industry through reducing the sales tax by 1%, removing the B&O tax on manufacturers, and providing a tax credit to working low income people.  A carbon tax swap.   And it makes Washington State tax system less regressive.  Let me shown you.

This graph shows you the percentage of income spent on taxes for a married family with two children for various income groups.   Without I-732 (blue), Washington State has a highly regressive tax system with low-income folks (below $21K) spending nearly 17% of their income on taxes.  For those earning $21,000-$ 40,000 about 12%.   But if I-732 becomes law, we move to the yellow bars--much better and far less regressive.  I-732 would be the biggest boon to low income Washington State families in decades.

The most important and far reaching environmental advances in the U.S. have always been bipartisan.  Laws like the the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency, to name only a few.  In a country where no party is dominant for long, only bipartisan efforts have the staying power required to deal with environmental pollution and the protection of our State and planet.   I-732 has extraordinary bipartisan support with groups ranging from the Audubon Society and Democrats from many of our States' districts to Republican State legislators (such as Senators Steve Litzow, Joe Fein, among others), major business leaders such as Howard Behar of Starbucks, and hundreds of other organizations and groups (a partial list is here).

It quite probable that the vote is going to be close and the opponents noted above could make a critical difference.  So why are they opposing I-732?

First, there are those I call the naive-left.  These are folks that support the carbon tax, but don't like revenue neutrality--they want government to get the money and use it for climate justice and governmental energy programs.  They claim that I-732 is financially regressive and will still steal money from the state general fund.   They also claim that poor folks will be hit harder than rich folks form global warming and thus deserve special support.

Perhaps these folks mean well, but they are clearly mistaken on every count:

1.   A revenue positive carbon tax would lose support by moderates and many Republicans.   It would kill any chance of passage.
2.  I-732 will REDUCE the regressivity of the WA State tax structure.  In a revenue-positive plan, money will be taken away from poor folks (via a carbon tax) and not returned to them.  Thus, their plan would make the tax situation more regressive.
3.   I-732 is very, very close to being revenue neutral and estimates that found otherwise are in error.  The respected Sightline Institute set the record straight on this, as does the I-732 website.
4.  Government has proven itself inferior to the market in making energy decisions.  The 500 million Solyndra disaster is a good example of this.

5.  As shown in one of my previous blogs, the idea that poor people in our state will be hit harder by global warming is an easily disproven urban myth.

The Sierra Club, supposedly an organization that has environmental concerns front and center is not supporting I-732 because:

Communities of color and low-income people are almost always the ones most impacted by pollution and climate change, and as a result they need to be at the front and center of discussions for how to address the problem and mitigate the impacts of both climate change and environmental policy. That wasn't the approach taken by I-732

In truth, the Sierra Club's position is not only based on incorrect assumptions, but its actions directly harm the folks it claims to be most concerned about. I-732 will dramatically reduce taxes on low-income people and contribute to reducing carbon pollution. Several Sierra Club members have emailed me expressing their disgust with their organization's position...they plan to support I-732.  Perhaps they should support a different organization.

Bill McKibben and his 350.0rg group were strong supporters of I-732.  But then they changed their mind?  Why?  Here is what they said.

Our reason, above all, is that we want to support our allies in people-of-color-led climate justice groups that represent those on the frontlines of climate change. 

And "environmental organizations" like Climate Solutions might change their name to Climate Inaction.  "Climate Justice" has taken over some of the region's environmental action groups and they are willing to destroy any potential for progress for ideology, an ideology that has the most tenuous relationship with truth.  Perhaps the most destructive aspect of these groups is that they make dealing with climate change  a "we" versus "they" affair, with "we" being more seriously affected and deserving of public funds.  In truth, EVERYONE will be affected by climate change and EVERYONE must work on solutions.   They don't seem to understand this.

And then there are the self-interested.  Groups like the Association of Washington Businesses and major energy users (like Nucor Steel) are opposing I-732 because it will raise the price of carbon.   I-732 does displace some of the cost (by eliminating the B& O tax on manufactures and reducing sales tax).  The idea is that an increased cost of carbon will encourage these companies to reduce their carbon footprint by increasing efficiency, taking advantage of renewable energy, or other means.

But these companies don't want the hassle or to change the way they do business.  They want cheap energy.  And they clearly are not very concerned about the impacts of carbon pollution.  Some are even denying the global warming is a concern.

So in short, there is alliance between left-leaning, climate justice folks who want big government and funds directed to specific groups, and right-leaning energy-intensive industrialists who don't want to deal with global warming.  An unholy alliance if there every was one.  They even have a joint website.

The big question is whether the rational middle will be large enough to pass I-732.  Folks who want our state to deal with increasing greenhouse gases.  Folks that understand global warming is a threat that must be dealt with.  Folks who understand the importance of making our tax structure less regressive.  Folks who look beyond their own self interest and pocket book. And folks that understand that a bipartisan carbon tax swap could be an example that could stir the rest of the nation.

Want to help?  Check out the Yes on the I-732 website.  Help makes calls or doorbell. Contribute.  Or come to my talk on Sept 28th, a fundraiser for I-732 (see below).


My talk on Northwest Climate Surprises on September 28. 

During the evening of September 28, I will be giving a talk in Seattle at the Mountaineers in NE Seattle on Climate Surprises: Unexpected Impacts of Global Warming on the Pacific Northwest. 

You think global warming will simply bring warmer temperatures, drought, less snow, and more storms? 

Think again. The latest climate model simulations provide a far more nuanced prediction of what will happen here, with some of the predictions being quite surprising. This talk is sponsored by CarbonWa and the Audubon Society. To find out more or to secure tickets, please go here.


  1. Thank you Cliff for our kids sake...

  2. "energy-intensive industrialists who don't want to deal with global warming"

    Or perhaps they are simply able to see the reality of the GLOBAL situation... If carbon measures pass here in Washington, it will push the already struggling industry overseas where there are almost no environmental protection laws. Don't forget NUCOR is the state's largest RECYCLER. The steel industry faced 1.6 million tons of cheaply (dumped) imported steel just last year, from overseas mills that are operating with very little environmental oversight.

    This "feel good" measure will do the opposite of its declared intent.

  3. Sometimes people have to undergo a classic failure of ideology before they start thinking about practical compromise. Between this issue, which I agree is indicative of naive thinking, and the increasingly likely election of Donald Trump (aided by the left not supporting Clinton), the left is about to have a very bad period in history.

    We will likely see a major reversal of leadership toward slowing climate change (not that the record forward has been stellar) along with huge increases in income disparity and minority oppression. Republicans will have the Senate (likely), the House (for sure) and increasingly likely the Presidency.

    Adversity can become the foundry of compromise and bipartisanship, or it can be the death knell of it. So far it looks like the later. Like the UK and its challenges with Brexit, and the startling rise of anti-immigrant parties across normally progressive Europe, we are perhaps on the edge of a very dark period of history.

    Shame that it comes just when we need effective government and unity to attack the massive climate problems we face.

    Interesting lessons in history are about to begin. Plenty of examples there where ideology (on both sides) has led to catastrophe. Compromise and making slow, steady (often slow) steps toward solving problems is the only thing that has ever worked.

  4. I think they need to change their political marketing to the average voter who will vote for the phrase "tax cuts" but are dubious about environmental marketing. Phrases like "revenue neutral" are useless in getting out votes. Try "reduce business taxes" and "reduce sales tax" as the MAIN message. The goal is to win now, not to educate people about abstract future problems.

  5. "Government has proven itself inferior to the market in making energy decisions."

    I dunno. I'm happy to live in a state where government-built hydroelectric dams provide most of our power.

    And there are plenty of examples of "free market" energy ideas that flopped...think Enron.


  6. While Cliff Mass is unquestionably the expert on local weather (I've purchased several copies of his book, one for myself and many as gifts), his opinion on political matters is no more valid or trustworthy than anybody else's.

    This site has published the opinion that the loss of so much of our glacial ice in one summer was not a disaster, but the loss of a redundant jazz station would be a disaster. When it comes to politics regarding the environment, I just don't see Cliff Mass having any credibility whatsoever.

  7. While I'm in support of the measure and many of the same reasons you suggest, you are still pushing the very narrow minded idea of the "urban legend" about who will be hit hardest by climate change. The data you used in your argument about who will be hit hardest left out a huge factor; who can recover from being hit by climes change. You just left it at the numbers of who will be hit and not the impact and ability to recover from the impact. Even your data on who will and won't be hit is skewed and incomplete. You use essentially Seattle and the greater metropolitan area data and extrapolated it to the rest of the state. Suggest people are not living where they clearly are and mis represent there wealth. This is hugely flawed and was easy to point out by me and quite a number of people. But oddly you are still pushing the same idea without correcting the basic flaw in your hypothesis. An easy example is New Orleans post Katrina. Katrina and insuring flooding damaged both wealthy and poor areas extensively. If you go to the respective flooded areas now you will see the areas that had wealth before Katrina are doing well and nearly fully recovered. The areas that were poor are still in need of great help and much of those populations have never returned because of the lack of finances to do so. This is the same for my partners family who lost there house there but came from a solid middle class background. The y recovered well as they had flood insurance, full car insurance and a solid pension and savings to fall back on. The two neighbors suffered far more being poor loosing both there houses, car and all there belonged with no money or insurance to fall back on. They left to family in Texas never to return even though the express the desire to. The poor in New Orleans were hit much harder there than everyone else not because they were hit any harder by the storm but because of the lack of resources to recover. The same will happen here in Washington or anywhere else. Your lack of including that sort data in your argument even after having it pointed out by many people smacks of making the data fit your argument and I find that very disappointing.

    Climate change will hit poor people harder than any group, this is obvious on its face, as long as you include humans and recovery time in your data, not just who is hit. Even then your data is skewed and incomplete.....


  8. Cliff says:
    "Government has proven itself inferior to the market in making energy decisions. The 500 million Solyndra disaster is a good example of this."

    But an NPR story entitled "After Solyndra Loss, U.S. Energy Loan Program Turning A Profit"

    says the program actually did what it was intended to do.

    ""It literally kick-started the whole utility-scale photovoltaic industry," Moniz says. The program funded the first of five huge solar projects in the West. Moniz says before that, developers couldn't get money from private lenders. But now, with proven business models, they can."

  9. Talk to Puget Sound SAGE, Got Green, and the many other green groups you don't name here who are run by people of color and who do not support I-732. You're very out of line here in presuming to know or understand their perspectives.

  10. @Traveller - I think you just proved Cliff's most appropriately...

    "Specifically, they are working against I-732, the Washington State carbon tax swap that will be on the ballot this November. And they have nothing to offer to replace it."

  11. Solyndra? You mean one failure out of thousands of gov't supported solar upstarts that gets trotted out at Thanksgiving dinner every year? Is this Fox News?

  12. I'm sorry but I just don't believe that bickering over carbon credits or anything else is going to be useful in the long term -- what will fix our problem is the discovery/development of a replacement energy source that will make fossil fuels obsolete. Period.

    Most of the research is happening overseas. The Germans will likely get a working fusion reactor online while we're arguing about this nonsense, then license it back to us after basing it off our preliminary (and decades-old) designs.

    None of the proposed solutions even puts a dent in our global CO2 production, more and more of which is happening outside the borders of the US.

  13. Houseboat guy....I am ONLY talking about folks in Washington State. Please read by blog. ...cliff mass

  14. Maybe I'm naive, but do 40% of Washingtonians really make less than 40K/year? That seems like a high percentage.

  15. Well it is good to see that Cliff has tempered his political prose and views. His blog did give this former resident something to think about. After reading the blog and the proposed measure I hope the state will pass it. It may well serve as a good model for California-where sadly I now reside (Grandson and a beautiful Spanish wife)!

  16. I don't think it is fair to call non supporters naïve. Or to blame those left of the very "conservative/right wing" Democratic party, for its own demise.

    Yes so many folks in the bottom 40% struggling day to day trying to make ends meet. Tax credits do not help, we need to not be taxed in the first place.!!!! Raising a family and making less than $40k, is a pay check to paycheck struggle, with no savings no fat 401k. A tax credit does not help at the pump when one chooses between fuel and a birthday gift for a child. "Sorry little Tommy.. You have to wait until April to get your birthday present.."

    Also that chart demonstrates this tax slams the remaining middle class. The 40k to 65k income are hit the hardest. Why? The middle class is way overburdened already!

    I clearly see that WEALTH generated carbon.

    Consumption=carbon generated

    Those responsible for generating so much of the carbon anyway should pay the tax this includes the wealthy Wall Street gang, who got rich on selling consumption.

    Seriously, the under $65k a year working class should not carry so much burden.

    Regressive tax on those that generated so much of the carbon sounds like a good thing.

    Use those $$$ to provide affordable green alternatives to the bottom 60%!!!

    That will be fair and reduce hydrocarbon consumption.

    So many of the Baby Boomer age group are really removed from just how bad it is for the rest of us.

    Discontent with the status quo runs high globally. Only blame yourself when the system crashes, you are not dealing with the plight of the younger working class quick enough.

    BREXIT and Trump are only the beginning.

    You can not ignore the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Ignoring the root of discontent, will make it so carbon emissions are the least of our worries.

  17. Kudos to Cliff Mass for driving this conversation!

    Current environmental infighting over I-732 is sooo reminiscent of the solar energy infighting of the mid to late 1970s. Then too solar advocates and other environmentalists were divided over means. As now, their debate was about public institutional policy vs. markets: liberals vs. conservatives; oil interests vs. renewables; nukes vs. solar; personalized energy vs. utilities; academia vs. anti-intellectualism.

    That strategy ultimately failed as just about the time liberal policies like solar tax credits began taking entrepreneurial (conservative?) roots ,the Reagan/Bush administration killed the alleged needed “incentives” and left a marketing inexperienced solar industry to die. By refusing to market itself, it died from its own government dependency. Big Oil and Big Coal cheered, purchased solar’s remnants or forced them to flee to Germany, Japan and eventually China. Divided, the US economic decarbonization pathway (then called the emerging solar age) lost at least 20 years of progress. Then as now, is a divided eco-polity still easy prey for carbon financed politics? Culturally has little changed?

    I-732 will never be perfect but could catalyze a people-driven carbon pricing institutional framework, one that other states and Congress might learn from or tweak for their own purposes. Certainly, I-732 should not be a zero sum challenge among environmentalists but an invitation to start putting Washington’s own carbon emissions house in order.

    As Mr. Mass implies, cooperation in taking this first big step is critical. Last summer, 337,000 people signed on to hear an electoral carbon debate. Instead the silence of environmental thumb-sucking has become deafening. Washington voters deserve better.

  18. I agree that we should accept compromises. However, the market does not provide solutions better than government. All of the best advances in technology have been from government programs or government incentives for companies to invest in R&D. Almost every amazing feature of your iPhone was thanks to public/private partnerships. The private sector knows how to grow capit, it does not innovate and the inventive is to slash R&D not grow it.

  19. Well, the REAL real cause of this environmental quandary, and many others, is the one none of these groups wants to touch: overpopulation.

    My wife and I chose not to have kids largely because we see that as the true "put up or shut up" action one can take to make a difference. The fact is, we could heat our home with a styrofoam bonfire every night for the rest of our lives, and we would STILL have a smaller carbon footprint than the one all of our non-existent descendants would have had under any realistic circumstances.

    I don't bring this up in polite company - it's a very personal decision, and one that goes against both social custom and human instinct. But I'll pull it out occasionally, when some eco-warrior gets up in my grill because I'm not bailing the ocean fast enough with the thimbles they like to hand out.

    It's never a pretty moment when I ask somebody why their commitment to Mother Earth ends at their certainty that THEIR little snowflake (or two, or three, or four . . . ) is worth adding to the billions of passengers already riding around on our happy little rock. If I listen close during the awkward silence that ensues, I can just hear the sound of footsteps as an elephant gets escorted out of the room.

  20. Why is income level an argument for this?

    This should ballance out beautifully. . Create less carbon (like a person with little money would ) pay less tax. Start a business melting iron using a coal fired stove, you should have to pay for the damage. Or think of a better way to do it (creates a nice edge for smart entrepreneurs to come up with cleaner ways of doing currently dirty tasks.)

    I agree that this is the way (tax/ charge $$) that our system (capitalism) is supposed to handle this sort of problem (pollution and it's side effects). And the fact that the government doesn't get the $$ is great!

    Strange to read everyone's different views on something that seems (to me) so clearly right.

  21. "Washington State has the second cleanest electricity grid in the entire country. We rank just behind Vermont in the latest state-by-state comparison of who has the least carbon-intensive electricity supply. Even better, Washington has the nation's most affordable commercial electricity. These advantages are due in no small part to our state's abundant hydroelectric resources."

    This is one reason I have a hard time understanding why we're even discussing a carbon tax in this state.

  22. "Maybe I'm naive, but do 40% of Washingtonians really make less than 40K/year? That seems like a high percentage."

    It's somewhere in that rough ballpark, but that's a bit low. This source says the 40th-percentile household income for Washington is $48,942 (based on 2014 census data):

    For a regular full-time job, that's $23.50 per hour, although in reality the majority are probably dual income families, with some proportion being a part time second earner.

    This doesn't sound that bad to me, but perhaps you live in Seattle or Bellevue, in which case your perception is quite a bit different. Keep in mind, only half the state population lives in the three highest cost of living counties: King, Pierce, and Snohomish. In Spokane county, our state's third largest for example, the median income is $47,250 (2010 data), and most of the rest of the state goes downhill from there. The 40th-percentile there probably is about $40,000. The cost of living is significantly lower, however, so the percent of people living in poverty is only a few points higher than in Seattle.

    But since you brought up a question about that graph, the percentages of income are what confuse me. I went to the URL referenced in the image, and it doesn't make it any more clear. It claims, for example, that families making less than $21,000 a year pay 4% of their income in business taxes. I'm curious what businesses the typical poverty line household is running to incur these taxes. Same for property taxes by people who can't afford to purchase homes. Granted, they do pay the taxes ultimately in their rent, but that cost is rolled into their housing cost and becomes more hazy.

    In short, more than just their slightly low income data seems odd. For one more example, the referenced cite treats cigarette taxes as a bad thing.

  23. Cliff, just a note of clarification. never endorsed or unendorsed I-732. It was only 350 Seattle, a small local chapter, whose leadership went back on a unanimous endorsement from its membership and made a top-down decision to unendorse I-732. the international organization never took a position, and typically doesn't do so on state initiatives as far as I am aware.

  24. You are missing the point, Cliff. Global warming has never once been about the planet temperatures, or climate. It has always been, and always will be, a "progressive" tax scheme.

  25. Placeholder - thats a little rich don't you think? I mean just consider for a moment the implications of what you just stated.

    You, someone who I doubt has the slightest skill in climatology, lectures a climatologist on the real meaning of global warming.

    Have you ever read the book, The Adventures of Don Quiote? I think you should, before you read another Breithbart report.

  26. I've read the SIghtline analysis, which and am now firmly convinced to vote against the proposal. Why? because of the asymmetry of the downside risks of revenue loss v revenue gain, within the range of uncertainty. To pull out a few numbers, Sightline estimates a about 80 million/year loss in the first four years of implementation; WA Department of revenue $200 million/year. In addition, Sightline correctly points out that the the predictions are highly variable -- pointing out scenarios in which the measure might produce rather than lose revenue.

    Sightline frames the 80-200 million loss in the context of the ++ billion dollar budget as being a relatively small percent of the overall total. But 200 million is real money, that we spend on real purchases (say, for example, the 300 million that we spend on "natural resources" in the budget). If we have revenue loss as a part of the change, cuts would have to be made.

    And we are already at a budget that is below the minimum we need to spend (take, for example, the estimates of required revenues to implement McLeary, at about 700 million).

    So, to use the household analogy (I know, usually terrible), I'm already telling my children to go without breakfast 'cause we can't afford it, and now, you're asking me to swap one job for another, that might result in me loosing income that means that they'll have to go without the fruit I give them at dinner.

    Someone suggested in the SIghtline comments that the way to make this proposal truly revenue neutral would have been to tie it to the carbon tax raised -- sales tax, for example, decreased by the amount the carbon tax raises -- and not to promise the cut up front.

  27. zb. You are making a false argument. A correct analysis suggests I 732 is probably slightly revenue positive and even if slightly revenue negative, the legislature could make small changes to compensate. Not a significant issue but one that those opposed to I732 for their own reasons are exaggerating to stop it...cliff

  28. Lost me on using the fox/trumpian Solyndra false narrative. Actually accelerated deployment driven by smart government policies, both domestically and around the world, have created economies of scale and brought down the learning curve faster than almost anyone expected for solar, wind, LED lights, batteries, and electric cars. LEDs cost down 90% since 2010. Li ion batteries down from $1000/kWh in 2009 to $145/kWh today. Solar PV cost dropping like a rock. This doesn't happen by accident but is a direct result of govt investments and early market incentives to build scale which drives down costs. The best chart of the year

  29. Rich,
    Let me explain. This is not a foxtrumpian narrative. Solyndra failed and the government lost a half billion dollars. R&D is good and the government SHOULD support that. But the government investing in companies and invading the market simply does not work. That is my point...cliff


Please make sure your comments are civil. Name calling and personal attacks are not appropriate.

Is Global Warming Causing Aircraft Turbulence to Increase?

 After the turbulence encounter by a Singapore Airlines aircraft,  there has been a slew of articles claiming that severe turbulence inciden...