As I rolled out of bed after a few hours of sleep yesterday morning, I rolled onto a writer group chat message that said, “According to Elon, Biden said no to a carbon tax.” My first thought was, “please tell me this isn’t what I think it is.”
I don’t know the full context of the conversation between Elon Musk and President Joe Biden’s administration, but on Joe Rogan’s podcast, Elon said, “I talked to the Biden administration, and they were like ‘Well, this seems too politically difficult.’ And I was like, ‘Well, this is obviously a thing that should happen.’ And by the way, SpaceX would be paying a carbon tax too. So I’m like, you know, I’m like, I think we should pay it too. It’s not like we shouldn’t have carbon generating things. It’s just that there’s got to be a price on this stuff.”
Again, I don’t know how the topic came up or in what context (maybe the administration was just asking Elon for his perspective on the best thing to do for the climate and Elon provided his opinion in a total political vacuum), but the viability of a US carbon tax in the next 2 years is somewhere below 0%. (I know, that’s not possible. It’s just a rhetorical device to make my point as clear as possible.) It’s more likely — much more likely — that Jeff Bezos will die poor than that you’d get Joe Manchin (not to mention several other senators) to vote for a carbon tax.
Honestly, I hope to the graciousness of Martian kings that Elon didn’t think he could actually convince the Biden administration to go for this. Because it has nothing to do with the Biden administration. The Biden administration could try to make Dogecoin the currency of the United States and China, but it’s just not going to happen. And I’d say that pushing the Biden administration to do that would be equally as useless as pushing the Biden administration to try to get a carbon tax through Congress, but the former would actually be more useful — it would at least be entertaining, a good dinner table story, and not painfully grating.
First of all, if Elon does really want this (I’m quite sure he does), he needs to stop using the phrase carbon tax and instead use terminology that actually has a chance of getting onto a legitimate bill. (Elon, you can talk to Climate XChange — or me — for a quick rundown on useful terminology as well as viable carbon pricing options.)
Secondly, a little tad bit of help getting some completely useless fossil-loving Republican senators out of office would be critical — and that is an area where Elon’s influence could go a long way. Frankly, you could call it the “Free Ice Cream For Republicans Bill” and it wouldn’t get a Republican vote in today’s Senate if it put a price on carbon.
Yes, carbon pricing was a Republican policy proposal once upon a time. Some prominent Republicans even pushed hard for it in the past decade. (Rest in peace, George Pratt Shultz — I’ll pour one out for you tonight.*) However, in case ye haven’t been paying attention, this is not the party of Lincoln! This is not even the party of Reagan. Heck, darn, gosh golly, this is not even the party of George W. Bush (who also wouldn’t touch carbon pricing with a 420-foot pole). This is the party of … okay, well, let’s not even get into that. The point is that you absolutely cannot get carbon pricing through Congress without a larger number of Democrats in the Senate, enough to outvote fossil-country Democrats like Joe Manchin.
Is carbon pricing logical? Is it the most free-market option to deal with the existential societal risk of climate catastrophe? Yes and yes, but that doesn’t matter at all to a party that gets a lot of funding from fossil fuel companies, will happily let any and all companies pollute as much as they want, and will actually protect the person who almost had them murdered from any political repercussions.
I’ll just end with this: There are tons of superb cleantech policies Elon Musk could push for when talking to the Biden administration. If he’s not doing that and instead pushing for a carbon tax, he needs some policy/political advisors on hand, and should listen to them. Do it for the doges at least.
*A cup of coffee, that is.
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