Businesses supporting tax to deal with climate change - Activate World

Businesses supporting tax to deal with climate change


Seattle is experiencing the effects of climate change first hand. It’s a contributing factor in the increasing number of forest fires that blanket the city in smoke. It has damaged oyster farms in nearby Puget Sound by altering the acidity of the Pacific Ocean. And the declining snowpack and earlier snowmelt in the mountains are jeopardizing summer water supplies. Now, climate change is on the Nov. 6 ballot, as a statewide initiative that would impose a $15-a-ton fee on carbon emissions that cause global warming.

If passed, Initiative 1631 would begin in 2020, with an annual increase of $2 until the state’s greenhouse gas reduction goals are met. Revenue from the fee would be used to fund various environmental programs and projects and provide support to communities that might be adversely impacted by rising energy costs in the short term. It could also raise up to $2.3 billion for clean energy investment by 2025.

Washington-based companies, such as REI, Expedia, and Microsoft, have supported the campaign and helped validate the benefits of the measure for Washington’s economy and communities, and the importance of taking action quickly.  If the measure passes, Washington would be an example of how to put a price on carbon, considered to be a central issue in efforts to slow global warming. “This is new ground for everybody,” John Larsen, a director at the Rhodium Group, told TIME. “If Washington gets this in place, it’s going to provide a different picture of what’s possible.”

The ballot initiative triggered a fight for votes that pitted big oil refiners against a coalition of environmental groups, unions, Native American groups, communities of color, business leaders like Bill Gates, and Gov. Jay Inslee (D). It also set a new Washington state record for spending on a ballot issue. The Clean Air Clean Energy coalition to say “yes” on the ballot has raised more than $15 million, including $1 million each from Gates and former New York mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. Big oil companies belonging to the Western States Petroleum Association — including Koch Industries — have given more than $31 million, according to the state’s Public Disclosure Commission.

Initiative 1631 was developed by a coalition of environmental, labor, tribal and social-justice groups, the Seattle Times reports, and would have a board made up of state officials and members of the public to determine how the money is invested. The carbon charges are considered fees rather than taxes to prevent the state legislature from diverting the earnings to other projects. Money raised by the carbon fee could be used for helping people buy electric cars, thinning fire-prone forests, building new solar and wind farms, and climate education programs.


  • California’s Legislature passed a cap-and-trade system in 2013 that puts a price on carbon emissions. But if I-1631 passes on Nov. 6, Washington would be the first state to approve carbon pricing through an election.
  • British Columbia has had a carbon tax for more than a decade, at a higher rate than the one proposed by I-1631, according to the Seattle Times. Despite price increases for consumers and business the tax remains popular and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is considering a similar tax nationwide.
  • “With the Trump administration going backwards on fighting climate change, states around the country are taking matters into their own hands,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “I-1631 holds polluters accountable while investing in clean energy … It could be a game-changer in the fight against climate change.”

Quests and Actions (Q&A):

  • Bill Gates says that it’s not easy to be out in front of an issue. But, in his official endorsement of the measure, he said that leading the nation on taxing carbon pollution will make any sacrifice “worth it.”  What are the benefits of being out in front in this particular issue? Do you agree that it’s worth it?
  • To make a cut of just 1 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions would require removing about 216,000 cars from the road in Washington state. What can business leaders do to spur public transportation options that help reduce the carbon footprint?
  • Expedia says it has a bias toward action and “are proud to support I-1631 as part of (our) broader goal to balance the carbon impact of travel with proactive efforts to keep our air healthy for future generations.” Should businesses lead efforts to pass major climate policy given the inaction and political gridlock at the federal level? 

Sources: FortuneNBC NewsReutersSustainable BrandsThe Atlantic, Union of Concerned Scientists, Washington Post

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash