VPIRG Executive Director Paul Burns and UVM professor and Gund Institute economist Jon Erickson made the case for pricing carbon pollution in a debate against opponents from the climate-change-denying Ethan Allen Institute Thursday night in Montpelier.
Burns and Erickson went back and forth with the Ethan Allen Institute’s Rob Roper and John McClaughry over whether Vermont has a role to play in addressing global warming and whether a tax on carbon pollution — when paired with other tax cuts and investments in alternatives to fossil fuels — is a reasonable solution.
Burns opened — in front of a standing-room-only crowd — by stating that the “climate is in dire straits” explaining that it’s “being damaged everyday by fossil fuel companies that are making huge tremendous profits, polluting our environment and dumping their waste into our atmosphere for free.”
Burns and Erickson said that putting a price on carbon pollution is the simplest, most effective policy we could implement to reduce our carbon emissions, grow the Vermont economy and help Vermonters transition to a clean energy future.
Erickson explained that carbon pollution taxes are supported by “economists left, right and center” and pointed to other carbon pollution taxes around the world that have “undeniably led to less waste, more work, fairer economies and a clear path forward to effectively addressing the problem of climate change.”
Their views were in stark contrast to Roper and McClaughry who did not agree that addressing climate change was an urgent matter.
“We believe in climate change, whatever that is and we believe that it’s real, whatever that means,” McClaughry said.
He then went on to state that “carbon is not a pollutant”– calling it “beneficial plant food.”
Similarly – Roper argued that even if one were to believe the overwhelming consensus of the world’s climate scientists – Vermont acting alone would have no effect on mitigating climate change.
Burns countered by stating that while Vermont acting alone won’t fix climate change, he couldn’t imagine a solution in which Vermont “sits on the sidelines.”
“There’s no magic, perfect answer here,” Burns said. “But together we have to do something and throwing up your hands and saying ‘there’s nothing we can do to make a difference’ – that’s not a solution.”
Full video of the debate can be found here – and it will also be replayed on ORCA media at a time TBD later this week.