New York–Now that carbon dioxide has been declared a pollutant by the EPA, numerous local jurisdictions around the country, whose finances have been badly hammered by the current recession, are considering the imposition of “Exhalation Taxes.”
New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg and California’s Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger are reportedly preparing a joint statement citing the legitimacy and inevitability of taxes on CO2 emissions in general and on human exhalations of CO2 in particular. Humans emit CO2 into the atmosphere and thus contribute to global warming every time they exhale, in other words, every time they let out their breath. Some studies have estimated that taking all human beings together their exhalations account for as much as 8 per cent of all human-caused CO2 emissions. This is more than the proportion emitted by all privately owned aircraft in the world and is thus an important and fruitful target for reduction.
The Obama Administration has until now preferred a system of “cap and trade” as the means of limiting CO2 emissions, rather than any direct tax on emissions. Under that system, the Federal Government will limit the overall total amount of permissible emissions but allow individuals to emit as much they wish by buying the emission rights of others. A high official in the New York City government, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the Mayor and the Governor have arranged for a joint task force, financed at the Mayor’s expense, out of his personal fortune, to study the feasibility of adapting this system to human exhalations. A particularly troubling aspect of any adaptation, the source explained, is how to combine it with plans by the Federal Government gradually to reduce the overall total of permissible emissions.
Among the task-force’s assignments are determining the extent to which people might use the oxygen they breath in more efficiently (oxygen-efficiency option), so that they would be able to correspondingly reduce their exhalations of CO2. Another potential solution under study is the possibility of sequestering the exhalations in jars and various other containers, so as to reduce the overall release of CO2 into the atmosphere (CO2 sequestration option).
No official estimates have been released as to what the average person might expect to have to pay in order to exhale in compliance with the law, but some insiders place it initially as working out to as little as 50 cents per day. According to polls conducted among individuals who identify themselves as environmentalists or as political moderates, the general consensus is that “we can live with that” and “it’s a small price to pay, to keep the planet safe.”
Support for higher exhalation taxes and/or more stringent cap-and-trade limitations is indicated by the reported brisk sale of bumper stickers urging “polluters” to stop exhaling altogether. The stickers say, “Stop Exhaling, You God-Damned Polluting Bastards.” It is unclear whether the drivers of the vehicles which carry the stickers count themselves as polluters too.
In contrast to the extremist position expressed in such bumper stickers, key Obama Administration officials and Congressional leaders are reportedly prepared to guarantee that “no American will ever be allowed to be in a position in which he cannot afford to pay for all of his reasonably necessary exhalations.” The Federal Government, they say, will provide whatever financial subsidies as may be necessary to assure everyone’s right to exhale on terms that he can afford.
Copyright © 2009, by George Reisman. George Reisman, Ph.D. is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics (Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books, 1996) and is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Goldwater Institute. His web site is www.capitalism.net and his blog is www.georgereisman.com/blog/.