“Son, we wanted to do something, but the oil companies said gas prices would go up.” (Wikimedia)

If you’re reading STB, you likely need no reminder that climate change is an emergency that requires urgent action. So we’ll dispense with the general case to take on some of the arguments, often in bad faith, deployed against this ballot measure.

First, familiarize yourself with the specifics of the measure. The carbon fee will discourage carbon-intensive habits and directly fund, among other things, transit and transit-oriented development. Purely from that perspective, our endorsement is inevitable.

And yet, we also enthusiastically endorsed I-732, last year’s measure, which used carbon tax revenue to cut regressive taxes instead of funding climate remedies. We find I-1631’s spending priorities to be largely worthy. But even if you don’t, recall that climate change is an emergency. We can’t wait for the ideal policy to come along to start taking action.

“Yes, fire season keeps getting worse, but I didn’t want to give spending power to an unelected board!” (Wikimedia)

Indeed, I-732’s failure suggests there is no political coalition for climate action with tax cuts. Many of the forces now criticizing “spending” and the costs borne by consumers had no interest in a remedy that returned money directly to taxpayers.

There are many attacks that are pure falsehoods, but the other that is superficially true is that the measure will not solve climate change on its own. While technically accurate, it ignores the power of collective action when nations and regions all over the world commit to change their economies to solve a crisis. Moreover, climate change is not a binary outcome: while it is too late to avoid at least some catastrophes, one degree of warming is better than 1.5, which is better than 2, and so on. Every large economy, like Washington State, that makes an effort will help a bit. And finally, a victory for I-1631 would provide a model of how climate policy can work at the state level, raising the possibility of action across the United States.

Vote for I-1631. The costs are modest, the benefits are large, and the fate of humanity may depend on it.

The STB Editorial Board consists of Martin H. Duke and Brent White.

27 Replies to “Yes on I-1631”

  1. I wonder if the IPCC report will have an effect on the outcome of this initiative. I know in my case it moved from a likely yes to a solid yes.

    1. The only thing that will convince those who aren’t yet convinced is personal pain, loss, and costs.

      It’s easy to deny what’s happening when it’s not happening to you. It stops when you become personally impacted.

      Same thing when a lifelong gay-rights opponent discovers he has a gay son. All of the sudden, it’s different. Same when lifelong anti-choice people find out someone they love or someone they impregnated are pregnant and can’t support the child for whatever reason. All of the sudden, it’s different. Same thing when a lifelong cheerleader for the war on drugs sees it hitting people where they live with the opium epidemic. Then all of the sudden, a more compassionate approach makes sense.

      Same with Climate Change. Until the water is lapping on their doorstep, until the fire is burning their neighbor’s house… they won’t do anything.

      1. Yeah, with 12 years to not screw this up for GENERATIONS into the future, we should definitely hold ourselves to a high and sober messaging standard.

        You’re right, the past and present data don’t show what will happen in the future. When I say “they won’t believe it until their neighbor’s house is on fire,” I’m talking about the future.

        Congratulations on being technically correct. Ask yourself what the point is, if without serious, scary, and yes, sensationalist talk RIGHT NOW to shake people out of their unforgivable complacency, we’re going to do nothing to stop it.

        “Yes, honey I know, but technically we hadn’t seen that outcome yet, so it was very important to use accurate language. Now pack your bag. We have to abandon the state of Florida.”

      2. @Ron, The cited Cliff Mass blog post also states, “In the FUTURE, as temperatures warm profoundly (particularly during the second half of the century), the influence of human-produced global warming on our wildfires will clearly increase substantially.”
        The opportunity to avoid that future is now, not in 2050 (just 3 decades away) after it has already arrived.

      3. I generally think of the opposite of “technically correct” as “incorrect” rather than “sensationalist” but I guess I’m old-fashioned.

        Personally, 1631 strikes me as “Something must be done! This is something; therefore we must do it!”

        I voted and campaigned for 732, but I’m a solid no on this. Poorly designed and regressive.

      4. Steve:

        Agreed, and the obvious solution is increased efforts to log and thin fire-prone forests left massively overgrown by decades of misguided fire prevention efforts.

      5. @Ron, Cliff Mass’s analysis also does attribute human caused climate change (he estimates Puget Sound has had about 1.5 degree Fahrenheit warming) to be a substantial >20% contributor to acres burned in recent years. “Temperature only explains 22% of the increase in acres burned.” So Cliff’s point was not that climate change has not been a substantial contributor, just that it’s not the only contributor.

      6. “Temperature alone” doesn’t sound like it includes decreased humidity and longer periods without rain?

      7. “I voted and campaigned for 732, but I’m a solid no on this. Poorly designed and regressive.”

        The environmentalists and advocates for the poor who opposed 732 said that it was regressive, and they drafted this as a solution to that. So how is it regressive and poorly designed?

      8. Using the 2016 presidential election, as a rough guide, the Washington State results were 54.4% Clinton, 38.2% Trump. If we assume 100% of Trump voters vote “no” on I-1631, this means that just over 70% of Clinton voters must vote “yes”, in order for the measure to pass.

        It’s certainly possible. But, it can only happen if the left is united in favor. If enough progressives keep holding out for the perfect bill, that simply means that the Republican voters, who have brainwashed by Fox news into believing that *any* measure to combat climate change is a left-wing comparison to justify big government liberalism, carry the day.

      9. asdf2: I should point out that the voter turnout in 2018 is likely going to look quite a bit different from the 2016 turnout, due to a combination of a probable enthusiasm gap and the fact that it isn’t a presidential cycle.

  2. It’s actually a fairly interesting tactic being used by the “no” campaign in saying the measure doesn’t go far enough and provides too many exemptions.

    “Filled With Unfair Exemptions That Make No Sense
    I-1631 would exempt many of our state’s largest polluters, including a huge coal-fired power plant, iron, steel and aluminum industries, pulp and paper mills, aircraft manufacturers, chemical manufacturers and many other large corporate emitters. Additional exemptions may be added at any time. In fact, 8 of the state’s top 12 carbon emitters would be exempt from 1631, while consumers and small businesses would pay billions.”

    They are running constant ads on Hulu and my roommate quickly took the bait, until I directed his attention to the fine print – the “no” campaign money is coming from the Western States Petroleum Association.

    1. It’s the old “I Don’t Want Any Rich People To Get Any Breaks” even if the overall policy is more important than that. We can’t have highrises next to Link stations because developers will make a windfall — never mind that there will also be people living in the building who want to be close to good transit and currently don’t have many options. And even if more businesses can be exempted later, it also goes the other way: we could later pass a law to un-exempt them. And, gobsmack, maybe encourage Boeing to be less carbon-intensive to avoid getting un-exempted.

    2. “[T]he ‘no’ campaign money is coming from the Western States Petroleum Association.”

      Similar to how all the “yes” money on the grocery tax initiative is coming from Coca-Cola, Pepsi Co, Dr Pepper, and Red Bull.

    3. Climate Change isn’t happening so badly so we shouldn’t do anything rash.
      Also, this isn’t rash enough.

  3. Also, the top five contributors, having spent nearly $20 million are:

    Phillips 66 $7,201,186.54
    BP $6,443,709.03
    Andeavor $4,362,827.17
    American Fuel $1,000,000.00
    U.S. Oil $558,531.31

    The oil companies are clearly scared of this becoming law.

    1. Ditto. I don’t dislike spending the proceeds on carbon reduction and low-income mitigation, but I’d prefer the longer-term shift of giving the public dividends for their share of the nation’s resources. That de facto shifts money from heavy polluters to non-polluters, while average mini-polluters will find it a wash. It does create a potential perverse incentive to encourage others to pollute in order to increase the dividend, but that is a far smaller problem than the tragedy of the commons and “free pollution” we have now, and we can deal with it later. But if we can’t have that paradigm shift to citizens getting a dividend for existing, at least this is a partway measure that somewhat addresses the externalities of fossil-fuel use.

  4. To anyone who may have preferred the carbon tax approach or some other hypothetical approach: This is the strongest proposal that a huge coalition of environmental and social justice groups thought could pass. Why do you think your fantasy idea has a snowball’s chance in hell? This is our best shot to do something about climate change at the state level. Don’t make perfect the enemy of the good – we simply don’t have time left.

  5. Imperfect, but we have to do something.

    I will vote for literally any climate initiative with substance that I see.

  6. I will be disappointed if this doesn’t pass by 90% in places like Seattle with a population that knows climate change is real and the opposition to this is primarily from oil companies. Oil companies know they will have to absorb most of the burden of a pollution fee. People will use less oil and oil will have to compete with renewables which is exactly what the planet needs and these companies fear. I honestly assume some of these out of character comments appearing on threads like this aren’t paid Koch brothers cronies. They certainly don’t sound like stb readers.

    The New York times highlighted this initiative as one of the best hopes for a new American approach to climate change last week. Seattle and everyone in Washington needs to pass this.

    If you say you care about future generations and you believe in climate change, I don’t see how you can fail to vote for this, donate to this and Volunteer. The stakes are too high.

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