TCI is not a climate solution
By Paul Fleckenstein
January 7th 2020
In a recent op-ed in VTDigger, Vermont AFL-CIO President David Van Deusen argued against climate policies that hurt workers. Case in point is the proposed Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI) supported by Vermont Climate Solutions Caucus. TCI is a carbon cap and trade system that depends on a regressive fuel tax that will be passed down to workers at the pump.
Conservative columnist John McClaughry argued in another article that the TCI would actually do little to reduce emissions. In opposing the TCI, McClaughry also illustrates how easy it is for conservatives (who defend inequality and injustice) to mobilize workers against climate policies that target working class consumption.
To maintain its credibility with unions and working class people, the climate justice movement should oppose the TCI.
There is now adequate experience with carbon markets to conclude that they won’t work to address the climate emergency. Trade Unions for Energy Democracy has completed a comprehensive study demonstrating and explaining the failure of cap and trade schemes. Crucially, this report also explains how carbon markets don’t operate in the interests of workers.
The schemes are shaped by pro-market ideology and business priorities. They rely on carbon pricing and emissions caps determined by bureaucracies charged with protecting the profits and the competitive strength of the participating corporations. This limits emissions reductions, and doesn’t prioritize workers.
At best, carbon markets are designed for incremental changes over long periods of time that we do not have—completely the wrong tool for a climate emergency. Plus, carbon is only one of the environmental threats the planet faces. We urgently need to address biodiversity loss and extinction, as well as plastics and chemical pollution. We need comprehensive responses. Carbon markets are designed to be narrow.
For a climate policy designed to minimally disrupt the status quo, the TCI will maximize conflict over regressive taxation and impacts on working class living standards. The conflict is justified but unnecessary. It is an argument about how to arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic as far as emissions are concerned.
This situation will not generate the working class support we need to win significant climate initiatives, but actually hinders it. Cap and trade systems are not inadequate steps in the right direction, but counterproductive measures that waste valuable time.
Science is clear that market gradualism will not avoid planetary catastrophe. Income redistribution and massive public, democratic spending and regulation are the only ways to quickly transition to a just and sustainable future.
Fortunately, there is legislation in the Vermont Legislature that takes a step in the right direction. Senator Pollina’s (P/D) Green New Deal bill is a proposal that does two widely popular things and does them immediately: taxes the wealthy, and funds programs to both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve working class living standards.
This is a choice to follow Bernie and AOC and their New Green Deal approach that leads with supporting workers, justice, and wealth redistribution. This is the only way to win working class support and to succeed with effective and radical climate policies.
Paul Fleckenstein is a member of UAW Local 1981, the Vermont Labor Climate Committee, and the Champlain Valley Democratic Socialists of America.