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Yellow Vests

True - the Yellow Vest protests in France are about much more than rising gasoline taxes. But that’s how they started.

Although Europe already taxes gasoline at a much higher rate than we do, my first reaction to the protests was that, given the environmental cost, gasoline taxes should be even higher. I am a car owner and love to drive, but I believe that gasoline powered cars meet the legal definition of a public nuisance: “A public nuisance is a criminal wrong; it is an act or omission that obstructs, damages, or inconveniences the rights of the community.”

Gasoline powered cars are dirty, deadly machines that are playing a major role in destroying the productive capacity of our planet. Driving gasoline powered cars should be discouraged, and higher gas prices, whether caused by oil companies or taxes, do this. When the price of gas dropped precipitously from $4 to $2 a gallon a few years ago, I felt that gave our legislature cover to double the gas tax in Massachusetts. I never floated this to our local representatives, and it went nowhere, but I still think it was a good idea.

The problem is that within the context of our current economic system raising taxes on gas hurts those who can least afford it. In a fossil fuel driven economy, with woefully inadequate public transportation, the average worker often has little choice but to drive to get to work and to carry out life’s chores.

This is why it is encouraging to see the Yellow Vest protests evolve into what is basically a protest against increasing financial inequality in France. We need a similar evolution here. Until we have a more equitable distribution of resources within our society any major tax increase will be met with howls of protest. This is demonstrated by last month’s spectacular failure (70% of voters opposed it) of the State of Washington’s carbon tax referendum, which was designed to combat climate change by charging polluters for their carbon dioxide emissions. The fact that the extractionist industry spent 40 times more money than the referendum’s proponents also contributed to their victory, but the fossil fuel companies advertising scare tactics struck a responsive chord with the public.

The proponents of the Green New Deal face the same dilemma. Until we take the funds needed to transform our system out of the hides of the capitalists, instead of from the average person, the extractionists will employ divide and conquer tactics to defeat green initiatives. Further, unless the Green New Deal does this, it will fuel right wing claims that elite green liberals are hurting American workers. We must place green initiatives squarely within the framework of creating a society based upon economic and social justice in order to make the rapid, fundamental changes necessary to our survival.

The recent explosion of climate change related disasters has placed climate issues at the center of global debate. Today vast swaths of humanity recognize the problem. This is a great opportunity because we have people’s attention, but now we face the even bigger challenge of involving them in campaigns that take into account current inequities as we promote the necessity of transforming the nature of our economy.  Read More 
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