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Question of carbon fee on air travel stirs climate debate

A passenger aircraft in flight over Virginia.
A passenger aircraft in flight over Virginia.Bloomberg Creative Photos/Bloomberg

Pro-con positions speak volumes about the issues at hand

The Argument (Feb. 21), a pro-con feature of the Globe Local section, asks: “Should the federal government assess a carbon fee on passenger air travel?” Globe correspondent John Laidler’s choice of advocates encapsulates the overall climate debate.

On the side of reducing emissions, we have a professor of environmental sciences. The mandate handed to humanity by the ailing atmosphere is acknowledged as existential, and that takes priority over protection of corporate profits. The economic principle at work is a traditionally conservative one: taking responsibility for the harm one is creating. If a business activity is so harmful it becomes unprofitable, so be it.


On the side of leaving businesses to remain profitable regardless of the implications for the welfare of the earth and its inhabitants, we have a politicized argument that kicks off with the accusation that the scientist is trying to “fool” you. Then there is the argument that the carbon fee is unaffordable, sidestepping the cost of inaction, which is far greater.

It’s the US population, not the business responsible, that is shouldering the social cost of carbon now. The late George Schultz explained that we need a level playing field and a carbon fee and dividend to foster innovation and avoid catastrophic climate change. That’s conservatism with a conscience.

Gary M Stewart

Laguna Beach, Calif.

Fee should not stop with air travel

The question posed “Should the federal government assess a carbon fee on passenger air travel?” is reasonable, because air travel is mostly used by those more able to pay the extra cost. The correct answer is yes, there should be a fee on carbon, but no, it should not stop with air travel.

As the “no” writer, Patricia Saint Aubin, mentions, private jets and air freight are at least as much a reasonable target. The truth is that the fee for fossil carbon use should be applied to all uses of fossil carbon. To understand the issue, realize that we currently pay to get fossil fuel to our tank, but the costs of the exhaust are paid by everyone in the world.


The real question is what to do with the money collected by such a fee. The best answer is return it, except for a small administrative cost, to everyone equally as a dividend. The dividend would stimulate the economy and protect the poor, who use less energy than those with large homes to heat and cool and who drive SUVs. The best proposal also has a border adjustment that would keep trade fair and encourage other nations to meet our fees.

The fee should increase each year. That way, it can start at a modest level that would not require large changes immediately. It could increase until we reach a level that provides a sustainable level of carbon in the air. As the fee increases, one of the effects will be that we all will find ways to use less energy, such as adding insulation to homes and buying cars with lighter materials and better airflow.

Jim Martin

Huntington Beach, Calif.

All fossil fuel should be subject to fee and dividend program

“Should the federal government assess a carbon fee on passenger air travel?” is a trick question. The answer appears to be yes, but the real answer is that all fossil fuel use should be subject to a fee and dividend program.


In a carbon fee and dividend program, the producers pay the fees, which are then rebated to all households. Yes, airfare and gasoline would cost more, but people would receive compensation. This strategy would encourage the transition to cleaner and more sustainable alternatives, which would cost less.

Fossil fuel use kills 350,000 Americans every year, according to researchers at Harvard and other universities, and air pollution costs the world $8 billion a day, according to the Center for Research on Energy and Clean Air.

We must reduce our use of fossil fuel. A carbon fee and dividend program would be an effective way to start.

Jonathan Quint


The writer is a member of Business Climate Leaders, the business action team of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.