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Record-Breaking CO2 Levels, Tax Cuts, and Catastrophe: What You Don’t Know Will Hurt You

John Atcheson

On March 10, 2017, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced some bad news. Humans were hurtling toward unknown territory with regards to global warming.

Concentrations of CO2, the main greenhouse gas (GHG),averaged 405 parts per million in 2016, up 3 ppm from 2015; which was up 3 ppm from 2014.  Both are the fastest increases since NOAA began keeping records.

Worse, on Tuesday, April 18th, concentrations reached 410.28 ppm, which was yet another milestone we weren’t supposed to cross. Bad as this sounds, there’s an even bigger bombshell lurking beneath this news that may well lock us into an irreversible toboggan ride to hell.  More about that in a moment.

But first, Tuesday was tax day. Why mention that?

Well, we’re all going to get a dandy tax cut from president Nero. Well, not so much you and I, we’ll get peanuts, while programs that benefit us get gutted; but the billionaires will make out like bandits. Trump, his administration and Republican Congressional members are telling us the cuts “will pay for themselves” because they will—all together now—stimulate economic growth.

And to help fund that tax cut, while we were plowing through atmospheric Maginot lines, Trump is proposing to cut anything that has anything to do with climate change research, mitigation, or education, among other things.  Meanwhile, fossil fuel friend and head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, is saying we should back out of the Paris Agreement because it’s a "bad deal."  Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney called climate-related budget expenditures "a waste of your money."  Yeah. Saving the world. What a waste; what a bad deal. Especially if it hurts the fossil fuel industry.

So let’s examine what we’re likely to get from the tax cuts, then revisit the hidden time bomb in the global warming news. First the tax cuts.

Will Tax Cuts Stimulate the Economy?

There is no correlation between cutting taxes and economic growth.  None. For example, the Congressional Research Service did a comprehensive analysis of the kind of cuts Trump and friends are proposing, going back to 1945.  Here’s what they found:

Analysis of such data suggests the reduction in the top tax rates have had little association with saving, investment, or productivity growth. However, the top tax rate reductions appear to be associated with the increasing concentration of income at the top of the income distribution.

So the tax cuts are highly unlikely to increase the tax receipts by expanding the economy, which means they will lead to huge increases in deficits and debt, while shifting yet more wealth to the wealthy.

We’ve seen this at the federal level with such consistency that it’s hard to believe Trump and the Republicans are using the same pretext to justify what is, in essence, a massive giveaway to corporations and the ultra rich.  A more honest justification would basically go something like this: “Our real constituency—corporations and the top few percent of the wealthiest American—hates government and wants to keep getting an ever larger share of America’s prosperity at your expense, so we’re going to starve government of funds and give the proceeds to the rich.” But that doesn’t sell, so we’re stuck with supply-side, trickle-down insanity.

If any further proof is needed, check out Kansas, where Governor Brownback is riding his state into the biggest economic black hole since the Great Depression with his “grand experiment.”  Back in 2012, Brownback promised his tax cuts would be like a shot of adrenaline to the state’s economy, boosting tax revenue and increasing employment.  What happened instead, is that Kansas is dead last in terms of economic performance, according to an analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, and it is the fifth worse in terms of jobs.  Meanwhile, the state needs to figure out how to cover a deficit of $346 million, and after cutting programs to the bone, few options are left, unless they’re willing to compromise public health and safety, according to the state’s own analysis.

Brownback has steadfastly maintained that the tax cuts “are working,” although he cancelled the quarterly economic reports on the state’s economy according to Bloomberg.  Don’t like the news?  Simply stop making it available.

Which brings us back to climate change.

Cutting Climate-Related Programs and the Terrible Truth.

The current atmospheric concentrations of CO2 are worse than any the earth has experienced in over 3 million years, and worse than anything humans have ever experienced.

But the truly horrible thing about these numbers is that politicians and even some climate scientists haven’t caught on to issue that makes this increase much worse than it sounds.

For the last several years, carbon emissions have basically flat-lined.  And that means the rate of increase in atmospheric concentrations should have slowed down. Instead, it’s breaking records for the fastest increases ever recorded.

Why? Well, some scientists suggest it’s due to the severe el Nino and an increase in forest fires.  But the reality is that carbon sinks—natural systems like forests, soil, and the oceans which take carbon out of the atmosphere—have been compromised by climate change and that began well before the el Nino. Basically, carbon sinks absorb about half of all the carbon dioxide humans release.  At least they used to.  Increasingly, they are becoming less effective. Which means even if we reduce the amount of carbon we emit, atmospheric concentrations will rise faster.  And this could well function as a feedback loop, with greater compromise of the sinks causing more and more carbon to accumulate, despite even aggressive reductions in the amount of human-caused emissions.

Humanity has never witnessed the kind of devastation this could cause, but it is written in the geologic record, and it isn’t pretty.  Only an all-out nuclear war rivals the kind of damage it could cause, and now—right now—is likely to be our last chance to prevent these feedbacks from becoming irreversible.

But this kind of information is slipping through the cracks. The media is simply incapable of connection something as complex as the role of compromised sinks in bringing on true Armageddon.

What to do?  Why try a Brownback—cut the source of the disturbing data by gutting the agencies that compile and report it.

The mind-boggling aspect about all this is that the media is treating Trump and his planet-wrecking budget as if it were just another policy debate.  In reality, we’re talking about existential decisions—decisions that will determine the future of humanity. And Trump is on the wrong side of the issue.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
John Atcheson

John Atcheson

John Atcheson, 1948-2020, was a long-time Common Dreams contributor, climate activist and author of, "A Being Darkly Wise, and a book on our fractured political landscape entitled, "WTF, America? How the US Went Off the Rails and How to Get It Back On Track". John was tragically killed in a California car accident in January 2020.

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