Washington State to Vote on Carbon Tax amidst Extreme Wildfire Season (Credit: The Atlantic, Seattle Times)
As the summer season comes to an end, it is important to note the many extreme weather events that have been and still are occurring worldwide. Wildfires have ravaged the American West and much of Europe; heavy rainfall caused extreme flooding on the US East Coast; a hurricane barreled towards Hawaii; and extreme heat caused deaths in large metropolitan areas such as Montreal and Tokyo. While none of the aforementioned events can be attributed to any specific cause, it’s important to note the role climate change may have had in the frequency of these events and draw attention to what is speeding up the process of climate change.
One of the biggest factors in climate change does happen to be carbon emissions. It is thought that the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases offsets normal climatic processes by blocking incoming solar radiation, thereby having an indirect influence on extreme weather events. After a plethora of extreme weather events worldwide this summer, the state of Washington has decided to add a carbon tax to this November’s ballot. If passed, the state would be the first in the nation to establish such a tax via voters.
The plan has come to be known as Ballot Initiative 1631, and with the tax set at $15 for every ton of carbon dioxide released, it’s expected to generate over $2 billion in the first five years. The tax will tax some of Washington’s largest industrial polluters. Revenue will go towards the production of energy efficient fuels, such as wind and solar, and related industries throughout the state. The project also plans for the mandatory allocation of one-quarter of its funds to protecting the state’s forests. A smaller portion of the revenue will go towards transitioning communities away from economic dependence on fossil fuels and protecting the most vulnerable communities in the state from climate change.
While there seems to be some consensus pointing to a mostly positive outcome of the tax, a relatively prevalent opposition movement threatens the passage of the initiative. Dana Bieber told The Atlantic “regardless of what you say about a carbon fee or a carbon tax, it’s intended to be paid by consumers”. Bieber was referring to the notion that the state’s largest polluters will suffer economically. The price tag would eventually trickle down to consumers, says the non-partisan think tank Resources for the Future, adding over 10 cents a gallon to the price of gas and 15 cents a gallon to the price of home-heating oil. Initiative supporters, backed by the state’s government, say that the policy would cost residents at most $10 a month with much of the money being granted back to communities vulnerable to climate change and in economic despair.
Whatever the outcome of the November election, it is important to note how the current weather in Washington may play a role in the election. Wildfires, some of which have been burning since late July, have plagued many rural and forested areas statewide. Several media outlets, such as the Yakima Herald and Heavy.com, allow users to track the status of fires with digital maps displaying the locations of the fires and individual statistics. It was reported on August 12th that fires in Washington and Oregon combined burned over 250,000 acres, prompting an elevated risk of wildfire weather early in the season and into the Fall, when wildfire season peaks.
While the wildfires have burned in mostly forested parts of the state, a huge bulk of the population has felt the effects of the storm, possibly influencing Initiative 1631’s chance of passage. Seattle has reported extremely low air quality, according to a Daily Mail interview with Seattle residents, with some Seattleites going as far as noting Beijing’s infamous air quality as being better. Prevailing weather patterns on the windward side of the Cascades have heavily influenced Seattle’s summer haze. Unless Seattle’s rainy season arrives earlier than the average late Fall/Winter peak, the city’s residents could be in for a long stretch of diminished air quality and hazy conditions. It’s safe to say when Ballot Initiative 1631 is up for election this November, voters in Washington will be keeping in mind the physical, topographical and climatic status of their state.
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© 2018 Weather Forecaster Jacob Dolinger