Carbon Tax Debate Sparks Dialogue

Members of the University Debate Team and a panel of four faculty members led a crowd of forty-four to debate an Alaska Carbon Tax. The event took place on Oct. 29 at the UAA/APU Consortium Library. Thoughtful questions from an engaged audience stimulated a free-ranging discussion seeking solutions for the threat of climate change in Alaska.

A carbon tax would charge corporations a tax proportional to the amount of green house gases they emit contributing to global warming. The Debate Team began the night in parliamentary style, asking the audience to bang on their chairs and say,  “Here, here” to support a point they agreed with like Members of Parliament do in England.

The effects of a carbon tax seemed to come down to Alaska’s rural villages.  Debater Akis Gialopsos arguing for a carbon tax listed native villages like Newtok that are being forced to move due to warmer temperatures and rising see levels, asking the audience: “What do you want Alaska to become?”

Debater Zac Johnson, arguing against the tax said, “People in rural villages will bear the brunt of a carbon tax” because of the potential increased cost of gas and of shipping for food and supplies brought to rural Alaska.

A carbon tax’s economic impact was also hotly contested. Johnson argued that increasing the cost of doing business in Alaska would drive oil developers away and cost Alaska jobs, Johnson said, ”A carbon tax is fair in that it harms everyone.” Instead Johnson argued redirecting funds the state already derives from oil revenue to develop renewable energy and seek solutions to climate change.

Debater Amie Stanley, arguing for the carbon tax instead said, “But if we redirect the tax revenue from oil we loose the PFD and Denali Kid Care.” The audience reacted with a clamor of “Here, here.” Stanley pointed out that it is currently cheaper to do business in other oil rich countries like Sudan and oil companies have not left Alaska yet.

The UAA Debate Team expertly set the stage for the in-depth discussion of climate change solutions that followed lead by a panel of four UAA professors. According to the Debate Team’s Web site, “At the 2007 World Universities Debate Championship, the Seawolf team of Tom Lassen and Chris Kolerok reached the semifinal round, beating out teams from Stanford, Yale, Cambridge and Oxford.  This performance ranked them in the top 2 percent of teams in the world and as the top debate team in North America.”

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As professor of economics Steve Colt continued to weigh the pros and cons of a carbon tax for the audience, someone shouted out from the back of the room, “Is there any solution that does not involve a tax?”  Grinning, Colt admitted that there was, and that was actually what he supported. A cap and trade system in which a pollution ceiling is set by the government and the permission slips to pollute below that limit are bought and sold between corporations on an open market.

Professor Jeff Welker, director of the Environment and Natural Resources Institute, urged the audience that solutions were “not insurmountable.” Welker said, “We have already signed two grandiose documents saying how much UAA is going to do (to conserve energy) but I still see the lights in the library on at 2 a.m.”

Professor of environmental studies Shannon Donovan said, ”We have glamorized the lifestyle of going beyond our means, it would be incredible if we could make it glamorous to reduce our carbon footprint.”

Alaska native of St. Paul Island Larry Merculieff was deeply concerned about global warming and questioned the panelists twice. Merculieff said, “People want to maintain their current lifestyle – a lifestyle that destroys the land, and I think we need to look at what indigenous elders are saying about disconnection from the land.”

Welker said, “I think there is a lot of urgency. I think there are examples every day of the costs of inaction. I would like to see us continue the dialogue.”

Mark Foster, a board member of Alaska Power and Telephone and Municipal Light and Power of Anchorage, sat in the audience listening carefully, with a binder full of data in his lap. He commented,” We build electric power plants so this is of interest to me.”

Libby Roderick, associate director of the Center for Advancing Faculty Excellence, organized the forum. She has organized twelve previous forums for the University all to “devote the knowledge and skills of faculty and students to help the public make important decisions about issues of public policy, “ said Roderick.

Visit www.uaa.alaska.edu/cafe to learn more about upcoming events hosted by CAFÉ