Core Arguments: Resolved: The United States federal government should adopt a carbon tax.

All Carbon Tax ResourcesMillennial Speech & Debate Institutes — Boston College, Georgetown, University of Kentucky
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Resolved: The United States federal government should adopt a carbon tax.
This is the best resolution of the year.
-It has very precise terms (United States federal government (USFG), carbon tax))
-It has no ambiguous/difficult to debate terms (national interested, Western interest)
-It triggers debate on a very controversial issue (carbon tax) that also has strong arguments on both sides. There are also highly contested, two sided debates on related issues (climate change, nuclear power, alternative energy, energy transitions).
The Breadth of the Topic
The only downside to this resolution is that there is a lot prepare to debate about and debaters only have a month to get prepared. Given this time pressure, I will review some of the major topic areas that debaters need to prepare to argue. There is relevant evidence for subscribers linked below and over the next two weeks I will develop each of these topics.
Climate change. The primary rationale for adopting a carbon tax is that such a tax will both directly reduce the use of carbon-based energy sources and facilitate a transition to alternative energy technologies. By reducing carbon-based energy sources and associated carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, a carbon tax has the potential to (substantially) slow climate change. Many Pro teams will articulate slowing climate change as a benefit to the USFG adopting a carbon tax.
Pro teams that claim slowing climate change as a benefit to the USFG adopting a carbon tax need to be prepared to defend basic climate science (that the earth is warming, that humans are responsible) and also defeat arguments as to why global warming is good (prevents an ice age) and why CO2 and SO2 emissions can be good (increases growth and offsets warming, respectively).
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Even if Pro teams do not claim climate change as an advantage, they need to be prepared to defeat the ice age, CO2, and SO2 arguments, because Con teams can still argue these as disadvantages.
Economy. The primary rational for not adopting a carbon tax is that it would hurt the economy. Adding a carbon tax will add to the price of energy and raise costs to businesses and consumes, hurting the economy. Reducing carbon intensive energy sources could cause unemployment in those industries. I think it will end up being the most common Con argument so Pro teas need to be prepared to answer it.
To get a leg-up on the argument in the debates, Pro teams may want to introduce arguments as to why adopting a carbon tax could benefit the economy

  • Global warming could threaten the economy (storms, sea level rises, loss of agricultural productivity
  • The development of new energy sources (nuclear, renewable, etc.) would likely stimulate economic development and job growth
  • Developing new energy sources will make US industry more competitive in those energy markets
  • A carbon tax may be economically more efficient than other methods that may come online in the future to combat climate change
  • A carbon tax will reduce oil dependence, which threatens the economy
  • A carbon tax can be used to reduce the deficit, which threatens the economy

Energy production. Coal is the most carbon intensive energy source. Reducing coal consumption could undermine the economies of coal producing regions and economies. Some have argued America’s railroads are economically dependent on coal use.
Oil is the second most carbon intensive energy source. A carbon tax could crush oil consumption , substantially decreasing the economies of oil producing countries that rely on oil for large portions of their budget (Saudi Arabia, Russia, Niger, Mexico, and others).

Statistics Norway, 1994, Carbon Taxes and the Petroleum Wealth, DOA: 1-23-16
Then, simulations of the global oil market indicate that a fixed carbon tax of e.g. $10/barrel of oil may reduce the petroleum wealth of the average oil producer by 33-42%. The Norwegian petroleum wealth may decrease more than this, by 47-68%.

The current low price of oil has already left these countries in precarious positions and further price declines (lowering consumption lowers prices (law of supply and demand)) could bankrupt these economies.

Politico Magazine, January 21, 2016, “The Hidden Consequences of the Oil Crash,” DOA: 1-23-16
Oil prices drive not just economics, but geopolitics. Alliances rise and fall over petroleum. Expensive oil props up governments in Russia and Iran, provides stability in Middle Eastern countries and also offers a revenue stream to extremist groups in Nigeria and Iraq. Domestically, high-priced oil spurs innovation in alternative energy; it has also driven America’s shale boom. For all these reasons and more, the collapsing value of oil will have profound consequences around the world, with the potential to destabilize regimes, remake regions and alter the global economy in lasting and unforeseen ways.

T. Boone Pickens, chairman and CEO of BP Capital and architect of the Pickens Plan, an energy plan for America, notes in this same article:

New investment is non-existent and nations around the world—from the Middle East to Central America, whose economies are wholly dependent on oil exports—are on the brink of economic collapse.

And Terry Lynn Karl, a professor of Political Science at Stanford University and author of The Paradox of Plenty: Oil Booms and Petrostates, elaborates —

Politico, The Hidden Consequences of the Oil Crash, January 21,
Most immediately, low prices are a catalyst for the rise in global conflict. Cheap oil translates into huge revenue losses and increased poverty, especially for Russia, Brazil and Mexico but also for Canada. In the 10 OPEC countries where oil comprises more than 85 percent of export revenue, the consequences are especially dire. Where regime stability rests on a classic “oil pact” (that is, the provision of economic benefits to key constituencies in exchange for political support or, at least, passivity), low prices create a toxic mix of weak currencies, inflation, growing debt, budget and trade deficits, rising food prices, cuts in essential services and soaring poverty. Such a grim prognosis traditionally spells the downfall of fragile governments—and, sometimes, even regimes that appear stable. In Venezuela, which is already in a constitutional crisis, this year’s projected 10 percent economic contraction will plunge its extremely polarized population into even more intense civil conflict. The already dangerous situation in the Middle East and North Africa will be intensified. Because national boundaries in that region are not resolved and political institutions are crumbling, the grim economic forecast for oil-exporting governments makes them less capable of appeasing their populations or securing their oil facilities and pipelines in the face of vicious insurgencies. The Islamic State, for example, lives off the earnings from oil fields in Syria and Iraq, and similar dynamics fund Boko Haram in Nigeria and al Qaeda affiliates in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

This turns any oil dependence bad/oil shocks advantage the Pro may try to read. Karl continues:

And widespread conflict in oil regions—exacerbated by low and unstable oil prices—could significantly disrupt supply at almost any time.

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On the flip side, natural gas is a less carbon intensive form of fuel than both coal and oil and a carbon tax would, therefore, make natural gas consumption more economically desirable. Increased natural gas consumption would likely increase natural gas prices, which could threaten the economy. Dramatically increased natural gas usage could also overwhelm (or at least substantially offset) any reduction in carbon emissions caused by the tax.
Energy transitions. The earth’s climate is global and solving the global problem is not a single as limiting US contributions (even though the US is the largest contributor). To significantly reduce climate admissions, not only must other major emitters (China, India) also at to reduce emissions, but their failure to do so could actually result in increased emissions.
Because reduced consumption reduces prices. And what do people do when prices decline? They consume more?
So, if a carbon tax reduces consumption in the US, at least oil prices (the price of oil is set globally) will fall. This could result in consumption increases. Similarly, if coal consumption decreases the price of coal could fall (though the price of coal isn’t global), increasing consumption by other countries. If China were to increase coal consumption even by an amount that only offset US decreases, pollution and CO2 emissions would rise dramatically because China lacks basic pollution controls and clean coal technology.
Low prices of coal and oil also render alternative energy technologies non-competitive.

John Deutch is an emeritus Institute professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1-21-16, , Politico, The Hidden Consequences of the Oil Crash,
But the low prices have a cost, too, and the stresses they cause are not hidden: Increased consumption of carbon-emitting fossil fuels, lower profits for private oil companies, major challenges for firms seeking to introduce clean-energy technologies and economic difficulties for major resource holders account for just some of the strain.

This argument is known as “Backstopping;” it is popular on all energy topics.
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Pro teams need to be prepared to defend how the world will react to a US imposed carbon tax and how that reaction will support the ability to achieve the carbon tax benefits they identify.
Electricity prices.  Raising the price of carbon will raise the price of electricity, because most electricity is produced with coal. High electricity prices will have to be absorbed by consumers and businesses, reducing money available for consumer spending and business investment.  This could have significant negative economic impacts.
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Nuclear power. Since nuclear power does not produce carbon, a carbon tax could make nuclear power cost competitive and increase public support for the energy source. Pro teams can claim “nuclear power good” as an advantage and Con teams can claim “nuclear power bad” as a disadvantage.
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Renewable energy. Although the impacts are generally not as large, Con teams may also want to argue that the development of renewable energy is bad – mineral shortages, mineral dependence, environmental pollution. Even if teams don’t want to argue this on the Con, they need to be able to answer these arguments on the Pro.
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Economies of other countries. Increasing the competitiveness of the US in alternative energy technologies could threaten the economies of other countries (China, European nations) that are likely to emerge as leaders in these areas.  If the economies of these other countries are undermined, war could result.
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Philosophical objections/kritiks. Winning kritiks in public forum debate is difficult not only because of the judging but also because the judging is conservative but also because the Con cannot advocate an alternative.
On this topic, however, there are a couple strong philosophically-oriented arguments that may be persuasive to conservative judges, even absent an alternative.
One, there is strong evidence that environmental problems, particularly global climate change, cannot be solved within the capitalist framework. I’ve included some of this evidence in the solvency answers in the Con file.
Two, there is evidence that the government should not intervene in the economy through taxation, essentially creating an artificial penalty on an energy source. This argument enables the Con to make a strong defense of the free market, which may appeal to some very conservative judges.
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Politics. I don’t know if the Politics disadvantage will make it into Public Forum debate, but if there is a topic where it makes it in, it will be this one.
The most common Politics disadvantage is a “Political Capital” disadvantage that says that Obama is pushing a particular agenda in Congress (for example, he was pushing the Iran deal), that Obama will succeed in the status quo due to his possession and use of political capital and that if Obama pushes the plan that will burn up his political capital, burning it at least enough that he will not have enough left to get the other agenda item (examples: Iran deal, Transpacific Partnership) through and that particular agenda item is good for a number of reasons.
Con teams might also argue that the passage of a carbon tax would be blamed on Obama.  This blame would then be translated to Clinton, threatening her prospects against Trump (or another Republican).  The impact to the disadvantage is that a Republican President would be a bad one.
Given the strong political opposition to a carbon tax, this is topic where it could be relevant.
Focusing Prep
As I hope I’ve made clear, there is a lot to debate about (and I’m sure I will uncover more arguments that need addressed).
I don’t thin it is impossible to prepare to debate all of these arguments, especially since you will only have time to make 4-5 responses in a PF rebuttal, but teams can make their prep as time effective as possible by trying to strategically narrow down their arguments.
I don’t think I have a great way to do this, but one way to do this on the Pro is to just focus on how a carbon tax would benefit the economy. This preempts the primary Con argument and then if the Con makes any “consumption good” arguments (CO2 agriculture, oil and coal economy disadvantages), the Pro can say that the carbon tax would result in a net increase in consumption, turning the disadvantages.
On the Con, teams can say that there is a slow transition away from carbon intensive technologies now and that a carbon tax would disrupt this transition by lowering prices and increasing consumption.
Sometimes teams argue that certain arguments are not relevant because PF debate is not “Policy Debate.” While I often think these arguments are somewhat misplaced (many of the resolutions are really policy resolutions/questions), it is certainly the case that in this instance we are dealing with a policy question. The resolutions says the United States federal government should adopt a carbon tax (which is a policy).