Why Don’t We Just Ban Fossil Fuels?

February 16, 2024

Imagine there were no law against arson and we were trying to figure out a way to stop it. One way would be to require people to pay for the right to burn down buildings. Another would be to issue a strictly limited number of tradable arson-permission certificates, which would-be arsonists could trade among themselves. We could spend money making buildings more fireproof. Or we could invent new flammable objects that would satisfy arsonists’ desire to burn things down but whose combustion would cause less societal harm.

There would be lots of creative ferment around the various approaches until someone said: “People. People. Let’s just make arson illegal.” Suddenly that would seem very obvious.

Burning fossil fuels isn’t the same as burning houses. Unlike arson, the combustion of oil, natural gas, coal and other fossil fuels provides real benefits — running our cars, heating and cooling our homes and so on…

“In the last four decades, the United States has outlawed lead paint, phased out asbestos and curtailed tobacco marketing and sales. Similar policies can be used for fossil fuels,” a pair of economists, Mark Paul and Lina Moe, wrote last year for an advocacy group called the Climate and Community Project in a piece titled “An Economist’s Case for Restrictive Supply-Side Policy.”

The New York Times, February 16, 2024

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