Climate justice can be taxing work

Rutger Bregman is an economic historian and a no-bull social justice warrior. When invited to DAVOS 2019 he called out the 1,500 private jets that were flown to hear David Attenborough talk about climate change. He also drew attention to the most basic tool that we should be using to fight global warming – tax.
          In Ireland, we are culpable of limiting the possibilities of tax. Our low corporate tax rates may have brought business in, but those companies ended up not paying even at those rates. In July 2020 the European Court overturned the ruling to make Apple pay the 13 billion euro in taxes that it owed to Ireland. Our narrow-minded approach to taxation also comes in the form of the carbon tax. Let me say this, if companies like Apple had just payed enough tax in the first place then there would be no need for the carbon tax. That 13 billion could have been funnelled into public transport systems and renewable energy sources. Money really does make the world go round, but you have to make people pay properly.
          A lot of articles that relate tax to the climate, talk about ‘climate taxes’. These are taxes specifically to do with the environment, i.e carbon tax. The argument that I continue to make is that every single aspect of our lives must become more sustainable. Arguably then, all tax should be seen as ‘environmental tax’. If your taxes are being used to build roads or hospitals, those roads and hospitals should be as environmentally friendly as they can be. Therefore, we shouldn’t have to be introducing new taxes to support greener schemes, we should just continue to raise taxes on corporations and rich people.
          Another issue with carbon taxes is that they once again lay the blame on the individual, and not on the system or the corporations. Many billionaires argue that they shouldn’t be taxed so highly because they support so many philanthropic schemes, which is ridiculous. Not only is it wrong that billionaires should have control over what is funded, but taxation would equate and even succeed the money that billionaires have donated. Take the dreaded Jeff Bezos who expected international praise for the ten billion dollars that he pledged to help battle climate change. Ten billion is a lot of money (not for him) but if Bernie Saunders could impose his wealth tax Jeff Bezos would be paying nine billion dollars in tax annually. That certainly beats a one-time donation with strings attached.
          I’m under no impression that all taxation money is used for environmental reasons. All I’m saying is that every investment, subsidy or initiative proposed and funded by government money should have green contingencies. The European Green Deal needs at least one trillion euro over the next decade to work. 503 billion of that is set to come out the EU Budget which means 114-billion-euro total contribution from member states. How do you propose we get this money? A Go fund me page? One of the benefits of COVID is the realisation that the vast majority of high-paying jobs are useless. Rutger Bregman stated in an interview with the Guardian that it is estimated that if garbage men went on strike in a metropolis such as New York, the city would last a week before heading into an emergency. The only known bankers strike occurred in Ireland in the 1970s, despite the proposed economic doom and disruption, nothing happened. It’s time to stop worshipping wealthy people just because they have money.
          Let me remind you that this summer the Amazon continues to burn at unprecedented rates, Canada’s last remaining intact arctic ice shelf has collapsed, Death Valley just recorded one of the highest temperatures on record ever, there are more than 1,000 tonnes of oil being spilt in Mauritius and throughout all of this Jeff Bezos hit a net worth of over 180 billion dollars. Rutger Bregman was right when he said “This is not rocket science. We could talk for a very long time about all these stupid philanthropy schemes … but come on we’ve got to be talking about taxes! That’s it taxes, taxes, taxes. All the rest is bullsh*t in my opinion.”

Éle Ní Chonbhuí
Dublin Unitarian Church