Every once in a while, some in the CleanTechnica community argue that taxes on fossil fuel should be increased dramatically in order to lower carbon emissions. It seems like a thoroughly rational thing to do. Burning fossil fuels creates carbon dioxide which leads inexorably to a warming planet.
The price of gasoline and diesel fuel at the pump in America is far below the cost of those fuels to society, leading to more cars and trucks burning more fuel and making more carbon dioxide. Stop the madness. Price fossil fuels fairly according to their full economic and social costs. Problem solved, right?
The argument may make some sense in America, where the price of gas and diesel have always been significantly lower than in most developed nations, but if we think the general public is going to sit still for higher fuel taxes, the latest news from France may offer a sobering counterpoint.
France last week proposed to raise taxes on diesel fuel and gasoline by an amount equivalent to 30 cents per gallon. The government thought it would use the extra revenue to support more renewable energy for the country. It actually thought the proposal would be well received by the citizenry.
It was wrong. The French people have exploded into open revolt, with rioters taking to the streets across the nation. In France, every motorist is required to have a neon yellow safety vest in the vehicle to make them visible to other motorists if they are forced to leave their car or truck in an emergency. Those vests are known as gilets jaunes in French. The protesters have adopted the vests as the symbol of their protests, which have involved a quarter of a million people so far. In Paris, police have employed tear gas and water cannons against the crowd.
Two protesters spoke with a reporter from USA Today. “It’s going to trigger a civil war and me, like most other citizens, we’re all ready,” said Benjamin Vrignaud, a 21-year-old protester from Chartres. “They take everything from us. They steal everything from us,” said 21-year-old Laura Cordonnier.
It almost sounds like the times prior to the French Revolution. President Emmanuel Macron has condemned the protests and accused ultra right wing nationalist groups of fanning the flames of protest. From the citizens’ point of view, Macron is an imperious dictator sitting in splendid isolation like Louis XIV at Versailles as his nation crumbled around him.
Reporters for The Guardian captured the mood of some of the protesters. Listen carefully and you can hear echoes of the sentiments that propelled DJT into the Oval Office. “We’re here because we’ve had enough,” said Joel Mouilleseaux, 24, a student. “It’s always the same people who have to pay for the madness of others. We have to work to pay, work some more to pay some more and it’s been like that for years. It’s been like it since I was born, president after president, and now we’re saying, that’s enough. Left, right, for me it’s the same, always the same. I want to be heard, listened to and have a response.”
Bruno Binelli, 66, a retired carpenter from Lyon, said: “I’m not in any political party. I often vote Front National, but I’m not Front National. It’s not my mentality — and besides, I’m Italian by origin — but I do it out of protest, to say things are not good, and if you continue like this we will end up electing someone from the extreme right.
“But they don’t listen to us. Macron listens to nothing. He’s suddenly concerned about ecology, but it’s a lie: it’s a pretext to make us pay more tax. We no longer know what kind of car to buy: petrol, diesel, electric, who knows? I have a little diesel van and I don’t have the money to buy a new one, especially as I’m about to retire. We have the feeling those from the countryside are forgotten.”
Those of us who think raising the gasoline tax in America might want to reconsider our position. Those who think there is unlimited support for renewable energy and carbon taxes should pay heed as well. There will be some bruising fights on the way to a sustainable world.