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Why we support a carbon tax: The faith struggle of loving our neighbor and the need for action now

By Keith Ervin and Harriet Platts

How do we begin reducing Washington State’s carbon emissions at the rapid pace needed to do our part to prevent global climate catastrophe? And how do we do this while honoring the needs of our less privileged neighbors?

There’s no single, easy-to-execute answer to this big challenge. But nearly everyone working for climate justice agrees that one essential tool is to put a price on the fossil fuels that are the primary source of greenhouse gases. Washington voters will decide in November whether to adopt Initiative 732, a revenue-neutral carbon tax.

We support this initiative and urge your support. We didn’t come to this decision easily or lightly. As members of Interfaith Climate Action, a joint project of Seattle First Baptist Church and Bet Alef Meditative Synagogue, we studied and discussed I-732 for months before reaching a unanimous consensus to support it.

Members of our climate group supported Initiative 732 last year and collected signatures to put it on the ballot. We took a fresh look at the measure this year after some people in the environmental and labor movements actively opposed it. Among those opponents are members of racial minorities who feel that — once again — their voices have not been heard.

We want to explain how we wrestled with this conflict and concluded that I-732 deserves our support. As people of faith we believe we must recognize the connections between climate change and the difficulties faced by many of our fellow citizens. Poor families and people of color are over-represented among those who live on the front lines breathing dirty air (close to the Interstate, next to factories), who are struggling to find affordable housing and access to whole foods, and who are systemically excluded from decision-making circles.

We must acknowledge that our patterns of consumption are disproportionately harmful to our neighbors. Some of the harshest criticism of Initiative 732 has come from groups representing people of color, who complain they weren’t included in the drafting of the proposal. We are troubled that the initiative sponsor, Carbon Washington, failed to bridge the gap with these communities. Nevertheless, we find that I-732 is a viable approach to reducing carbon emissions and it would free Washington’s poorest working families from over taxation.

Here’s the initiative in a nutshell: We would pay more for gasoline and other fossil fuels, with the size of the tax increasing 3.5 percent per year, until reaching approximately $1 per gallon of gas. Every dollar in new taxes would be offset by equal reductions in the sales tax, business tax on manufacturing, and a tax rebate to low-income working families. The initiative would:

-Reduce carbon emissions;

-Reduce tax burden for 400,000 low income households; and

-Accelerate the transition to renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power.


Initiative 732 is not perfect. But it represents an effective way to address the most pressing challenge of our time.  Climate change is already upon us, in the form of higher temperatures, sea-level rise, ocean acidification, massive storms, wildfires and long-term drought. As stewards of God’s creation, we are called on to take action now.

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