Carbon tax is the best way to break our oil addiction

by Rolf Westgard, University guest faculty

The Minnesota DailyâÄôs editorial, âÄúOil drilling is moving backwardâÄù suggests that oil production is going back to the âÄúdark ages.âÄù Actually, the Dark Ages were when humans had to rely on their own muscles for energy, and we lived short and rather miserable lives. Now we have the energy from all that buried sunshine in the form of fossil fuels, and our lives are much longer and happier. Each American controls the energy equivalent of all the slaves once available only to kings and princes.   
We are already subsidizing so-called green energies at a hundred times the rate we subsidize fossil fuels on a per-unit of energy produced basis. The low energy density of biofuels and the environmental impact of their production means that they donâÄôt do much. Wind and solar are so erratic and expensive that they donâÄôt do much either âÄî they were responsible for about 1 percent of our total energy in 2011.
Regulation that ignores the laws of physics and nature doesnâÄôt help either. Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act in 2007, which requires annual production of hundreds of millions of gallons of cellulosic ethanol. We struggle to make 5 million gallons in research facilities, since there is still no effective production process for it.
The best approach is to tax carbon, which encourages conservation and efficiency and helps make renewables competitive.