Ted Nordhaus: Carbon Pricing Has to be Imposed Slowly, to Avoid Yellow Vest Riots

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Ted Nordhaus, nephew of Nobel Prize winning climate economist William Nordhaus, thinks the solution to eliminating CO2 is to impose a wide range of cost of living increases gradually, to avoid policy flashpoints which could trigger yellow vest style riots.


Dramatic projects to mitigate climate change often don’t work. Slow, quiet, incremental policies are the planet’s best hope.

JULY 20, 2019

Recent months have seen something of a turnaround in the conventional wisdom about how to address climate change. In December, on the weekend before the Swedish Academy presented the Nobel Prize to my uncle, the economist William Nordhaus, for his work on climate change and carbon taxes, France’s yellow vest movement flooded into the streets, shutting down Paris and other cities across the country and forcing President Emmanuel Macron to rescind the carbon tax he had recently imposed on transportation fuels.

A month earlier, voters in Washington state, as environmentally minded a place as you will find in the United States, soundly rejected a ballot initiative that would have established a carbon tax in that state.

In the parlance of economists and political scientists, carbon taxes are highly salient, meaning that people will do more to avoid paying the tax than they would in response to the same increase in the market cost of energy. But that salience also makes carbon pricing politically toxic; taxes often stoke an outsized reaction even when they are very modest. One response to a carbon tax is to wrap your hot water heater in a thermal blanket and install double-paned windows. Another is to riot.

Yet the Green New Deal contains a crucial insight. Economists argue for carbon pricing because it makes the social cost of carbon visible in our day-to-day consumption. Voters and politicians, by contrast, have generally preferred to hide the costs of climate mitigation. Policies to subsidize clean energy technology—including nuclear, wind, and solar—have tended to be far more successful politically than efforts to price carbon.

Government subsidies typically make economists pull their hair out. They encourage rent seeking and require policymakers with imperfect knowledge to make decisions about which technologies to champion. And it’s true, from synthetic fuels to biofuels, Solyndra solar cells to plutonium breeder reactors, governments have bet on plenty of energy technology losers.

Read more: https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/07/20/climate-change-requires-big-solutions-but-baby-steps-are-the-only-way-to-go/

What I find shocking is the sheer arrogance of these green proposals.

What is wrong with today’s establishment? What ever happened to at least trying to do what voters want, trying to make people’s lives easier, instead of attempting to fiddle the system to conceal why life has become so much harder?

Why have otherwise intelligent people become so mesmerised by big ideas, that they feel justified ignoring the pain their actions and ideas cause to ordinary people?

I don’t see any evidence that voters prefer to hide costs, as Nordhaus claimed; more likely slipping costs under the radar goes unnoticed until one day voters discover they can’t afford to eat.

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July 20, 2019 6:15 pm

Isn’t Ted Nordhaus just another Breakthrough Institute nuclear shill like Michael Shellenberger ?

Ultimately it’s the same game as the other 96.9% of climate liars. They want to make the planet sustainable because they’re idealists. They can afford it. Too bad if you can’t or don’t want to.

Robert of Ottawa
Reply to  Eric Mcoo
July 20, 2019 7:33 pm

If you don’t want to, you are an enemy of the planet … and you can guess where that would lead.

Reply to  Robert of Ottawa
July 21, 2019 9:21 am

10 10 no pressure


These monsters only love power.

Reply to  Eric Mcoo
July 20, 2019 9:01 pm

Instead of making poor people poorer quickly, we should do it gradually…
LOL…you don’t want those yellow vest people to come out now, but just gradually.
What a joke his whole idea is.

Edith Wenzel
Reply to  Eric Mcoo
July 20, 2019 10:52 pm

Agreed Eric!

Tom Halla
July 20, 2019 6:22 pm

The “Social Cost of Carbon” is very likely negative, that is, CO2 releases are a net benefit, so any attempt to reduce emissions is counterproductive. No matter how one goes about doing something un or counterproductive, the fact remains that it is destructive.

R Shearer
Reply to  Tom Halla
July 20, 2019 8:27 pm

Plants and animals that eat plants and animals that eat animals that eat plants are on your side.

Reply to  Tom Halla
July 21, 2019 5:34 pm

I’d say there is no social cost of carbon, but since these drips don’t even know the difference between carbon and carbon dioxide, it’s not worth the wasted breath.

Tom Halla
Reply to  PaulH
July 21, 2019 5:45 pm

The green blob calls CO2 “carbon” to try to confuse people who don’t follow the issue with thinking the issue is soot.

Tom in Florida
July 20, 2019 6:30 pm

It took me a while because it looks like it was hidden but this guy has a BA in History. That’s it. And being someone’s nephew means nothing.

Sweet Old Bob
July 20, 2019 6:40 pm

Must be something in the water they are drinking ….
toilet water ?

July 20, 2019 6:46 pm

What ever happened to at least trying to do what voters want, trying to make people’s lives easier, instead of attempting to fiddle the system to conceal why life has become so much harder?

Because human nature hasn’t changed since expulsion from The Garden.

They think we are their property to do with what ever they please.

Javert Chip
July 20, 2019 6:53 pm

Yes, by all means, we must bring the frog to a boil SLOWLY

Reply to  Javert Chip
July 21, 2019 4:01 am


+10. You beat me to it!

Reply to  Javert Chip
July 21, 2019 5:59 am

Don’t disparage the French!

Reply to  Javert Chip
July 21, 2019 9:26 am

What do you think the (privat) Federal Reserve System is and its direct taxation (1040). We The People have been boiled SLOWLY since 1913.

Reply to  Robertvd
July 21, 2019 1:52 pm

The ancients knew that democracy couldn’t last. The people would vote themselves a raid on the treasury.

BWTM: The ancients didn’t know about credit. Not only is the treasury empty (!), we have debt equal to 5 full years of revenue. But we’ll be okay this year.

D. Anderson
Reply to  Javert Chip
July 21, 2019 3:51 pm

I like the other frog story better:

Fell into a bucket of milk, was doomed but kept struggling anyway. Until he turned the milk into cream and leapt out.

July 20, 2019 6:56 pm

Some how I don’t like the idea of being slowly boiled alive which is the analogy that comes to mind here.

Reply to  ScienceABC123
July 21, 2019 9:36 am

It has been done to you all your life.

July 20, 2019 6:57 pm

Maybe Swift’s “Modest Proposal” could be put to work? In periods of starvation (brought on by these folks), we could keep them in reserve and do as Swift suggested..for survival?

Reply to  Max Hugoson
July 20, 2019 7:52 pm

Yeah, but don’t eat them all at once. Smart fellers like him, you should take an arm here and a leg there so’s his superior brain power can be used for a bit before the last o’ him goes in the pot.

July 20, 2019 6:58 pm

People liken gradually increasing pain to a frog in a slowly heating pot of water. link The thing is that real frogs jump out when the water gets too hot.

People are at least as smart as frogs. When the pain gets too much, they will do something. That’s why we have President Trump.

July 20, 2019 7:03 pm

“….The Green New Deal contains a crucial insight……”
This is the sort of “straight man” line that comedians like Groucho and Jack Benny just loved.
Fill in your own riposte!

July 20, 2019 7:19 pm

Another “if we introduce the lies, misinformation, and deceit slowly enough they won’t notice it and accept it for fact”.

Robert of Ottawa
July 20, 2019 7:32 pm

Green ideologues know better than us, they know how to save the very planet, from us. They are also watermelons and hate capitalist consumption. They want to make us poor by slowling increasing the cost of living such that we won’t notice. In fact, these ideologues actually want fewer of us (not them of course) but understand that publicly aclaiming this goal would not extend their lifespan.

July 20, 2019 7:35 pm

This is a common trick of the socialists. Phase in a costly policy over many years so nobody notices. If their policies were so great they would put the whole thing in right a way but they wont because people, after feeing that pain, would revolt. It also gives them time to blame the problems such a new policy brings on other things. In short they rely on the stupidity of the public.

Reply to  Steve
July 20, 2019 8:55 pm

The reason their policies don’t work is always because we have not spent enough yet. See: Education, Homelessness, Public housing, etc.

Also see the most recent iteration, the “northern triangle” countries. We did not spend enough supporting those countries so it is OUR fault they are coming here, not the lousy immigration laws and activist leftists encouraging the migration to the US and the socialist and communist governments creating the miserable economic conditions resulting in the exodus.

Craig from Oz
Reply to  Steve
July 20, 2019 10:16 pm

The variation to this is the negotiated compromise.

“I want to take everything you own in the name of saving the planet.”
“What? I don’t want to give you everything. There must be another way.”
“Well… how about we compromise. We will take half of everything you own. That is fair. We are meeting in the middle.”
“Hang on. No. I still don’t want to do that.”
“Well! Now who is being un-democratic and refusing to discuss proposals like a rational adult!”

July 20, 2019 7:36 pm

Before doing anything if anything at all, Trump EPA should insist on an independent thorough review of the last updated of the social cost of carbon. The process of Barack Obama/ John Holdren determing what the message “should say” before the message is written is pretty clear. The Obama / Holdren update of the SCC was completed before the Paris Accords meeting in late 2015 for messaging purposes. I went back and compared this Obama 2013 update with the previous update completed in 2010 and found that for all of the discount rates used the SCC increased by 60% (almost) across the board …all years and all discount rates. Mighty suspicious.
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July 20, 2019 8:24 pm

Because our emissions have almost no effect on the atmospheric CO2 content reducing our emissions can have no effect on the climate. A tax of whatever amount introduced in whatever fashion is all tax and no climate benefit. Its purpose must be something else not mentioned in this propaganda.

John F. Hultquist
July 20, 2019 8:49 pm

Someone should tell Ted that in the USA most safety vests are orange, some blue, and some yellow. Many are a mixture of many colors. There is no requirement to carry one in the US or any of the states, as far as I know.
For such a requirement, I suggest red/white/&blue.

Economists argue for carbon pricing because it makes the social cost of carbon visible in our day-to-day consumption.” [Nordhaus, 2019]

The more convincing argument is that no one will notice.
Gasoline price at the pump goes up and down about every 3 days.
No one seems to care. People still drive it the cost goes up.
I haven’t noticed folks slowing down on the open roads.
Further, in the great State of Washington, sales taxes increase and shoppers still shop.

Robert of Texas
July 20, 2019 8:56 pm

This will work, at least up to a point. People just do not notice the slow erosion of their buying power, lifestyle, and rights. You just have to slowly take them away, little by little, until the people no longer have a say but do not yet realize it.

This course is made much easier if you have control of two institutions – the press (or mass media these days) and universities. Guess what? The liberals have utter control of both. There is no one to blame but ourselves for allowing this to happen. When a third of the population is too stupid to think for themselves, a third is too meek to fight it, the leaders of a socialist revolution win.

It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion…its tragic but there seems like nothing you can do.

Reply to  Robert of Texas
July 20, 2019 9:20 pm

They can compensate with redistributive change. It’s either an opportunistic disease, or a placebo effect that they can force once they reach critical social mass, which, it seems, they have. We live in euphemistic times.

Al Miller
July 20, 2019 9:18 pm

The best solution for the people and the planet is for fools like Ted, his ilk and socialist ideologies to be completely ignored for the junk it is. I’m 97% sure that socialism has never worked for the people, only the elite few, all of whom of course (so they imagine) are the self righteous green blabbers.

Joel O'Bryan
July 20, 2019 9:27 pm

Sanity tells us that the Socialists can never be allowed to gain political power.

Adolph H and his band of murderous thugs were mostly a laughing stock in 1923. But by 1933, half the population of Germany was cheering him. The other half either cowered in fear or began fleeing. 10 years is the blink of an eye in political-historical politically.

Now today’s Leftist’s cleverly try to portray the Right as the Fascists. But that of course is an intentional misreading of history. The true Fascists are of course on the Left, the socialists, the Big Government control everything by the police power of the State. And when the conservatives are in control, it is anarchy and revolution the Socialists use to seize power.

The only option is to never let the Left have political power to impose their ideology on the People. For California it may seem too late. But the Sacramento socialists still have to operate within the larger framework of the US Constitution. There is still hope that enough of Cal’s middle class sees what the LEftists are doing to make them poor, and can still vote them out of power.

The Left’s holy grail of course is having a dishonest bunch of Socialists in the majority on the Supreme Court. If they can get that, then they can run rough-sod over the constitution with their philosophy of a “Living Constitution”. If they ever get that, it really could be game over for US democracy.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
July 21, 2019 9:34 am

The US was never intended to be a democracy. The Founding Fathers know how bad that would end.

E J Zuiderwijk
July 20, 2019 10:58 pm

People have to be lied to for their own best interest. The conceit underpinning every religion.

These greens are just shameless.

Mike Haseler (Scottish Sceptic)
July 21, 2019 12:38 am

This is all part of the new politics where electorates are told they are voting for one thing and the politicians give them something totally different. It is also the reason why the UK is coming out of the EU where this kind of behaviour is rife, why Trump got elected and why the Brexit party in the UK, suddenly came from no where won the most recent (EU) elections.

So, yes let’s have the current politicians doing even more of this lying to the electorate – because it will only speed the demise of these current lying politicians.

Patrick MJD
July 21, 2019 1:18 am

Boris Johnson is now the PM of the UK! Gawd help us!

michael hart
Reply to  Patrick MJD
July 21, 2019 4:17 am

Has he expressed an opinion about carbon taxes? I got the impression that he leaned towards the sensible on this matter. Slightly Trump-like.

John Cherry
Reply to  Patrick MJD
July 21, 2019 4:41 am

Not yet, he isn’t. The ballot result will be declared on Tuesday the 22nd and the incoming PM (Boris Johnson, I hope) will take over on Thursday. Then we can say “Goodbye and good riddance “ to the worst PM of my country in my lifetime of almost 70 years. Of course, she has left us with a commitment to net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 which no one will have the guts to reverse in the current (political) climate.

July 21, 2019 3:52 am

Kill them slowly ,not too quick or they fight back .

michael hart
July 21, 2019 4:06 am

“What I find shocking is the sheer arrogance of these green proposals.”

It’s a normal day at the office for”greens”. As others point out, for them, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is simply not permissible when there is a planet to be saved.

The gradual imposition of a fuel price “escalator” was tried in the UK more than a decade ago. It was abandoned after haulier protests on the roads using tactics which were admirably French in style.

“By 2000, tax accounted for 81.5% of the total cost of unleaded petrol, up from 72.8% in 1993 Fuel prices in the UK had risen from being amongst the cheapest in Europe to being the most expensive in the same time frame.”


Eamon Butler
July 21, 2019 4:42 am

The insanity is, these clowns have invented a problem. It doesn’t exist. They then dictate to the rest of us, how we should go about solving this problem. They have openly admitted the agenda is different, no conspira@y theory there. ‘Did you guys think it has something to do with Climate…?’ That’s only the most recent declaration.
The main problem we have today is throwing out Political corruption. That’s what drives the phony Climate crusade, aided by a willing media. Scaremongering is essential for Political survival and it sells sensational Headlines.


July 21, 2019 4:44 am

Q: Why have otherwise intelligent people become so mesmerised by big ideas, that they feel justified ignoring the pain their actions and ideas cause to ordinary people?

A: Because power is an addiction and they just do NOT care what happens to other people, as long as they have some kind of power. That should be obvious even to a blind pianist. After all, both Stalin and Pol Pot did their best to slaughter their people, simply for existing.

This heat wave has finally broken and we got both rain and cooler air (thank you, Zephyros!) and I hope it stays in the 70s from now on, but it was just a heat wave. A nastier heat wave than this one struck in 1994, with many deaths resulting from what used to be called heat exhaustion and/or heat stroke.

This isn’t anything but weather, and we have zero – zip – ningun – rien – control over that, so how do these nutballs expect any reasoning person to believe that they can control the climate on a planet-sized scale if they can’t even control the weather?

The term “stop climate change” is nothing but a pseudonym – false name – for political control of a population by various means, including raising taxes and increasing the cost of utilities beyond the capacity of ordinary people to pay for those things. It just shows you should NEVER take anything for granted, because someone, somewhere, will want to take it away from you.

Why? “Because hobbits as miserable slave, Frodo, are more pleasing to Sauron than hobbits happy and free.” – JRR Tolkien.

July 21, 2019 4:48 am

For the record Ted Nordhaus, you are full of Schmidt.

CO2 in the atmosphere is good , and more CO2 is better.

Excerpt from my recent paper:

15. Atmospheric CO2 is not alarmingly high, it is too low for optimal plant growth and alarmingly low for the survival of carbon-based terrestrial life. The real danger is not too much CO2 – it is CO2 starvation. Over geologic time, CO2 is ~permanently sequestered in carbonate rocks.

Plants evolved at atmospheric CO2 concentrations of 2000 ppm and greater, and many grow best at about 1200 ppm CO2 – about 3 times current levels. That is why greenhouse operators pump 1000-1200 ppm CO2 into their greenhouses.

Major food crops (except corn) use the C3 photosynthetic pathway, and die at about 150 ppm from CO2 starvation – that is just 30 ppm below the minimum levels during the last Ice Age, which ended just 10,000 years ago – “the blink of an eye” in geologic time. Earth came that close to a major extinction event.

During one of the next Ice Ages, unless there is massive human intervention, atmospheric CO2 will decline to below 150 ppm and that will be the next major extinction event – not just for a few species but for ~all complex terrestrial carbon-based life forms.

Reference: “(Plant) Food for Thought”
(first posted in January 2009 on wattsupwiththat.com, published on icecap.us in December 2014)
by Allan MacRae, Dec 18, 2014
Reference: “Should We Celebrate Carbon Dioxide?”
by Patrick Moore, October 15, 2015

Excerpts from
“CO2, Global Warming, Climate and Energy”
by Allan M.R. MacRae, B.A.Sc., M.Eng.

Willem Post
July 21, 2019 5:20 am

Taxes should be increased to double the price of any luxury items, cosmetics, parfums, private planes, yachts, luxury houses and condos and gentlemen farms, designer clothing and other such attire.

Use the money to build net zero energy buildings and build entire communities where people walk and jog, and play, and work.

There would not be any yellow vests anywhere ever.

Kyle in Upstate NY
July 21, 2019 6:36 am

There is a quote I once read:

“The urge to save humanity is almost always a false flag for the desire to control it.”

Tom Abbott
July 21, 2019 6:37 am

A Carbon Dioxide tax will raise the price of everything we buy because a Carbon Dioxide tax will cause the price of gasoline to climb higher which will cause retailers to raise their prices since their costs for transportation have increased, and retailers without a legitimate reason to raise their prices will do so anyway and blame it on the Carbon Dioxide tax.

A Carbon Dioxide tax is one of the dumber, more destructive ideas of our time.

Larry Barden
July 21, 2019 6:52 am

To avoid larger government and the waste of top-down subsidies that don’t work, take the libertarian route. Give ALL the carbon tax receipts back to American citizens in equal monthly dividends and let American citizens decide which technologies save them the most money.

Before you say that Americans will never get the money back, consider the Federal income tax withheld from your paycheck. The IRS collects a tax from you and then refunds overpayments annually. The only difference in a carbon dividend is that you will receive your dividend monthly rather than annually.

Folks in the lower 70% income brackets will get back more carbon dividend than they pay in carbon tax, thereby avoiding yellow-vest riots. Folks in the upper 30% income brackets will pay more in carbon tax than they receive in carbon dividend, but folks in those income brackets can afford the expense and don’t riot in yellow vests to achieve their political goals.

Most importantly, keep the money out of the hands of politicians. They cannot resist spending our money on pet projects.


Reply to  Larry Barden
July 21, 2019 9:46 am

If you don’t want politicians to have an unlimited money supply abolish the (not) Federal Reserve and fiat money.

The only thing Form 1040 tells you is that you are less than a slave and gives them the right to, unconstitutional, know EVERYTHING about you.

Dave Miller
Reply to  Larry Barden
July 21, 2019 10:44 am

You think taxing to fund redistribution (of perhaps 60% of the take, the rest is skimmed) is Libertarian?

Lawrence Samuel Barden
Reply to  Dave Miller
July 21, 2019 11:40 am
Tom Abbott
Reply to  Larry Barden
July 21, 2019 3:44 pm

“To avoid larger government and the waste of top-down subsidies that don’t work, take the libertarian route. Give ALL the carbon tax receipts back to American citizens in equal monthly dividends and let American citizens decide which technologies save them the most money.”

Returning 100 percent of the Carbon Dioxide tax to the taxpayers would not include returning the rise in prices for everything else. Gasoline won’t be the only thing rising in price because of a Carbon Dioxide tax, everything will be rising in cost because of the increase in the cost of gasoline.

There is no free lunch.


Lawrence Samuel Barden
Reply to  Tom Abbott
July 22, 2019 8:45 am

You are correct that virtually everything we buy will increase in price as a result of a carbon tax, but a comprehensive evaluation (REMI 2013) of the legislation that is currently going through the maze of committees in the US House of Representatives (HR 763) shows that for the lower 70% of income brackets the carbon dividend will be more than the increased costs of all purchases . The upper 30% of income brackets use more fossil carbon than the lower 70% combined and would thus pay more in carbon tax than returned in the monthly carbon dividend.

Regional Economic Modeling, Inc. (REMI) 2013. https://11bup83sxdss1xze1i3lpol4-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/The-Economic-Climate-Fiscal-Power-and-Demographic-Impact-of-a-National-Fee-and-Dividend-Carbon-Tax-5.25.18.pdf

Here is the link to HR 763: https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/763

July 21, 2019 10:11 am

You mean like sales taxes, VAT taxes, and income taxes on the rich, lower middle class?

Reply to  ResourceGuy
July 21, 2019 12:09 pm

Only direct taxation is bad. Government needs money but to keep government small only indirect taxation is the way to go. . And of course the gold standard.

John the Econ
July 21, 2019 10:21 am

Just another example as to how Progressivism is a lie: Price/cost transparency is the last thing they want or can afford.

Linda Goodman
July 21, 2019 11:04 am

“What is wrong with today’s establishment?” That’s easy – they’re not being effectively challenged. There is no debate – ‘climate change’ is JUNK science that upends the truth; and the reason is the best kept secret of all – eco-totalitarian world government, yet essentially NO ONE is exposing it. So most Americans believe the fraud is only about making money from [literally] thin air – just crooked business as usual – so why worry? Globalism is eco-fascism that needs to be fully exposed to end this madness.

Reply to  Linda Goodman
July 21, 2019 12:14 pm

It’s a federal mafia. And we all know how a mafia works. By fear.

Wiliam Haas
July 21, 2019 1:19 pm

In our modern society people have to make use of energy. People do not want to go back to life the way it was 200 years ago when we did not make use of fossil fuels. Anyway the energy technology of 200 years ago will not support such a large human population so going back to the old energy technology would cause billions of premature deaths. But the reality is that the climate change we have been experiencing is caused by the sun and the oceans over which mankind has no control. There is no real evidence that CO2 has any effect on climate and there is plenty of scientific rationale to support the idea that the climate sensitivity of CO2 is zero. So all this carbon taxing will have very little effect on CO2 emissions and will have no effect on climate. But even id we could stop the climate form changing, extreme weather events and sea level rise would continue because they are part of the local climate. Rather than trying to kill the economy with more taxes, we will be far better off to improve the economy so that we have more economic resources to provide appropriate infrastructure to protect us from the ravages of extreme weather events.

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