Yellow Vest Protests in France

Are only the wealthy able to afford environmentalism?

If this is true, we will possibly never get global warming or environmental devastation fixed.  And the world will continue to get hotter and hotter and the climate more and more destructive to human  beings.

This is true because inequality is now a huge part of life in much of the world and very probably at its worst in America.  Depending on how you define inequality, 40% or 60% or more of the people in the West are now struggling to survive in poorly paying jobs.

Unfortunately trying to lessen CO2 emissions is expensive, it comes only at a price.  One of the best ways to force CO2 emissions down is to tax it by imposing taxes on those who make or use the most CO2.  For example, many countries are now taxing oil and gasoline use.  This definitely makes industries try to find cleaner and cheaper sources of energy and it definitely forces everyone to burn less gasoline and heating oil and use fewer carbon based products.

However, this creates a problem.  Many people are barely hanging on economically as it is.  If it is a struggle to find enough cash to fill our gas tank every week so you and your wife can get to work and so you can get your kids to their school halfway across town, then you are going to get very mad when gasoline taxes go way up.  And you are probably going to be very resentful that the rich are forcing you to pay for a problem that they created.

This is exactly what happened a few weeks ago in France.  For some time France has been imposing taxes on gasoline to lower its CO2 emissions so it can meet the promises it made in the Paris Climate Accords.  And when the French government anounced that gas taxes would go up yet again, the French working class became very, very angry.  Justifiably so in my opinion.

The moral here is that trying to lessen climate change in a world where many people are struggling to just carry on, is much harder than it would be in a just and equitable world.

Fighting climate change suddenly became much more difficult when it was realized that fighting climate change also required hurting many innocent people in your own country.

There  was an important article in the NY Times on Dec 6, 2018 which illustrates the difficulties of fighting climate change while trying to better the lives of the working class at the same time.  And when you have politicians like trump pretending to help the working class but actually just helping the rich, then everything becomes much more complex and difficult.

Unfortunately many counties including America and France and other European nations have let rich elites suck up most the money from the middle and working classes, and this now impedes us from making  environmental and climate change progress.   It also prevents us from dumping Donald Trump since Donald Trump got into power by pretending that he would help the middle and working classes have good lives again.  

I think the original sin committed by most first world countries was abandoning the middle and working classes economically for the last fifty years.  From about the 1970s until today, the real, mean income of the middle class and particularly the working class in American stagnated for fifty years.   For fifty years the incomes of most of the middle class did not increased only very slightly when you consider inflation.  However, the incomes of the very rich and even the professional class, the upper 10%, soared astronomically.

In my opinion, before we can fix climate change and before we can fix republican corruption, we have to do something about the economic condition of the middle of the working classes.  The first thing that we have to do is rectify the damage we have done to the working and middle classes.

The NY Times article I mentioned above  is titled “Yellow Vest’ Protests Shake France: Here’s the Lesson for Climate Change.”  There is a link to this article at the bottom of this page.

This article points out how inequality in France translated into massive and terrifying riots in Paris when the government tried to impose a carbon tax on gas and how these riots convinced the French government to cancel the tax.  It is now very clear that the pain of the working classes makes fixing the environment very, very difficult, if not impossible.

Below are some of the main points of this article.

“France’s suspension of a fuel tax increase after violent protests signaled the perils that governments in wealthier countries may face in setting policies to fight climate change.

There is little doubt among scientists and economists — many of whom are in Poland for the current round of climate negotiations — that putting a price on carbon is essential in the effort to reduce fossil fuel dependence. The question is how to design a carbon tax, and how to cushion the blow for the most vulnerable.

Many analysts say the French tax was not politically deft, falling hardest on people outside French cities who were already feeling the pain of stagnating incomes and who do not have the same mass transportation options as urban residents.

Vincent Picard describes himself as a “militant ecologist.” But when protesters took to the streets to express their rage over a planned increase in France’s fuel tax, Mr. Picard joined their ranks.

He acknowledges that the tax might encourage the conservation considered critical for a healthy planet. But with the nearest train station 35 minutes away, he has to drive to work every day.

“I am conscious that we have reached the end of fossil fuels and that we have to modify our habits,” said Mr. Picard, a 32-year-old pastry maker from northern France. But, he added, “You have to continue to live.”

The gas tax is part of an effort started by France in 2014 to regularly raise the tax on fossil fuels to fight global climate change.

The so-called Yellow Vest protests against the tax increase have become the biggest obstacle yet to such attempts to encourage conservation and alternative energy use. The protests point to the difficulties facing nearly all industrialized countries committed to pulling the world back from the cliff’s edge of catastrophic climate change.

France’s cancellation of the tax increase this week in the aftermath of increasingly violent protests signaled the perils and political headwinds that governments worldwide may face as they try to wean their citizens from fossil fuels.

But successfully passing carbon taxes is an increasingly delicate balancing act, with the biggest single obstacle still the pushback from the fossil fuel industry and its supporters.

The picture at the top of this page is a scene near
Telluride Colorado.  


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