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February 2016 Public Forum Topic Analysis – Carbon Tax

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February 2016 Public Forum Topic Analysis – Carbon Tax Transcript:

2016 February PF Topic Area: Energy Security

Resolved: The United States federal government should adopt a carbon tax.

Welcome to another topic analysis from Debate Clash, we’re dedicated to providing forensics resources to every student that needs them. If you want to learn, you should have the ability to.

In this video we’ll be looking at the resolution Resolved: The United States federal government should adopt a carbon tax. We’ll start by defining what the resolution is talking about and then addressing the major arguments you’ll be seeing this February.

Keep in mind that this video is purely for brainstorming purposes only. Please do not use Debate Clash as source in your rounds.

Defining the resolution

The first part of the resolution which says “The United States federal government” identifies that the affirmative is obligated to use the federal government as their exclusive actor. This means that any arguments talking about the state or private actors initiating any sort of carbon cut back are negative arguments. As the affirmative you must defend that the federal government specifically should adopt a carbon tax.

The next part of the resolution “should adopt” simply implies that the federal government should take action and put a policy of some sort place.

Which policy? A carbon tax. Now it’s important to keep in mind that the resolution doesn’t specify which carbon tax plan to put in place. It says “a carbon tax.” So let’s go over some of the main characteristics that you see in various carbon tax plans.

A Carbon Tax generally refers to a government placing a price on greenhouse gas emissions. So for every tonne of toxins emitted a company will be forced to pay “x” amount of dollars. It’s designed as a cost effective way to reduce emissions.

Now there are several different ways that they can implemented. One way is to tell companies that they have “X” tonnes worth of emissions that they can release in a given year, and that for each tonne that they go above that they will have to pay a certain amount of money.

Another plan could utilize this way of thinking, but give companies the ability to sell or trade unused emission credits. Instead of charging them, they could receive a tax break or tax reduction for decreasing emissions.

Some plans include charging families for their emissions. Some plans could be implemented over several years with the allowed gas limit lessening each year. The topic is not as simple as it initially sounds.

You then have to decide as the affirmative what you are proposing. Some teams prefer to be as vague as possible on topics like this and say that plans aren’t allowed in PF so we just have to show that in general Carbon Taxes are good.

I’ve seen some teams take this strategy far as the negative can’t make arguments like, “this is going to cost too much.” Or “This doesn’t do enough for the environment.” Because the affirmative doesn’t actually have a proposal. They just stand behind the idea that Carbon Taxes are good.

The downside to this is that it is very hard for a lot of judges to vote for something that they don’t really know what it is or anything specific about it.

I’ve also seen a lot of successful teams choose recently proposed policies and say that if we gave the federal government the green light this is the one they would go with. Other teams might also say that almost every carbon tax proposal in recent history has these attributes so that is what we are defending.

Ultimately it’s your choice as a debater and a debate team. Just make sure that whichever option you choose is warranted.

Main Affirmative Arguments

The first category that affirmative arguments can fall under are environmental arguments.

Under this category the first argument is the initial intent of Carbon Taxes. They are designed to place a price tag on each ton of emission with the ultimate goal of companies reducing their pollutants.

I like to imagine emissions like free samples. If there are no limits to the amount of cookies I can take there is no reason for me not to take 5 or 6. However if someone said the first cookie is free, but after that you will need to pay $1 for each additional cookie I would probably only take only 1.

Right now businesses don’t really have a good enough incentive to reduce emissions. We are living in the uncapped free samples world of Greenhouse gases. By providing a Carbon Tax it works as a monetary incentive, businesses are more likely to reduce emissions which will help the environment overall.

This is most likely going to be your major link for environmental arguments. I would recommend getting quality evidence to prove that companies would in fact follow this incentive and reduce emissions as well as ways that they might easily reduce emissions.

The next environmental argument is that this could set a precedent for the world. Assuming you can find the right evidence and piece it together with solid analysis you could argue that if the United States accepts a carbon tax and makes an effort to reduce emissions that other countries will jump on this green train and follow in the US’s footsteps.

Another argument you can propose is that the Carbon Tax would create an incentive to improve research and development on alternative energy. Right now there are only a select amount of companies that will invest in alternative energy. Because the demand for solar, geothermal, hydro, wind, or other energies is fairly low there aren’t as many companies producing or researching these.

If a carbon tax was implemented a very large portion of US companies would want to use alternative energy sources to save money. So that they wouldn’t have to pay this additional tax.

The carbon tax indirectly creates a demand for more alternative energy which decreases the demand for fossil fuels. This demand shift in theory should increase the efficiency of existing alternative energies, decrease cost, and establish a permanent infrastructure of low emission energy.

Now from a judge’s perspective it’s exceptionally hard to win a debate round by saying we help the environment vote for us. You have to expand upon the environmental impacts. Do some research into how helping the environment improves people’s health, may be reduces temperature and weather swings, and how those affect crops, the economy, or our daily lives.

Try to be as specific as possible. A Carbon Tax would reduce emissions by this much and in turn would affect the world in this specific way.

The second category includes economic arguments.

The first argument under this category utilizes the alternative energy link previously mentioned to prove economic impacts. If there is demand for a specific product someone will create it. Welcome to the free market.

Once we have a demand for alternative energy this will drive innovation which has a very large impact on the economy, it will make our products much more energy efficient saving money in the long term, it could spark small business start ups, increase consumer and business confidence, create jobs, increase US exported technology, and so on.

If you can prove that the implementation of the Carbon Tax will increase the demand for alternative energy you will gain access to a massive database of economic impacts.

Now all of the money that individuals and businesses will have to start paying for their emissions doesn’t go to something completely useless. Well it does go to the government, but in reality that money could be invested into welfare programs, helping the environment, research and development, and other areas that could be very beneficial to our country or the world.

A Carbon Tax means more money for the government.

A lot of individuals that repel big business or think that taxes should be raised on them would also probably support this. In a lot of ways this could serve as a tax on those that are filthy rich. Filthy in the CO2 emissions kind of way.

Do a quick Google search on why taxing the rich is good and you’ve got another great economic argument.

You could also argue that a Carbon Tax would decrease our dependence on foreign oil and extract a large variety of impacts from there.

Even though the Carbon Tax sounds like an environmental policy it also has a lot of economic implications.

The third category is Workarounds.

The first thing you should remember is that you don’t have to propose something extreme as the Affirmative. Some negative teams will try to bully you into defending a carbon tax that goes into effect today, affects all companies and individuals, and charges $1000 per ton of Greenhouse gas emissions.

The short response to negative teams that do this is to say, “No.” The warranted response would include arguments that explain how this would be dramatically unfair for the affirmative, that if this faulty logic that the affirmative has to defend an extreme plan if this were applied to every round then the Negative would always win. If something is unfair, it shouldn’t be in play.

You could also argue that the NSDA added the word “a” Carbon Tax to show that the affirmative doesn’t have to be solidified down to a specific plan. And the list goes on. Just don’t let the negative bully you into defending something you shouldn’t be.

Along this line of logic, you can also hinder the negative from being able to run alternatives. The resolution says the United States Federal Government should adopt a Carbon Tax. It doesn’t say, the best option is to adopt a Carbon Tax, or the federal government should adopt a carbon tax over something else. The resolution is a yes or no question on Carbon Taxes, nowhere does it give the negative the ability to run alternatives.

You also have to the option as the affirmative to accept any alternatives they run. If the negative says that we should implement another environmental policy, you can simply say, “yeah, let’s do it.” If the negative proves that a certain policy is beneficial it doesn’t disprove a Carbon Tax also being beneficial. We can do both.

It’s the negative’s burden to disprove the resolution, not show that there’s another shinier plan that we should implement.

Another question to ask yourself is why should we implement a Carbon Tax now? Is it because the environment will be destroyed soon, or if we don’t switch to alternative energies we’ll reach peak oil and have a catastrophe?

Any answer to the question of why we should implement it now is a reason to vote for the affirmative.

Main Negative Arguments

The first category for the negative includes environmental arguments

The first argument under this category is that a Carbon tax won’t actually reduce CO2 emissions, it will simply shift where the emissions are produced. For example, if the United States all of the sudden announced a Carbon Tax all business that heavily pollute would just create new factories in other countries.

Businesses outsource jobs to other countries all the time to save money, there’s no reason they wouldn’t do it to reduce emissions and get out of the Carbon Tax.

Another argument that also questions the affirmative ability to help the environment is that the environmental damage is done and can’t be reversed. You could even agree with them and say, yeah the environment is more messed up than Miley Cyrus, but that doesn’t mean a Carbon Tax would fix it. If you are implementing this policy in the name of helping the environment then the burden of showing that you improve the environment is on you. If you can’t show that, vote neg.

Along these lines you can also mention that we have a global environment. I hate to say it, but we share the air with everyone. *Breathe* Even if the United States stopped polluting altogether that’s 1 of 196 countries that isn’t polluting. That’s like making the claim that there wouldn’t be anymore bad movies produced if m night shyamalan stopped directing. There are a lot of other bad directors that will still be ruining classic childhood TV Shows.

We also have to think about businesses finding loopholes in the system. You can guess that as soon a Carbon Tax is implemented businesses will be delving through that paperwork and finding any possible loopholes they can. This could lead to them utilizing fuels that maybe don’t produce CO2 emissions, but maybe cause more harm, or are more dangerous.

The affirmative has to dream big if they think that a Carbon Tax will solve all of our environmental problems. Make sure you let the judge know that.

The second category for the negative is economic arguments.

If you didn’t already know businesses don’t like the government taking their money. One could then assume that if a Carbon Tax was adopted that businesses would force their consumers to pay the bill. It’s a common trick, energy prices go up and so do the product prices.

This could also do more harm than simply raising the price of certain products. This could in fact destroy consumer and business confidence. I would highly suggest researching these economic terms and seeing the dramatic effect that they have on our economy.

Other small businesses or start up businesses might not even survive this initial energy price hike and may have to declare bankruptcy. Small businesses are another great contributor to economic growth. If small businesses die off, so does our economy.

There is also the possibility that a Carbon Tax could affect drivers directly. If the government decided that a good way to regulate emissions was to increase the tax rates on gas this could cause a lot of harm to consumer checkbooks.

As crazy as this sounds, a Carbon Tax could also hurt the government’s budget. If you have a new policy in place you also need an agency to enforce it. Take a look at the cost to run other US agencies and you’ll get the idea of how much this could would take.

This new tax could also destroy the income of other nations that export oil to the United States. One could argue that hurting their economy could come back to hurt our own because we are so financially tied together. Others might argue that it’s bad or immoral to destroy another countries economy regardless of what happens to our own.

The negative can also ask the affirmative when this carbon tax would be implemented. If it’s immediate then companies don’t have enough time to switch their infrastructure over causing them to pay millions, destroying business confidence, escalating prices, and more.

If the affirmative says that it will take some time to implement then you can argue that this is just enough time for businesses to move their factories to other countries escalating the unemployment rate and hurting the economy.

In debate lingo we call this a double bind. No matter which way your opponent chooses to go, they lose.

The third category for the negative are the workarounds.

The first argument under this category runs contrary to the affirmative workarounds, which is that the negative CAN run alternatives. Just how the affirmative has to warrant their claims as to why the negative cannot propose different options, the negative also should warrant their claim as to why they should be able to.

These would include arguments that say that in real life scenarios we don’t have this type of tunnel vision. When someone says, “hey we need to do something about gun control.” We don’t say, okay we can either implement a full background check on guns or stick to the status quo.

No. Various alternatives are proposed. It’s the most realistic way to debate, it’s the most fair way to debate, and it’s the most educational way to debate.

If you are running alternatives you should have mounds of pre-prepared arguments as to why you should be able to run them.

Now, alternatives you can run would include private actors, maybe non-government organizations within the United States, maybe the United Nations should do something, or probably the most popular alternative which is that the States should be implementing a Carbon Tax.

The resolution specifies that the federal government should implement a carbon tax. State governments are technically negative ground.

From here you can talk about how the states are more effective, how it’s constitutionally more of a state right to regulate this, and so on.

As the negative you can also try to tie the affirmative down to a specific Carbon Tax. In the first Cross examination you should be asking questions like, what is a Carbon Tax? Anything they say, you can use against them.

What are the traits of Carbon Taxes? When would this be implemented? Is this permanent or Temporary? How much would it cost each ton? How does the tax work exactly? Are you adding a tax on to certain products? Are businesses themselves in charge of keeping track of their emissions?

Whatever their answers are to these questions, you just locked them into something. You will also find very resilient teams that refuse to answer these questions. If this is the case you might want to find some average statistics for Carbon Taxes.

This is the average cost per ton of emissions or most are only implemented for a certain amount of years. If they are defending a Carbon Tax and won’t be specific, then let’s talk about the average Carbon Tax.

Final Tips

  1. Know why you’re able to run your arguments. It’s not enough to just run a specific policy as the affirmative or negative. You need to have arguments that explain why you’re able to do that.
  2. Know your strategy for the whole round. This resolution gives you lots of opportunities to contradict yourself. Know what your strongest arguments are and don’t contradict them.
  3. Use impact calculous. Although I would recommend this for every resolution, this one in particular will most likely come down to whether the environment or the economy is more important. You should have arguments that can convince the judge either way.
  4. Use the 1st cross examination to clarify the round in your favor. By the end of that first cross X you should know what you’re defending and what your opponents are defending. Make sure that this clarification falls in your favor.

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Thanks again for all the support and good luck at all those big tournaments in February.


Featured image is licensed under a Creative Commons License. Author: Tony Webster Photo Title: Pollution

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