Yellow Means Caution: Why the Paris “Yellow Vest” Riots Indicate Legislators Should Be Cautious with Carbon Taxes

By Andrew Dinwoodie

In November 2018, thousands of protestors donned with yellow vests stormed the streets of Paris, France with the intent of protesting French President Emmanuel Macron’s fuel tax increases. While demonstrators protested other policies, Macron’s carbon tax policies initially caused the yellow vest riots.[1] These protests have forced the French government to deploy as many as 80,000 police officers at one time to quell the protests.[2] Similar protests also spread to other parts of the world including Belgium, Bulgaria, Sweden, Serbia, Israel, and Iraq.[3]

These carbon tax protests have taught the world that progressive carbon taxes are probably not the best solution to combat climate change. The main problem with carbon taxes is that they do not actually solve the problem of reducing carbon emissions.[4] The only purpose carbon taxes serve is to increase the costs on individuals, while carbon fuel emissions remain virtually unchanged.[5] Additionally, carbon taxes unequally disadvantage the poor because they are more reliant on fossil fuel sources.[6] Some economists even argue that carbon taxes would cause a “Green Paradox,” which would actually increase the amount of carbon emissions released into the atmosphere.[7] Such a phenomenon would occur because the oil and gas companies would flood the market with supplies in order to crash the market.[8] This would, in effect, make carbon fuels even cheaper than before the carbon tax.[9] Thus, while legislators may have good intentions with carbon taxes, the end does not currently justify the means.

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[1] Josh K. Elliott, Why France’s “yellow vest” protestors are rioting in and across the country, Global News, https://globalnews.ca/news/4722229/france-yellow-vests-riot/ (last visited March 14, 2019).

[2] Joe Duggan, PARIS BURNS: Yellow Vests riot in 12th weekend of chaos as anger at Macron intensifies, Express, https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/1081624/france-news-yellow-vests-protest-gilet-jaunes-riot-paris-morlaix (last visited March 14, 2019).

[3] John Henley, How hi-vis yellow vest became symbol of protest beyond just France, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/21/how-hi-vis-yellow-vest-became-symbol-of-protest-beyond-france-gilets-jaunes (last visited March 14, 2019).

[4] See The British Columbia Carbon Tax: A Failed Experiment in Market-Based Solutions to Climate Change, Food & Water Watch, https://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/insight/british-columbia-carbon-tax-failed-experiment-market-based-solutions-climate-change (last visited March 14, 2019) (showing a British Columbia carbon tax failed to reduce carbon emissions).

[5] Id.

[6] See Joss Garman, Macron’s mistake: Taxing the poor to tackle climate change, Politico, https://www.politico.eu/article/macrons-mistake-taxing-the-poor-to-tackle-climate-change/ (last visited March 14, 2019).

[7] Ross Marchand and Myron Ebell, A carbon tax would be a costly failure, Washington Examiner, https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/op-eds/a-carbon-tax-would-be-a-costly-failure (last visited March 14, 2019).

[8] Id.

[9] Id.