3.13.2009

Taxing Burps and Farts



Here's a serious article on a funny topic: "What do cars and cows have in common? No, not horns." Apparently cows burp and fart out 50 percent more CO2 than the average car, and thus as a group contribute to about 18 percent of the greenhouse gases believed to cause global warming.

Now that I've finally controlled my giggling and can keep a straight face for a few minutes, I have to say that I'm torn here. On the one hand, taxing a negative externality leads to a more socially optimal amount of that negative externality; or to put it another way, the fact that it is not being taxed means there isn't enough incentive to reduce it. If cows and things related to them, like meat and milk, become more expensive, that's only fair, to compensate for this negative externality and eventually reduce the demand for its production in the first place. And hey, when it comes to saving the environment and reducing carbon emissions, there can't be any sacred cows. (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

On the other hand, we're talking about cows here, not to mention somewhat uncontrollable bodily functions. And some absurd and uncomfortable questions would have to follow. Could a farmer that feeds his cows Gas-X qualify for an exemption? While the tax proposal is being discussed, will someone create a market for carbon offsets against flatulence? Don't other animals burp and fart, too, and should they be taxed as well? (The Huang household would go bankrupt under the commencement of such a tax at even the slightest rate levels.)

Or have I been duped into ranting about an early April Fools article? Whether this article is serious or not, it brings up a serious issue. Now if you'll excuse, I have to go over to the side and recommence giggling.
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