MIT’s David Wilson On His Carbon Tax Proposal

An advocacy group in Massachusetts is proposing a revenue-neutral carbon tax that could potentially increase taxes on gas, but at the same time would reduce income and sales taxes. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

David Wilson’s proposed revenue-neutral carbon tax could potentially increase taxes on gas, but it would distribute the proceeds to every American. (Elise Amendola/AP)

We hear the terms all the time in conversations about how to best fight climate change and curb greenhouse gas emissions: cap-and-trade, geo-engineering, command and control and carbon tax.

That last idea, a carbon tax or a carbon fee, has been around for a long time. A version of it was conceived by MIT mechanical engineer David Wilson in 1973 and the idea quickly spread.

It was also often copied without credit — and without a key piece of his equation, which has to do with who gets taxed and what happens to that tax revenue. In some ways, the idea of a carbon tax has come full circle: last month, Australia became the first country to repeal a carbon tax.

WBUR’s Sacha Pfeiffer speaks with Wilson about his invention.


David Wilson, professor emeritus of mechanical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


The Boston Globe: The Unsung Inventor Of The Carbon Tax

  • “Spur conservation by taxing fossil fuels, but keep the revenue out of government coffers by returning it all in equal dividend checks to every adult. Starting in early 1974, Wilson wrote articles, gave talks, and even testified about his tax plan before Congress. While the proposal appeared later that decade in writings by other scholars, none of whom cited Wilson, it never went anywhere as a policy and eventually faded from public discourse.”

Radio Boston: Reducing Carbon Dioxide Emissions Takes Center Stage

  • “Lawmakers in Washington are considering Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen’s bill that would create a “cap and dividend” system to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The bill would require coal, oil and natural gas companies to buy permits for each ton of carbon in the fuels they sell. The money from the permits would be distributed to every man, woman and child in the United States with a valid social security number.”

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