Three years ago, with its economy in shreds due to the 2008 recession, Ireland, with half the population of Illinois, imposed a tax on emissions of carbon dioxide — i.e. greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gas emissions trap sunlight energy and cause global warming.

Ireland’s tax on these emissions is called a carbon tax. In three years that tax raised $1.3 billion. (See “Carbon Taxes Make Ireland Even Greener” in the New York Times, Dec. 27, 2012.) That’s right: one point three billion dollars.

A carbon tax is a tax on the coal, petroleum and natural gas (or fossil fuels) used by homes, businesses, trucks and automobiles. It is a charge on households and businesses for the environmental damage they cause.

To save the planet from an existentially damaging rise in temperature, the world must drastically limit its use of fossil fuels. The United States with only 4% of the world’s population emits 20% of the world’s greenhouse gases (China’s emissions are about the same, but with 20% of the world’s population). The cutting back of fossil fuel use should start in this country. So why not also in Illinois?

Illinois has not been paying for the damage it is doing to the environment. And Illinois has also not been paying for something else: the well-deserved pensions of our wonderful, now-retired teachers.

How about helping to solve two very big moral problems with one legislative action? How about an Illinois Carbon Tax to help fund the now un-funded Illinois pension system? Why not? Teachers deserve a well-funded pension system and our future grandchildren deserve an earth they can live in.

It’s obvious how this tax would help the pensions. But how would it help the environment? As fossil fuels become more costly, we in Illinois would use much less: we would buy less powerful cars; solar and wind energy would be more desirable and more competitive; we would use bicycles more (and lose unhealthy weight). That is what happened in Ireland in three years.

“Now, we’re smashing through the environmental targets we set for ourselves,” said the former energy minister.

It must be noted that global warming’s effects will be disastrous to the poor of our country and of the world: extreme heat, diseases, rising seas, higher food prices. The poor do not have the resources to escape these possibly fatal conditions. This is a moral problem. We have caused and continue to cause this global warming and its harm — we in the U.S. and in Illinois.

But we can become, all of a sudden, virtuous. We could legislate an Illinois Carbon Tax. If Ireland could do it, Illinois could reap, at least twice the amount — $2.6 billion. This would help significantly to keep our teachers’ pensions out of jeopardy, and we Illinoisans could honestly say we have started saving the earth, and the poor.

Jim Dickert is a retired IT professional, living in Oak Park for 20 years.

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