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Carbon Tax for Gas Cars: The Unpopular Step That Would Popularize Electric Vehicles

Electric vehicles continue to make inroads, if you will, into the American car market. Tesla’s Model S — test-driven in a delightful Nate Berg profile for Cities earlier this week — is the car of the moment. The Nissan Leaf had its best month ever in March, selling more than 2,500 cars. But in the larger scheme of U.S. car-ownership, EVs still represent just a fraction of the cars sold each year, and a smaller fraction of all the cars on the road.

There is a pretty direct way to popularize zero-emission cars, but in political terms it would be a very unpopular step: issue a carbon tax. Owning a traditional fuel-engine car would become much less appealing if its sticker or gas prices included the cost done to the environment. Transport scholar David Levinson makes the argument in the May-June issue of Foreign Affairs:
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