Metal Straws? No, Alcohol Taxes Will Save The World

Saving humankind from the impending doom of extinction is a little closer to home than we thought. The solution does not lie in the mass implementation of metal straws, jute bags or eliminating fast fashion. The answer lies in something so simple yet so difficult to execute: less alcohol consumption.

Yes, alcohol: the staple of American life and Indian politicians.

Alcohol taxes are the cheapest way to save the environment
Alcohol taxes are the cheapest way to save the environment

It is one of the biggest industries in the United States of America and with it, one of the leading causes for America’s crippling public health. We all know what physiological effects alcohol has on one’s body. On the environment, however, its impact runs deeper.

To create alcohol for mass production, ingredients like grains, potatoes, rice, botanicals, sugar cane, and agave. We need water, fertilizer, land, and machinery to grow these ingredients. In 2018, Americans drank 7.8 billion gallons of alcohol. About 148 litres of water is used to produce one bottle of beer (500 ml). About 110 litres of water is required to create a glass of wine (125 ml). Other forms of alcoholic beverages exploit natural resources even more: water used in production for distilled spirits comes out as waste, rum disturbs the microorganism balance in places where it’s distilled and production of tequila leads to 11 pounds of pulp and 10 litres of acidic waste, which deteriorates soil and water.

The exploitation does not end here. Packaging for alcohol bottles becomes very problematic when it comes to discarding them. In India, glass alcohol bottles litter the roads. The problem with using glass bottles is that they are non-recyclable. Once they are discarded or broken, they can not be reused. “In 2008, New Belgium Brewing Company commissioned an environmental analysis of its Fat Tire Amber Ale and found that refrigeration accounted for almost one-third of its overall greenhouse-gas emissions,” Keira Butler writes. “Glass production was second, contributing 22 per cent.”

Alcohol consumption will only increase as global warming worsens. A common practice during hot weather is to chug a chilled glass of beer or any other alcoholic beverage. However, alcohol slows down the hypothalamus, expands the blood vessels and makes one feel hotter than one did before consuming alcohol. When we feel hot, we crank up the air conditioning. We contribute even more to the dissipation of the ozone layer amid a pre-existing climate crisis.

Alcohol consumption is more harmful to the environment because it exhausts natural resources for a commodity that is not even essential to survive. The easy solution to this big problem is obviously— drink less. We all know that that is impossible. Humans are selfish. In the backdrop of a stressful life, one can reason about the increased alcohol consumption. We are too deep into this crisis to consider producing cheap substitutes for fossil fuels. It is pertinent to develop policies within pre-existing policies.

However, the problem of climate change persists even as we refuse to negotiate with our demands.

One way to kill two birds with one stone? Alcohol taxes.

It is not a novel concept developed to combat climate change. Alexander Hamilton first introduced alcohol taxes in 1791 to raise revenue after the Revolutionary wars. Its identity as a "sin tax" only emerged when the temperance movement came into the limelight: one that stigmatized alcohol consumption and public drunkenness. From then, alcohol taxes became a way for the American government to discourage binge drinking. It adopted a moral component. At its core, this is a rational policy that can be used to reduce fossil fuel consumption. Alcohol taxes are selective sales taxes on the purchase of alcohol. They are included in the final cost that the customer pays. Increase of 2.50 dollars in price per gallon (like adopted in Alaska) can discourage buyers from drinking in bulk.

Well, at least that is the intention. Adam Smith’s economic theory of supply and demand tells us that reduced demand will decrease supply. At first, it might seem that these taxes would not impact consumption one bit. A research study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs refutes this idea. They claim increasing taxes on alcohol is the most cost-effective method to "reduce harms caused by alcohol consumption". Well, cost-effective because it delivers an increase in revenue to the government. The study used data from 16 countries including upper-middle-, high-income countries and low- and lower-middle-income countries.

However, can we implement this in India—a country where corruption runs deeper than one can imagine? That is a question I leave to you.