Economy comedian to make stop in Soldotna

Kenai Peninsula residents looking for a laugh this week will have an opportunity to see a live comedy act Thursday, albeit with a heavy dose of economics.

A number of environmental organizations and the Kenai Peninsula College Showcase Series are sponsoring a show featuring Dr. Yoram Bauman, known as “the stand-up economist,” at Kenai Peninsula College on Thursday. The Soldotna show will be the final installment of a series of three shows in Alaska — in Anchorage on Tuesday night and Homer on Wednesday.

Bauman, who holds a doctorate in economics and has held a position as an environmental economist at the University of Washington’s Program on the Environment and taught in high schools and graduate institutes, tours giving economic-centered comedy shows. It often surprises people that he does comedy as a living and writes books, does research or teaches on the side, he said.

“I started in comedy about 12 years ago now,” he said. “But I got serious about it about nine years ago. It’s been the majority of my income since then. But I actually make a living doing comedy about economics. People always assume I have a faculty position somewhere else.”

He’s co-written three cartoon books providing an introduction to economics and a book on taxes as well as a micro-textbook of his own. He also regularly contributes to academic papers and has worked on activist campaigns primarily focused on climate change issues and the benefits of a carbon tax.

Carbon taxes are a growing topic of discussion as a method to help control carbon emissions without hampering the economy. Essentially, a carbon tax sets a price structure on the carbon content within fuels. Several countries around the world have already implemented them, including Zimbabwe, India, Japan, Denmark, Germany and Sweden. Other areas within countries, like British Columbia and nine counties around the San Francisco Bay area, have also implemented carbon taxes.

Bauman said he spends a lot of his time working on carbon taxes — he spearheaded a initiative to implement one in Washington state, which failed last year — and includes some in his comedy routine. Combatting climate change doesn’t have to be incompatible with the economy, he said.

“I think it’s important to keep in mind that what a carbon tax or a carbon fee really does is it puts emphasis on high value-added fossil fuels,” he said. “Petroleum is a fairly high-value added fossil fuel.”

His performance schedule ranges from locations like Anchorage and Soldotna to Birmingham, Alabama, in April 2017 and Gothenburg, Sweden, in June 2018. He generally performs where he is invited, and that has included towns of varying size and economic background. He said he welcomes the opportunity to talk to a crowd about climate change issues and a carbon tax that may not agree with him.

“It’s not a crazy left-wing idea,” he said. “It’s also not a crazy right-wing idea. Sometimes I need to remind folks on the left. I feel like sometimes audiences on the right, there’s certainly more skepticism. But I feel like that’s kind of value-added for me. I don’t want to preach to the choir. I want to talk to people who have more concerns about it.”

One of the organizations that helped to bring Bauman to Alaska, the Citizens Climate Lobby, is advocating for a market-based solution to carbon emissions, like a carbon tax. The chapter in Anchorage is working with other organizations to put on the shows.

Kaitlin Vadla, who helped to coordinate the show in Soldotna through her work with conservation nonprofit Cook Inletkeeper, said she hoped it would spark an interesting discussion among the crowds attending.

“My biggest hope is that it’ll start the conversation a little bit and allow us to see another … solution in a different light,” she said.

Bauman said he was able to work with the Western States Petroleum Association, a group representing oil and gas businesses in Washington, Oregon, California and other western U.S. states, to gain their support for a carbon tax proposal in the state. Petroleum isn’t as tough a fossil fuel to reconcile to combatting climate change as coal, which is a dirtier fuel and less value-added, he said, but in the end the industry is still stressed by pressure from renewable energy sources, the growth in electric cars and pressure from carbon emissions.

“There are a lot of people in the climate world who think that the oil companies are the enemy and we either have to kill them or they’ll kill us,” he said. “I don’t think that’s true.”

As to the show, he promised one thing.

“I’ll be funny,” he said.

The show will take place Thursday at the Kenai Peninsula College Commons, beginning at 6 p.m. Admission is free.

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