A carbon tax?

Screen Shot 2018-02-15 at 07.23.24This was posted on social media by the media savvy Minister of all thing green, Catherine McKenna (or perhaps by a consultant who is paid tens of thousands of dollars a year to “manage” the Minister’s social media, as was, apparently, the case for the Minister of Health). The equally media savvy Conservative front bencher Michell Rempel counter attacked, saying:

Screen Shot 2018-02-16 at 07.13.46

And then she added:

  • 2/ By making it impossible for new energy projects to be built, the Liberals are working to reduce GHG emissions by decreasing the economic output of Canada in our energy resources sector. We should be working to decouple these issues;
  • 3/ So when the Liberals pull out the “YOU DONT HAVE A PLAN” red herring, the reality is that they don’t. They can’t tell you how much Canada’s GHG emissions will decrease via their tax, outside the drop of production caused by punitive policies directed at the energy sector;

  • 4/ But by keeping us reliant on foreign oil produced in countries with less strict regulatory regimes than Canada, they are playing a shell game that ignores the environmental costs of other nations; and

  • 5/ It doesn’t matter what your political stripe is, the Liberals are dishonest about their plan to reduce GHG emissions. It’s complicated. We need to get it right. But their “plan” is not the panacea they are trying to sell.

They’re all good points but I think both Minister McKenna and The Honourable Ms Rempel are skirting a key issue: are we using too much carbon based fuel? If, and it’s a big IF, the answer is yes then it begs a second question: how to we change our wasteful behaviours?

Now, if you think that we are NOT using too much carbon based fuel then there’s no point in reading on, what I have to say will only annoy you.

If, on the other hand, like me, you think we probably do misuse too much carbon based fuel then maybe a carbon tax does have a role … maybe.

Screen Shot 2018-02-16 at 07.44.35Fossil fuels are those that are created naturally when the carbon in dead plants and animals are converted, by mother nature, to coal, petroleum (liquid and nearly solid, as in our Canadian oil sands) and natural gas. Right now fossil fuels account for just a bit more than 73.5% of Canada’s energy consumption, according to the World Bank, that’s down from a peak of over 86% in 1965. The world’s use (same source) has fallen, in roughly the same period, from vs05-world_oil94.5% to just over 80% … but even though we use a smaller vs05-atmos_CO2percentage of fossil fuel for all energy purposes, our total use of petroleum, alone, quadrupled between 1950 and 2004 according to World Watch with entirely predictable increases in the concentrations of CO² in the atmosphere. Theres a reason for that, of course: in that period Europe was in full recovery mode (after World War II) and Asia, above all the Chinese and Indians, began their sustained boom. We went from this …


… to this.

4236479-japanConcomitantly, as anyone who has been to Asia will confirm, the whole region, less North Korea, is awash in bright lights, air conditioned shopping malls, cars and more cars traditional-mountain-hut-house-with-satellite-dish-himalayas-lukla-EMGP6Jand satellite dishes … in the big cities and in small villages alike. Asia does not have abundant hydro-electric power and the scare tactics used by the anti-nuclear power lobby worked too well in Asia so coal and, in some cases, natural gas became the energy source of choice. Does anyone seriously suggest that we should deny Asia the delights and practical advantages that electricity and the automobile and television and the information age bring to us?

Of course there are clean (or cleaner) energy alternatives, but all come at a price … including at a cost to the environment:


As I mentioned there is a strong, and in my opinion very poorly informed anti-nuclear movement that has made it very, very difficult to build the best available green energy source. Thus, fossil fuels are king.

Fossil fuels, especially gasoline derived from crude oil or bitumen, are incredibly flexible ~ a litre of gasoline is enough to move a car for several kilometres and the fuel itself is cheap to produce, easy (and safe) to store and transport and simple to deliver to the end user. It is ideal for mobility applications …


… of course gasoline isn’t the only way to provide mobile power: many cars and buses are powered by liquid natural gas (almost all Hong Kong taxis are LNG powered) or you can buy a hybrid fossil fuel and electric car, or even all electric cars if that suits your driving needs. Some ships are hybrids, too … and experiments are underway to develop a solar powered aircraft …


Elektro-Autos_in_Rom_(24200438882)… but for now, and for the next generation or so petroleum will remain indispensable for mobile operations. Governments should dutch-ns-sprinter-electric-train-by-flickr-user-kismihok-used-under-cc-license_100589178_mtry to restrict petroleum to mobile operations, even as it also tries to replace it. It will be hard to use electric cars and even electric trains in in the vast expanses of rural Canada for at least another generation or two, I think. That means that “fixed” power plants should not, ever, burn oil or gas; they may, for a generation or so, continue to burn natural gas but it, too, should be intended, primarily, for mobile use. Government should, equally, try to get rid of coal … it is cheap, easy to mine contaminacion-china-211013-gand simple to use but “clean coal” is a bit of an oxymoron: coal fired power plants can much, much cleaner than they are now, but “clean” and “coal” are not two words that most serious environmentalists use together.

So, where does the tax come in?

SinTaxesWe are all, I think, familiar with the concept of sin taxes … the taxes governments levy on alcohol and tobacco and gambling, for example, to discourage use (one sincerely hopes that equally onerous taxes will be levied on marijuana cigarettes). Governments could not, and indeed did not want to tax Imperial Tobacco, Seagrams or Molson’s Breweries out of business. What governments wanted to do was to minimize the use of their cigaretteproducts and they did that by taxing the end user. How effective that is may be debatable but it seems to be something of an article of faith that sin taxes work … even when there is a ruthless black market that governments are afraid to close off. In any event it should be a “sin” to use oil or gas for stationary power applications like electricity generation; ditto for coal. The utilities (which are largely publicly owned in Canada) should be heavily taxed for misusing fossil fuels in that manner and they will, of necessity, pass those taxes on to consumers … consumers are also voters and when they understand that their electrical bills can fall IF the government reforms how it generates power (by increasing nuclear power generation, for example) then they will make their voices heard. The consumers should not, however, see any price increases at the gas pumps … and there might even be incentives to buy hybrid or electric or LNG powered vehicles ~ I say might because while I trust governments to collect taxes I do not trust them to manage incentives sensibly.

The green fanatics will, of course, say that’s not enough; they will demand “sin taxes” on all carbon emitting fuels … such a tax, levied on you and I, the end user, every time we turn up the furnace or the air conditioner or fill up the family car, will, if the 1973 energy crisis is a good model (and I think it is) provoke us to seek more fuel efficient cars, furnaces and air conditioners which will, in turn, drive the market. IF governments want to change our behaviours then a “sin tax” (a carbon tax) is almost certainly the way to go, but, it would be mightily unpopular. But, as I suspect Rachel Notley, Justin Trudeau and Kathleen Wynne will find out, all carbon pricing scams schemes will be very unpopular when, eventually, their impacts makes it way to the voters’ wallets.

28055926_1779173235460398_7181422159349232766_nNotwithstanding the asinine nonsense that our “man-child” prime minister spouts (I suspect he might  even actually believe some of what pours out of his mouth) the carbon taxes he proposes will do next to no good at all for the environment; they are not green; they are just another Liberal tax grab. If he, or anyone, wants a carbon tax that might do some good by actually changing how we use and misuse) carbon based fuels then it probably needs to be a “sin tax.” But I seriously doubt that he or any other government leader has the guts to try it.

I am not advocating for a carbon tax … but I am saying that there is a case for one ~ but NOT the Trudeau-McKenna tax ~ IF we want to actually reduce our carbon footprint.




3 thoughts on “A carbon tax?

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