If we could tax tobacco to save our lungs, it seems just as legitimate to tax carbon to save the planet and ourselves. A recent report, commissioned by more than 20 governments, estimated 5 million deaths wordwide are due to climate change annually, mostly in impoverished countries. So it was interesting to witness the hysteria coming from the government benches in Parliament over the idea.
There are three approaches out there:
Cap and Trade: This proposal would set a fixed limit to carbon emissions (the cap) and carbon emitters would buy or sell (trade) emission permits. The objective is to internalize the cost of carbon emissions as part of the manufacturing process, making cleaner, more efficient, operators more competitive. The carbon cap would also be reduced periodically to require innovation and adoption of cleaner technologies. Critics of cap and trade say emissions are difficult to measure accurately, and the system is cumbersome to administer. Still, it was at one time supported by the Conservatives and described as ‘not a tax’ by the NDP.
Carbon Tax: This is the tax bogeyman – a straightforward tax on products that are the source of carbon emissions. It’s said to be easier to understand, implement and administer. The objective would be to foster energy conservation, innovation, more diversified energy sources, reduced emissions and less volatile climate changes.
Do Nothing: This is the current position of the federal government. Local MP, Peter Van Loan says either option above “would raise the price of everything for hard-working families – from home heating and gas, to the grocery bill and anything else that must be transported to a store.” As if wildly fluctuating oil prices weren’t already having the same effect.
Instead, the vision is to position Canada as an “energy powerhouse”, largely foreign owned, based on oil production and higher carbon emissions. The problem with this “economic action plan” is that it does not have to be an either/or choice. Some governments have chosen to systematically reduce emissions, diversify energy choices, support conservation measures and adjust to climate change while continuing to use oil.
The other big loophole in the government’s position is that by doing nothing they tacitly support a massive Big Oil Tax:
“The Big Five oil companies this week announced they had made a whopping $36 billion in profits in the second quarter of 2011. According to second-quarter earnings reports, ExxonMobil alone made $10.7 billion in the most recent three months. That’s a 41% increase over the same period last year and a 161% increase over 2009. Shell nearly doubled its profits year over year, taking in $8.7 billion in the second quarter. Chevron’s profits were $7.7 billion, up 43%. BP earned $5.6 billion …””
(Big Oil Companies Post Huge Profits on High Gas Prices, Huffington Post, July 29, 2011)
The Big Five ended the year in 2011 with a record $137 billion in profits, a 75% increase from 2010. The major oil companies used 28% of profits in 2011 to buy back their own stock and they held $58 billion in cash reserves. Here’s a headline from an investor newsletter this month: “3 Oil Stocks Gushing Dividend Income, Curse ’em at the pump, but profit from their standout pay outs”. At least the 1% can.
Some of this is money vacuumed out of the Canadian economy, which is never used for any beneficial public purpose at the local level like conservation, renewable energy, emissions reduction or climate change measures. In comparison, a proposed cap and trade system could direct a little over $5 billion per quarter, or $21.5 billion a year toward alternatives to a carbon-dependent economy.
Here’s Peter Van Loan again, “I don’t believe the Canadian economy can sustain such a massive tax increase..,” Just to be clear, he’s talking about a cap and trade proposal, not the Big Oil Tax. Meanwhile, global warming is creating more extremes in weather, increasing the risk of unpredictable economic and social disruption.
“The first six months [of 2011] saw $265 billion in economic losses, well above the previous record of $220 billion (adjusted for inflation) set for all of 2005 (the year Hurricane Katrina struck), according to Munich Re, a multinational that insures insurance companies.”
(2011 Already Costliest Year for Natural Disasters, NBCnews.com, July 12, 2011)
Ask yourself, how much is it worth to you to avoid having your community swept away by a flood, reduced to ashes by a wild fire, or blown to rubble in a hurricane?