Like the Way You’re Thinking: Taxes, hot air and other certainties

It’s interesting how repetitive phrases become a given, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

It’s interesting how repetitive phrases become a given, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  B.C.’s carbon tax is a good example. I often hear someone complaining about this tax and how it has been hurting the B.C. economy. Taxes, they’re just bad right?

Not so fast; in fact, it turns out the carbon tax in B.C. has not only not been hurting the economy but may in fact have been making it more resilient.  And from the outset, British Columbians were assured the tax would be revenue neutral and this has also been achieved. Go figure!

Go figure is what Sustainable Prosperity — a national economic think/do tank that advances socio-economic innovation — did when they embarked, led by economists Elgie and McClay, on a study of B.C.’s carbon tax. Their research found that since July 2008 when the tax came into effect, B.C.’s fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions have both dropped without negative effects on the provincial economy:

• B.C.’s per capita fuel consumption has fallen 17.4 per cent across all fuel types. Fuel consumption rose across Canada by 1.5 per cent over the same time.

• B.C.’s GHG Emissions fell by 10 per cent.

• B.C.’s Gross Domestic Product kept pace with the rest of Canada and overall economic performance fell less in B.C. than the rest of Canada.

• The revenue neutral structure of the carbon tax has allowed personal income tax rates to fall and the tax has not negatively impacted families, the poor or business in B.C. the way opponents of the tax predicted.

The Economist magazine reported on this research in August 2013. (www.economist.com/blogs/americasview/2013/08/climate-policy-canada)

The concept of a carbon tax is not so revolutionary if you consider the tax on other types of waste treatment services we pay for through taxation.

People don’t expect to take their garbage to the end of the driveway to be hauled away for free so why should carbon dioxide — an odourless, colourless pollutant — be any different?

To those who would argue CO2 is not a pollutant, I would ask that they step into a sealed room full of CO2 and wait about four minutes or so before deciding and then report back to the rest of us. Virtually all compounds, perhaps other than beer, in high enough concentrations can become a “pollutant.” So it quickly becomes a debate about how much is acceptable and whether society can respond and live with the resulting environmental conditions.

We know that levels of CO2 have risen and fallen dramatically over time, but there is general agreement that — most of the time — humans, ecosystems and global weather patterns on which our recent economies have been based have been happiest when the atmosphere has seen an average of 250 parts per million CO2. Significantly, 2013 marked the year when the earth passed 400 ppm CO2. Scientists link recent global weather chaos to high levels of CO2 and predict more volatile weather as CO2 levels continue to rise.  By the way, it’s been almost three million years since the earth’s CO2 levels have been this high. See http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/energy/2013/05/130510-earth-co2-milestone-400-ppm/.

Tax on CO2 sits at $25/ton in B.C. Worldwide, other jurisdictions are now studying and implementing carbon tax structures based on the B.C. experience. Pricing carbon isn’t the only way to address climate issues and spur innovation in the energy sector, but it appears to have met with some success in British Columbia.

Based in the Columbia Valley,  Bill Swan owns and operates Greenman Sustainable Solutions with a focus on reducing energy costs and advancing the use of renewable energy.  Contact him at bill@greenmansustainable.ca or find him at a local coffee shop!

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