The Carbon Tax

Politicians from the right are in full form these days expressing their opposition to what they call the carbon tax.

What they are attacking is more accurately what the government has been calling ‘putting a price on pollution’. And viewed from that perspective, it’s hard to deny the reasoning.

We would quite rightly object, say, if an apartment building just dumped its raw sewage on the road or onto our lawns. We would demand, and expect, that the owners of the building would pay to manage the sewage in some way.

They can call it a ‘sewage tax’ all they want, but the fact remains, sewage disposal isn’t free, and it has to be done. You can’t simply pass your sewage on to your neighbours.

It’s the same with the carbon tax, except the sewage in this case consists of climate-change gasses, including most especially carbon dioxide but also hydrocarbons such as methane.

The first objection to a carbon tax is essentially climate-change scepticism. I don’t think anyone really doubts the impact of climate change – the science has been conclusive for a decade now – but enough people are paid to sow doubt into the winds, and so expressions of scepticism persist.

The second objection is that the cost of a carbon tax is too great to bear. There are jobs at stake, or people depend on low-priced transportation, or alternatives are too expensive. All this may be true. But why is that my problem?

If you were dumping your sewage onto my lawn, I wouldn’t really care how much it would cost you to stop. My response would be something like, “Why should I have to pay to clean up your sewage?”

It’s the same for climate-change gasses. Sure, you may be making money, hiring people, and all the rest, but the cost for all this is being paid for by other people (including me). Your actions pollute the land, change the climate, and are already costing other people billions of dollars. Shouldn’t you be paying these costs?

A third objection is that people prefer incentives rather than costs. That’s just a straw man, though. People have tried incentives. That’s what the Ontario Liberal government’s plan was based on. When I purchased a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, I received an incentive to offset the extra cost I was paying to use less gas. This program was killed by the new conservative government.

Even today, the story about the government paying Loblaws (a local grocery store chain) to install energy-efficient fridges was slammed by the conservatives. “Fast says he is curious how many ordinary Canadians could just walk into the prime minister’s office and ask him to buy them a new fridge.

The answer to the question is: all of them. That’s what the federal government’s plan does. It collects money from carbon pollution and redistributes it to people in the form of a rebate. Where the province has a plan – as Ontario used to have – then the money could be directed toward energy-efficiency, like fridges. But without a plan, it’s just distributed to everybody, no strings attached.

When it’s just a cost, they say there should be incentives. When there are incentives, they say there should be no payments. There’s no right way to make the polluters pay, and that, of course, is the point.

In the end, the opposition to a carbon tax boils down to a campaign by polluters to be able to keep on polluting for free, to keep on passing their costs on to the rest of us, and  to keep on recklessly endangering the community as a whole.

Indeed, the carbon tax should be viewed for exactly what it is – a compromise. Knowing the damage climate-change gasses are causing, the rational and common-sense response should be to make them illegal. Pull the plug on them. Force the polluters to stop fouling our community and our planet.

The carbon tax is a market-based approach to solve the problem. Instead of making pollution illegal, it makes it expensive. This creates an incentive for polluters to change their ways, and allows society adjust gradually to the change. Given the stakes, it’s a pretty generous compromise. Maybe too generous.

If you don’t want people pouring sewage on your lawn, if you don’t want people dumping carbon into the air, the answer is the same. You either force them to stop, or make them pay for the cleanup. What you don’t do is let them keep dumping their problem onto you.

pollution

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