Celebrating baby steps: Why any carbon tax is a good carbon tax

Mon, 2008-02-25 18:01Richard Littlemore
Richard Littlemore's picture

Celebrating baby steps: Why any carbon tax is a good carbon tax

An argument has broken out on the DeSmogBlog (again) over whether the perfect is the enemy of the good - that is, whether government must get its climate change policy exactly right or stand up to the (often well-deserved) scorn of its critics.

This debate cropped up in January after we slammed Barack Obama for presenting himself as the greenest of all candidates, regardless that some aspects of his proposed global warming policy (and some elements of his voting record) suggest otherwise.

Several people - including some closely associated with the DSB - complained afterwards that Obama IS the greenest of all candidates. While it may be churlish, it is nevertheless accurate to say that he is the best of a bad lot. So our critics argued - we thought convincingly - that it would be better to praise Obama for being out front, rather than condemn him for not being far enough out front.

Last week, Chris Mooney penned a thoughtful post about the current debate among Democrats and environmentalists as to whether it would be better to support imperfect legislation this year or to hold out for better legislation next year, when most people assume the Democrats will have more complete control. The argument for waiting is that a lame bill this year might give footdraggers the excuse, next year, to say that the problem has already been addressed.

Then Bill Miller jumped in to criticize the British Columbia government for imposing a carbon tax while leaving virtually all of the oil-and-gas-supporting public infrastructure and tax system pretty much untouched. Miller reads the carbon tax as an insincere and inadequate measure, perhaps only calculated to get into taxpayers' pockets from another angle.

We could argue about government sincerity forever and not resolve anything. We could also wait a very long time for government to create a comprehensive climate change program - one that is so flawless that it deserves unqualified support.

But if we know anything about government, I think we know this: change (for good or ill) comes incrementally. I can't imagine that anyone understood how devastating an influence the automobile would have on a livable urban environment, but 100 years of decisions have brought us to our current, traffic-jammed, CO2-soaked reality. We can't back out of that overnight.

But we can - and should - make a start. And every economist who has studied this issue has said that a carbon tax is the best instrument to make the market start pricing fossil fuels correctly.

So I say, Bravo! I say let's celebrate today's little victories and then start lobbying for better actions tomorrow.

Previous Comments

“But if we know anything about government, I think we know this: change (for good or ill) comes incrementally.

Well, except when it comes through a military coup or a bloody revolution. But hey, you’re the expert on government, evidently.

“I can’t imagine that anyone understood how devastating an influence the automobile would have on a livable urban environment, but 100 years of decisions have brought us to our current, traffic-jammed, CO2-soaked reality. We can’t back out of that overnight.”

Let me see if I’ve got this right? For someone who no doubt refers to himself as a “progressive”, you want to turn back the clock 100 years? Okay.

Either you’ve got a thing for celluloid collars, bowler hats, spats, and hoop skirts, or you actually believe cities 100 years ago had less traffic, and that somehow being soaked with manure and horse urine – rather than CO2 – was somehow more “livable”.

As an aside, carbon dioxide is a particularly difficult thing to get “soaked” with, as it is only in liquid form over a fairly limited temperature and pressure range. Frankly, I can think of getting soaked by worse things – like taxes.

“And every economist who has studied this issue has said that a carbon tax is the best instrument to make the market start pricing fossil fuels correctly.”

Every economist? Now I know you’re just making stuff up. I presume you’ve interviewed all economists to come up with this rather fantastic statement. Or is this like your “scientific consensus(tm)” – a figment of the imagination?

Your grasp of economics is pretty feeble not to consider the inflationary effect of any tax – but particularly a comprehensive tax like this. Just wait until you start getting your gas bills for home heating. I doubt it will be a look of smug satisfaction on your face. It doesn’t stop there. The price of everything in BC just went up.

“So I say, Bravo! I say let’s celebrate today’s little victories and then start lobbying for better actions tomorrow.”

The disconnect from reality is complete. You have entered the Chavez-Mugabe netherworld.

You fantisize you’ll be popping Champagne corks, but I wager you’ll be cracking a cyanide capsule before long – which will probably be the only thing left “priced correctly”. Bravo!

rob’s cutting-edge denialist “science” strikes again…

“and that somehow being soaked with manure and horse urine – rather than CO2 – was somehow more `livable’ ”

Electric cars emit horse urine and manure?

“You have entered the Chavez-Mugabe netherworld.”

Quick, compare us to Hitler. I know you want to.

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Frank Bi, http://globaldumbing.tk

There seems to be a false dichotomy between “imperfect” and “perfect”. Sure, it’s too much to ask for “perfect” legislation, but at the very least the legislation should be useful in actually changing people’s behaviour in some concrete way… because otherwise it’s not really a “victory” at all, just an extended exercise in Doing Nothing While Pretending To Do Something.

And there’s no reason why anyone should “celebrate” legislation which is merely useless.

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Frank Bi, http://globaldumbing.tk

Good points about action now. But I’ve a problem with this-

    ‘And every economist who has studied this issue has said that a carbon tax is the best instrument to make the market start pricing fossil fuels correctly.’

The last time I saw a version of that statement was on Tierneyblog, enuf said …
Just who is the guy who surveyed every economists anyway?

A few cents increase in petrol prices will do ( has done ) nothing to curb auto fuel demand. Have a look at the long analyses in the Mar 2007 issue of Enviroment on cap-and-trade vs. carbon taxes.

And like the Nobel winning economist said:


    “Economists have correctly predicted nine of the last five recessions. …”

These economists have a lot to say about carbon taxes: http://www.progressive-economics.ca/category/carbon-pricing/

Ouch.

One of the great lessons that I never seem to learn came from the pinch-faced prude who conducted my marriage preparation class 20 years ago. After warning us about sex, she lapsed into this excellent advice: “Never say 'always' or 'never' when arguing with your spouse.”

The theory was obvious once she outlined it: There is always an exception and whomever you happen to be arguing with will grasp onto the exception and start arguing about that, thereby avoiding the topic at hand.

So, I take it back. It was stupid and not factually accurate to say “every economist.” I should have said, people who are as smart as, say, Mark Jaccard have crunched the numbers and come to a conclusion they find inescapable - and one with which I happen to agree.

I'll leave it to someone else to explain the use of metaphor to Rob. Or not. 

“I’ll leave it to someone else to explain the use of metaphor to Rob.”

You use the word “metaphor” like Alanis Morrisete uses the word “ironic”. Your claim to an overwhelming approval by economists of BC’s carbon tax is not a “metaphor”, rather, it is typical of the strident hyperbole and sweeping generalizations with which you liberally pepper your articles.

“thereby avoiding the topic at hand”

Nonsense. My comment directly addressed the topic, yet in your response you chose to divert attention from it. I’ll leave it to others to judge which of us avoiding the topic at hand.

As it appears I have to explain it myself, the metaphor was “soaked” in CO2.

And for those who may have lost the thread, wading their way through the comments, the topic at hand was the utility of carbon taxes. 

Thanks for the reply, I’ll look for Mark Jaccard’s ideas. I distinguish between a carbon tax and cap-and-trade. I’m not suggesting that to find an exception means taxes aren’t a part of the solution. But what I’ve read suggests a tax shouldn’t be the main mechanism. If not, is the EU on the wrong course for emphasizing caps? Why didn’t their economists oppose such policies?

A tax generates revenue for govts which can fund climate change programs. One has been proposed by John Dingell which seems to be a way to scare his colleagues away from inaction. Caps use market forces and should work more efficiently. They have previously and most importantly they allow control of CO2 reduction levels. It serves no purpose for govts to finally acknowledge a problem, move to action but then make ineffective choices. Changes to lifestyles and economies will be extensive. And this will ultimately involve more money than governments are capable of spending. :)

No single technical choice can stop climate change. Nor do I see any silver-bullet policies. Halting the runaway train will require a suite of policies, taxes and programs. And that’s not even considering what we will do as individuals.

drat -
away from inaction => away from action

forgetting to add the /strong html tag made everyone’s text below bold.
Hopefully adding it now eliminates that.

Richard,

If you are the smart guy you think you are, you must know this …

Increased taxation has never done anything but further impoverish a nation. I know that in the upside down world of leftist elitism taxes are the life blood of the socialist vampires, but here in North America we don’t like socialism much. And never forget who actually produces that life blood … certainly not the government.

I am aware that presently there are many whom support leftist views in Canada and the USA, but we both know that a few weeks living in a real socialist country would very quickly change their minds. Even China knows that now.

You may be in denial and that would not surprised me, but the global warming thingy is not the issue, the issue is the degradation of the capitalist way of life in to the dull gray hopelessness of the collective with the phony warming issue as it’s tool.

The other more frightening and pertinent issue is the Islamic Jihad.

There you have two new bits of information that you apparently were either unaware of or were simply in denial about. I suggest you spend more time connecting dots.

… being a whacky socialist vampire and a de facto supporter of Islamic extremism.

But we will have to disagree. The issue is the degradation of the environment, not of your ideologically charged vision of our capitalist Nirvana.

And on that note, you forgot to provide a list of wealthy nations that charge no tax. 

If the most frightening and pertinent issue is Islamic Jihad (and I agree it certainly ranks very high on the list of global security threats, along with anthropogenic global warming), then wouldn’t it be better for all citizens of the free world to make the sacrifice of paying higher taxes to fund the military and defeat Islamic extremism forever than to whine about paying modest taxes which strip available funding from our military?

No country in the history of the 20th century has ever lowered taxes during a war before the Bush Administration and Stephen Harper became Prime Minister. Have we forgotten what it means to make sacrifices? Heck, during World War II, citizens of the Allied nations rationed food and clothing so the troops would have what they needed to fight, for Pete’s sake! Tens of thousands of our own people made the ultimate sacrifice with their lives and few if any people at home cried about paying high taxes.

It’s about time the free-market, tax-cuts fundamentalists actually thought things through before whining and complaining.

[x]
President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping

While on a visit to Bejing, U.S. President Barack Obama yesterday announced with his Chinese counterpart President Xi Jinping a new bilateral agreement on hard reduction targets for climate change pollution in those two countries.

The United States agrees to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 per cent from 2005 levels by the year 2025 and China commits to levelling off its carbon emissions by 2030.

When China or the...

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