When I discuss a carbon tax or a resource tax with thoughtful people who are opposed to a carbon tax, there are generally three objections. One is that, of the Green-House Gas (GHG) going into the atmosphere, Canada accounts for only 2%. Another is that in order to effect behavioural change, the tax will need to be substantial. Such a large tax will be very disruptive, and we can’t handle that. The third objection I hear is that such a tax would be to painful for a particular sector of the economy. Let’s look at the first of these today. We’ll look at the other objections in future columns.
So yes, Canada accounts for only 2% of the GHGs going into the atmosphere. And yes, unless China and the US also reduce GHG emissions significantly, we achieve nothing. So what should we do? The implication, from those who resist a carbon tax, is that we should not tax the emitting of GHG.
But we know that logic is absolutely inconsistent with responsible living. We don’t say, “Of the litter we find on the side of the road, my litter is insignificant, so here it goes out the window.” Indeed there are those who say this, as is evidenced by the litter along our highways, but no one lauds that logic. That logic won’t result in the kind of country, or globe, we want to live in. We don’t say, “Cheating on my income tax is OK because the amount I keep is nothing compared to the total government budget.” That may be true, but we all know we can’t build a country with logic like that.
Although it is true that Canada contributes only a small amount to the GHG emitted globally, we Canadians are among the highest emitters per capita. This being the case, it would be perfectly understandable for China to say, “yes, as a country we are one of the highest GHG emitters, but until Canada, which emits so much more per capita, reduces its emissions, we won’t.”
Canada is in a position to give leadership in GHG reduction. In the context of the current election, one of the parties is promising significant incentive for the development of of more energy efficient technologies. It is envisaged that these technologies will be exported. This is good. We need incentives to produce alternative technologies, but without incentives to adopt these technologies, it is unlikely that they will become popular, not here in Canada, nor in countries that might purchase this technology. A case study here can be electric car technology. We now know how to do it, how to build electric cars. Nevertheless the reason folks are buying electric cars today is not because it makes economic sense. They buy electric cars because they wish to live more responsibly with respect to the environment. Until things change to the point where there is an economic incentive to buy electric, take-up on the electric car option will be limited. A carbon tax contributes to that incentive.
To the extent that Canada is currently a model, it is a model for energy extravagance. However we could join the Scandinavian countries and demonstrate how prosperity can be achieved with energy frugality. We Canadians have deluded ourselves into thinking that the energy extravagance is a part of prosperity, but this is a delusion! A lifestyle where we are less dependent on the car, for example, results in greater well-being – better health for individuals and healthier communities.