Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Primary public view on the climate plan: Don’t screw up the economy

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Vaughan Palmer, Vancouver Sun

This is an important piece, becuase what he is doing is trying to guess what is going in to the budget. Will there be a carbon tax and will it actually be “revenue neutral”? And would you believe them if they said it was.

The public response is contained in a report from the legislature finance committee, delivered last November. Now it seems to me that some massaging may be at work here as I am not convinced that ordinary Joes say things like “that measures to reduce greenhouse gases must neither adversely affect the B.C.’s strong economic position nor increase the province’s debt-to-GDP ratio” – they probably use much simpler language, and to some extent are simply recycling the conservative anti-debt, anti-tax nostrum that is supposed to cure all our economic problems – not matter what the problem might be or the state of the economy at the time.

More worrying is the way that widespread support for a carbon tax is dismissed  as “the result of an orchestrated campaign by “technologically savvy environmental advocacy organizations.” Of course, the issue of whether the analysis of those organizations might be technically correct is not discussed. For we do now have an understanding of how these things have been working out in countries with a carbon tax (like Norway) and without (Canada). And the record is very clear. Norway is not only doing better than us at cutting emission, its economy is doing better too. The idea that perhaps there are also “technologically savvy advocacy organizations” funded by big energy companies, and right wing think tanks (who think we should only levy taxes to pay for more prisons, more armaments and more freeways) is not discussed.

Marc Jaccard (who I reported on not so long ago) now dismisses the view that we can do well by doing good. That rising prices for energy mean that we will save money and save energy by savvy upgrading of our infrastructure and investment
in new technology. Apparently the savings simply go into a more luxurious consumption pattern – so the economy grows and so does the energy consumption. For instance, better fridge technology could have cut hydro bills but instead we bought bigger fridges – and wine coolers as well!

The report also urged the government to “recognize a clear urban/rural divide with respect to increases in transportation-related taxation.”

Well duh! If you live in the suburbs and have no realistic transportation choices of course you will be annoyed about higher gas taxes. Which is why “technologically savvy environmental advocacy organizations” have been talking about better transit for the suburbs for a very long time. And by the suburbs, they do not mean Vancouver’s West Side!

 Another key finding was that people did not know nearly enough about what could and should be done.

But that did not stop them asking for incentives rather than taxes. And, again, as Jaccard’s research shows incentives are very imprecise and wasteful. It is not at all clear that the people who got $2,000 for buying a Prius would have bought a gas guzzler if they didn’t get a grant. And the taxi companies certainly did not buy them as a good pr stunt!

If the people do not know nearly enough is that an excuse to ignore them? We are dealing with politicians who are facing re-election and that is what concentrates their minds – not the environment, even if it does become more hostile to human life as a result of their inaction. Because not doing anything is always their favoured route, or failing that pick the one their backers like best and then spin it to make it look like something else is being done that isn’t.

Written by Stephen Rees

February 7, 2008 at 12:21 pm

One Response

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  1. “[T]echnologically savvy advocacy organization.”

    Who knew hitting send on Facebook could be elevated to such rhetorical heights?


    February 8, 2008 at 1:32 pm

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