There's something about the New York Times columnist Tom Friedman that can get my back up. At times he seems really patronizing, talking down to the wee folk. Once in a while, however, Tom gets something dead on and then - well, he's tolerable. This time it's his explanation of why the West ought to forget about cap and trade regimes and go for a straight forward carbon tax. Are you listening Iggy?
Representative John B. Larson, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, has circulated a draft bill that would impose “a per-unit tax on the carbon-dioxide content of fossil fuels, beginning at a rate of $15 per metric ton of CO2 and increasing by $10 each year.” The bill sets a goal, rather than a cap, on emissions at 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050, and if the goal for the first five years is not met, the tax automatically increases by an additional $5 per metric ton. The bill implements a fee on carbon-intensive imports, as well, to press China to follow suit. Larson would use most of the income to reduce people’s payroll taxes: We tax your carbon sins and un-tax your payroll wins.
People get that — and simplicity matters. Americans will be willing to pay a tax for their children to be less threatened, breathe cleaner air and live in a more sustainable world with a stronger America. They are much less likely to support a firm in London trading offsets from an electric bill in Boston with a derivatives firm in New York in order to help fund an aluminum smelter in Beijing, which is what cap-and-trade is all about. People won’t support what they can’t explain.
...Climate change is a real threat to a healthy planet Earth — the only home we have. But because the worst effects are in the future, many Americans have more immediate concerns. That is why our energy policy should be focused around “American renewal,” not mitigating climate change.
We need a price on carbon because it will stimulate massive innovation in the next great global industry — E.T. — energy technology. In a warming world with huge population growth, clean power systems are going to be in huge demand. The scientific research and innovation needed for America to dominate E.T. the way it did I.T. could be the foundation for a second American industrial revolution, plus it would tip the whole planet onto a greener path. So American economic renewal is the goal, but mitigating climate change would be the great byproduct.
Now our supposedly enlightened Liberal Leader runs like a scalded cat at the mention of carbon taxes. He writes it off with facile excuses including the rank sophistry about how Canadians made a mature, informed decision to reject carbon taxes in the last election. Mr. Ignatieff is lying.
There was no mature, informed decision on carbon taxes in the last election. You can fault Mr. Dion for that. Mr. Dion stupidly (yes, stupidly) chose to make carbon taxes the cornerstone of the Liberal election platform. That was about as dumb an idea as any Liberal has sprung in memory. No cash-strapped opposition party can sell a policy of that magnitude, especially not in a general election. The Green Shift moniker was confusing and totally vulnerable to attack ads from both the Tories and the oh so concerned NDP. Dion exposed the policy before he unveiled it and his opponents put the boots to it before he was even prepared to try to explain it. As an electoral platform it was as stupid as mud.
Selling the public on the merits of carbon taxes is a chore that only a government can tackle. It takes a lot of time and a lot of money to get the requisite information to the public, to earn their support. In the run-up to the last election the Canadian public were never given a decent chance to make an informed, mature decision on carbon taxes. They were dizzy from being spun silly.
Mr. Dion's foolishness does not excuse Mr. Ignatieff's crass and misleading dismissal of what, as Friedman rightly points out, is probably the only effective means of confronting the existential threat of global warming. This is a problem that needs to be addressed now. We need a leader who understands that and is ready to act. Unfortunately neither the Libs nor the Tories have anyone of that stature right now.
Mr. Ignatieff needs to learn there's more to being a leader than getting elected prime minister. Mr. Harper has shown that.