Tuesday, September 20, 2016
You Want a Carbon Tax? Then Do It Right.
One of the greatest hurdles facing mankind in the struggle with climate change is the political factor. It's a terrible thing to leave the major decisions on this up to our political caste. They're far more focused on getting elected in three or four years than they are in what might befall your grandkid 40 years down the road. Of course it's a massive conflict of interest and of course they get to decide whether they'll come down on their own side or your grandkid's. How do you think that's bound to turn out?
Carbon "pricing." Apparently Justin Trudeau intends to go that route. It's actually carbon taxing but what politician can bear to be that honest?
This is where we run into trouble. Carbon pricing is an exercise in political number fixing. Most of the numbers that constitute climate change orthodoxy are political numbers. That's because politics overrides science. We'll have no scientific numbers thank you very much. That would be irresponsible.
It'll be a gathering of the sphincters. Justin will pull a number out of his ass. Rachel will pull another number out of her ass. Brad will hunt around endlessly before angrily insisting there is no number up his ass.
The idea is that a carbon price discourages consumption of fossil fuels and it does, somewhat. Yet it only works if it hurts and if it hurts you've got another political football. Brad Wall has chosen to kick.
The sop for the hurt is to claim the tax will be revenue neutral. You're paying more at the pump but that'll be offset by cost reductions elsewhere. At the end of the day you'll come out about the same. Don't worry, be happy.
I've got a better idea. The first one concerns Canada's ailing, aging infrastructure. Even if we hadn't kicked Earth's climate into overdrive, a lot of our once awesome infrastructure is crumbling. Highways, overpasses, bridges, electrical grids, sewers and water mains - that sort of thing. It has served us well in the post-war era. It has allowed us to enjoy incredible prosperity. Yet now it's nearing terminal mode.
That infrastructure is what keeps the economy ticking over. It goes down, the economy goes with it. Think of it as the roof that keeps the rain out of your house. It doesn't last forever. Every 20 to 40-years it has to be replaced. Your house won't last long if you don't.
Climate change makes our infrastructure predicament much worse. I was reminded of this last night when we received another of our newfound biblical downpours. My eavestroughs were doing fine until the series of squalls passed overhead and then they quickly were overrun. Message: if we're going to be getting rains like this, and worse, I need new, larger capacity eavestroughs, downspouts and, probably, drainage tiles. Think of it as the first greeting card from the Anthropocene.
Climate change will be bringing the same reality to our core (can't live without it) infrastructure. Our aging infrastructure was designed by engineers to meet conditions of their day. It was not designed for today's severe weather events of increasing frequency, intensity and duration. The deluges that swamped first Toronto and then Calgary, utterly defeating their storm sewer systems demonstrate how vulnerable we've become. When a once-a-century flood starts turning up once in every five or ten years, you're facing a new reality and you have to figure out how to cope with it.
From sea to shining sea to shining sea we've got a looming infrastructure crisis of massive proportions. Think several hundreds of billions of dollars to do the job. One Canadian expert suggested it could reach upwards of a trillion. He also pointed out that the cost of not dealing with it will be far greater, potentially an economy killer.
Money isn't the only problem. As with most aspects of climate change, there's a big time factor. Time is not on our side. Even a Herculean effort would probably take 20 to 30-years. There's a lot of process involved - study, analyze, propose, evaluate, decide, plan, fund, contract and implement. That takes time.
What if, instead of fixing our carbon price based on some half-assed, negotiated political number reflecting a notional revenue-neutral pipedream, we decided to be honest? What if we decided the carbon taxes should be used, federally and provincially, for essential infrastructure rehabilitation and replacement? Why not take those carbon taxes and invest them in assets, infrastructure, that will yield economic dividends for decades to come?
If we're not going to let the economy and, with it, our society collapse, we're going to have to find the money somewhere for a massive infrastructure makeover. That's code for "tax." Why not get some estimates for how much this is going to cost and work out what percentage of that cost should and could be realized through carbon taxes?
See what that does? That cuts out a whole lot of political numbers. Politicians instead would have to use numbers of calculated precision formulated by engineers, scientists and contractors. It won't be pretty but at least it will be grounded in reality. Doesn't that sound like a good idea?