Monday, October 15, 2018

Carbon Taxes are Fine But They Won't Protect You

Climate taxes, if they're high enough (and Trudeau's are far from that mark), are a good way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by curbing society's and the economy's appetite for fossil fuels and nudging both toward clean alternative energy.

Those two words - carbon + taxes - however are just amorphous enough that they can provide a dandy smokescreen to climate change footdraggers whose ranks include every prime minister from the current placeholder all the way back to Jean Chretien.

Carbon taxes are a small part of how a responsible government must respond to climate change. Carbon taxes go to mitigation, trying to keep the future a bit less worse than it will be otherwise. Carbon taxes, on their own, do not solve anything. They're not some standalone solution.

The other shoe, the one that's nowhere to be found, is adaptation. That is measures designed to protect us from climate change impacts, some of which even Canada is already experiencing. These include severe storm events of increasing frequency, intensity and duration; sea level rise and coastal inundation; flash and cyclical floods; flash and cyclical drought; disease and pest migration; heat waves, crop failures, the list goes on.

From papers and reports I've read (often I have to rely on 'executive summaries') and experts I've spoken with, it seems the upcoming decade, the 2020s, will usher in major climate changes that many of us today cannot imagine.

Think of it as a non-linear, progressive disease. Tomorrow may not be just a little bit more difficult than today. Some changes will be both large and abrupt, making them more disruptive and making effective adaptation more difficult, sometimes impossible.

The EPA has a summary of adaptation strategies in four main categories: air, water, waste and public health. It's not an exhaustive treatment but it is on the right track. It provides links to helpful case studies.

The EPA summary makes clear that adaptation strategies are about defending our essential needs - clean water, clean air, effective waste management and public health - against the impacts of climate change. For example, it outlines five potential threats to waste management - temperature, precipitation, wind, sea level rise and wildfires. Each can be explored separately.

It's pretty obvious that adaptation strategies are the responsibility of every level of government - federal, provincial and municipal - and they all have to work together. How that's to be done I have no idea but I haven't seen any sign of life on this front, have you?

Of course once our representatives start talking about adaptation, the conversation will quickly turn to funding and everybody comes to the table with an empty purse.

Trudeau could come up with twenty, thirty billion dollars a year if he was to stop direct subsidies and indirect benefits to Big Oil. Doing that might spark a civil war, however, and besides our prime minister has no appetite for that fight.

The biggest adaptation challenge, however, is to defend our essential infrastructure that is rapidly falling apart, most of it engineered and constructed to meet the demands of a much gentler climate. The tab for upgrading and, where necessary, replacing our vulnerable infrastructure could be upwards of a trillion dollars. We don't have that kind of money. Yet the cost of not upgrading and replacing that infrastructure will be much greater and time is not on our side on this front either.

Bickering endlessly over a woefully inadequate, minuscule carbon tax is just wasting time we don't have. Unless our prime minister and every premier make climate change preparation their overarching priority, we're hooped. They are writing the narrative of our future and the future of our kids and theirs today and they're writing it in indelible ink.


Toby said...

The subsidies issue is important. It accomplishes nothing to tax consumers at the pump for carbon when the money is used to subsidize the oil and gas companies as is done in BC. My impression is that ending the direct and indirect subsidies would put many carbon companies out of business and the others would have to raise their prices thus causing much the same pressure as a tax.

Jay Farquharson said...

Cheryl, at Balloon Juice has started a new feature, covering AGW,

An initial list of "things to do/discuss" has been identified. The short list is:

Climate Models

Where is the tipping point?
We have enough data now that we can move past the models into doing time series analysis and estimation. The economist time series guy who helped the climate scientists on that is Peter Phillips of Yale. (Disentangling greenhouse warming and aerosol cooling to reveal Earth’s climate sensitivity)
Electrical Generation

Modernization of the grid – Smart grid

Air travel
Mass transit
Eliminate the internal combustion engine

High metabolism plants to soak up all the CO2?
BBC – Would you give up beef to save the planet?
Forestry for carbon sequestration
Ocean fertilization
Soil for carbon sequestration
Indoor farming
Livestock production

Cement manufacture, substitution

Jobs created and saved
Economic opportunity for women
Fossil fuel divestment
Balancing economic development for poor countries against energy usage
Transition – natural gas as a transitional fuel
Occupational transitions
Governmental Actions

Carbon tax
Carbon trading
Importance of collective action rather than consumer choices
Funding for research
California as model (links here and here and here)
Establishing virtuous outcomes through regulation, positive feedback loops
Updates on currently proposed legislation, at the federal or state level, and why it’s important for the climate. Push to call congresspeople.
What we can call on our individual cities to do. What policies should we be talking to our city councilors about? What has worked well in other places? How do we help people realize that these changes can be cost effective?
Changing code requirements for more efficient buildings
Could there be an environmental equivalent of ActBlue?

Coastal infrastructure
Displaced persons
Population growth
Denser cities
Wood as construction material
Have one less child if you’re planning to have more.
Switch to a plant based diet (or mostly plant based)
Banning all 2-stroke engines
Suggestions for good climate change fighting organizations to donate to or volunteer for.
How to make individual changes easier, or how to get more people involved in doing them.
Communicating the Issues

Effective viral methods like the Parkland students, the Beto campaign, and how the annoying Avenatti gets headlines.
Effective storytelling
Fox News as a problem
Coastline maps projecting sea-level rise
Some sort of recognition and memorialization of each island as it disappears. They should not be consigned to the dustbin of history.
A graphic that breaks down how Americans consume energy
Downsides of global warming – local and regional impacts, crop yields and food, ocean acidification

William Nordhaus, who just won the Nobel Memorial Prize in economics
Weitzman and Stern
“Chasing Ice”
Reddit has a subsection titled “ELI5”. Explain Like I’m 5. (Example and example)
Marvel Avengers
Michael Coney’s novel “Rax”

Owen Gray said...

Our infractructure is crumbling. Yet we want the private sector to rebuild it. Only government can do the job -- if it chooses to.

The Mound of Sound said...

Jay, that's an impressive "to do" list. Now, consider how furious so many of our fellow citizens become at the suggestion of another four cents a litre at the pump and then multiply that by your list. Not particularly encouraging, eh?

The Mound of Sound said...

Toby, ending bitumen subsidies (that might just include the Trudeau memorial pipeline) and charging the industry for its waste and consumption of natural capital (i.e. water) would shut down the whole of Athabasca. The contortions Ottawa and Edmonton go through to make bitumen appear a profitable resource are ridiculous. At the end of the day the significance of dilbit is political, not economic, but the risks of that bubble bursting are truly economic.

The Mound of Sound said...

Owen, exposing the public to private-sector infrastructure plans is to leave us all entirely vulnerable to vulture capitalism.

the salamander said...

-------- below per your request ----------
-------- can delete after copying - at your discretion ------ This is a research blog regarding one of Canada's least known heroes, Ann Harvey. It represents my efforts to pull together the known facts of her actions.. as well as known facts regarding those that she along with her father, her younger brother and their Newfoundland dog rescued This link plops you into the middle of my personal photo blog. Yes, there are the odd commercial images scattered among some 450 plus shots, but primarily this is personal, informal documentary of the experience of 'Being Canadian' and the sense of being immersed in Mother Nature & the natural world of the Canadian Environment. Also a number of images from Turks & Caicos, Mexico, Dubai, San Fran, London etc - Upper right are controls - Home takes one to the last entry I uploaded & you can proceed via 'Next' or 'Previous' etc - Archive takes one to a small clickable collection - Portfolio shows all in postage stamp & are clickable to regular size 72 DPI - Community leads to thousands of serious amateur members around the world - the main Aminus site is free to join. Any image of mine you visit is also clickable for its detailed caption re location or species etc - the provided link starts you on a photo with such a caption - do this by clicking the minimal title underneath the photo - use the 'back button' a lot to get back to previous etc - use Portfolio to browse

Currently online is a fiction novel, though not a final draft
Diamond Walker' (damn ! They put advertising on Wordpress now ? Be sure to skip the modem ad and go to 'full page' where the Chapter Index is on right side
Its set in beautiful British Columbia, primarily on Vancouver Island and in Vancouver. I sent that to you several years back - but you were pretty aggro'd at Stephen Harper et al at the time & threatening to ride off on the BMW for a while.. I have a sequel 'Hunter Walker' underway that starts in Afghanistan & rapidly moves to Banff, Alberta

As always tod1951@hotmail is my general backchannel contact - though I am textable - tweetable @salamanderhorde - messenger capable etc

the salamander said...

I really like Peter Lowry's blog Babel-on-The-Bay .. Georgian Bay, Collingwood area. Its one of those 'always reads' He caught this wondrous 'fail' re bitumin reportage plus a bonus boo boo -