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.