Campaign misinformation has set back climate change debate
Something I missed on Friday was brought to my attention thanks to the ever useful BCEN LW list (hat tip to the indefatigable Bill Henderson).
Getting economists to agree on anything is unusual. It takes hours to get them to agree on where to go for lunch, let alone climate change policy. And most politicians love the idea that all their economists should have a hand cut off to stop them qualifying every recommnedation with “… but on the other hand …”
So the near universal dismay at the tactics adopted by the NDP and the Conservatives on the issue of the carbon tax is worth remark.
Gordon Campbell started the ball rolling – and to emphasize its revenue neutrality he sent a $100 cheque to every “man woman and child in BC” to offset the impact of the new carbon tax on energy costs. Only later did he realise that he would have to give it back to municipalities too – and he has yet to give it back to BC Transit or Translink. But all that did is make everyone cynical. And of course we heard a lot from those who were convinced it would cost them a lot more than $100. And the timing was off, because of a sudden brief spike in oil prices which happened to coincide with the announcement.
Stephane Dion stole the Green’s policy – becuase they had published their platform long before anyone else – but also ran into credibility problems. Probably not his fault either – but we all have long memories of earlier Liberal Red Books, and the rather dismal failings of the Chretien and Martin governments that just seemed to be a paler shade of blue, not green (or red, come to that).
Nancy Olewiler, a professor of economics at Simon Fraser University, was one of 230 economists at Canadian universities who signed an open letter advocating putting a price on carbon. The economists favoured a carbon tax because it provides more certainty on the price of polluting and is less complicated and costly to implement than cap and trade.
Reducing emissions will inevitably cost money and part of that cost has to be passed on to consumers, to encourage the use of cleaner fuels and energy, Olewiler said.
“If a cap and trade system is to work effectively to reduce emissions, it would have the same impact as a carbon tax,” Olewiler said.
And if 230 economists all say it, I think governments had better listen. 350ppm is not an easy target to hit but it is a far more realistic one than Kyoto – and now much more urgent. Business as usual is not a sustainable option, and as with any fundamental change we cannot expect it to be entirely comfortable, although of course there have to be safety nets for the vulnerable. Unfortunately we seem to have used up all our fiscal headroom in making sure the enormously wealthy are taken care of first. Which is like reserving all the lifeboats for the first class passengers.