Filed under: Ecocapitalism | Tags: Alberta Oil Sands, Carbon Tax, Carbon Trading, Climate Change, Curtis White, Jack Layton, Liberal Party of Canada, New Democratic Party, Stéphane Dion, The Idols of Environmentalism
NDP Leader Jack Layton has “shocked” environmentalists by opposing Captain Climate Change Stéphane Dion’s carbon tax environmental platform. Stephen Hazell, executive director of Sierra Club Canada, accused Layton of “pandering to people who are afraid about rising gas prices” because of Layton’s claim that rising energy costs would hurt the Canadian poor compelled to heat their homes by Canada’s cold winter climate. Hazell has a point: a decent carbon tax scheme would offset the penalty lower-income families would have to pay with taxes from corporations and upper-income earners. Dion’s plan is allegedly “revenue-neutral.” The problem with the plan is not that it would penalize lower-income families, the problem with carbon tax shifting is that it is utterly useless in combating climate change.
In order for a carbon tax plan to reduce carbon consumption, first, the tax rate needs to be high enough to deter people from using carbon-based fuels and second, alternative fuel sources must be widely available for less money. Gas prices have gone up forty percent over the last four years, and oil prices are predicted to double by 2012. Yet consumption has not slowed; in fact, our fuel consumption levels (and greenhouse gas emissions) are at record levels. Will Dion’s Liberals be willing to match the equivalent in a carbon tax scheme? Unlikely: and they will need to do more than match it.
Where will the alternatively sourced energy come from? Canada is light years behind Europe in alternative energy sources (disgracefully, since, as a Nordic country we should be leading the world on climate change). And the “revenue-neutral” logic means that not a single penny from this carbon tax will go toward new investment in non-carbon alternatives. Since the goal of a carbon tax is to make carbon-based fuels prohibitively expensive, what can we use instead?
Of course, all this is nonsense anyway. In “The Idols of Environmentalism,” an essay that should be compulsory reading for anyone interested slowing climate change, Curtis White pinpoints the reason market-based solutions like carbon trading will never, ever work:
Environmental destruction proceeds apace in spite of all the warnings, the good science, the 501(c)3 organizations with their memberships in the millions, the poll results, and the martyrs perched high in the branches of sequoias or shot dead in the Amazon. This is so not because of a power, a strength out there that we must resist. It is because we are weak and fearful. Only a weak and fearful society could invest so much desperate energy in protecting activities that are the equivalent of suicide.
For instance, trading carbon emission credits and creating markets in greenhouse gases as a means of controlling global warming is not a way of saying we’re so confident in the strength of the free market system that we can even trust it to fix the problems it creates. No, it’s a way of saying that we are so frightened by the prospect of stepping outside of the market system on which we depend for our national wealth, our jobs, and our sense of normalcy that we will let the logic of that system try to correct its own excesses even when we know we’re just kidding ourselves.
There is something psychopathic about carbon taxes and carbon trading. You may kill this many of my children, we tell our polluters. You may poison this much of my drinking water. But no more. I have to draw the line.
Capitalism—especially in its corporate incarnation—has a logos, a way of reasoning. Capitalism is in the position of the notorious scorpion who persuades the fox to ferry him across a river, arguing that he won’t sting the fox because it wouldn’t be in his interest to do so, since he’d drown along with the fox. But when in spite of this logic he stings the fox anyway, all he can offer in explanation is “I did it because it is in my nature.” In the same way, it’s not as if businessmen perversely seek to destroy their own world. They have vacation homes in the Rockies or New England and enjoy walks in the forest, too. They simply have other priorities which are to them a duty…
It is because we have accepted this rationalist logos as the only legitimate means of debate that we are willing to think that what we need is a balance between the requirements of human economies and the “needs” of the natural world. It’s as if we were negotiating a trade agreement with the animals and trees unlucky enough to have to share space with us. What do you need? we ask them. What are your minimum requirements? We need to know the minimum because we’re not likely to leave you more than that. We’re going to consume any “excess.” And then it occurs to us to add, unless of course you taste good. There is always room for an animal that tastes good.
How can a country that subsidizes the filthiest, most destructive, most obscene project in the entire world, the Alberta oil sands, convince its population that it holds any truck with environmentalism? How can we be made to believe that paying a few million, even a few billion dollars will negate the scorched earth left behind in Athabasca? And yet we Canadians swallow such absurd contradictions when we are unable to make the connection between 500 ducks drowning in oil and the car we drive to work.
This is the message you would expect Canada’s left-leaning party to send: not some weak-kneed gesture to gas prices. The Liberals’ plan is wrong, but for reasons no one in Canada seems prepared to hear.
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