Friday, May 23, 2008

If yes to a carbon shift but just "not now", then when?

After the last post I’m all lobby-blogged-out, so I’m not going near that angle with a 10-foot poll. When it comes to the blogger brouhaha of recent days though between Kinsella and Cherniak, there’s one thing I’m confused about.

James Curran gets to the salient point in the comments thread here:

Of course lost in almost all this Jason bashing and Warren bashing is the fact that the point was lost by most of the commenters on both blogs Warren:

"I'm not saying no to a carbon tax. I'm saying no to a carbon tax now."

You're a strategist. I believe the intent was to say this is bad strategy and let's debate Carbon tax later. Of course, that seems to be lost on Jason as well.
That was my read of Warren’s argument as well, or at least his initial argument. He’s not necessarily against a carbon shift, he just thinks that at the current time it’s too politically risky, if not suicidal. That’s a perfectly valid and defensible position, and depending on how things go it could well turn out to be prophetic. I’ve said from the start that, while I think this is worth doing, the politics of this will be very difficult. If we do it right it can be a real winner; if not, well, I think I said suicidal. Many think it can be done.

It’s a judgment call on the politics; perhaps its wishful thinking colored by the fact we need to do something about the environment/carbon that leads me to be willing to take the political risk on this, but where I begin to question Warren’s analysis is when he uses high gas prices (which aren’t expected to be impacted by the Liberal program, or so the scuttlebutt says (release actual details please LPC!)) as an argument against a carbon shift initiative.
*Oh, and just in time for the weekend, gas has gone up again, and we're being told to get used to it. Time for a carbon tax shift!

*Forget about the fact that, with fuel prices having gone up a billion per cent in recent months, we already have a driver-deterring carbon tax.

Yes, gas prices are high. But here’s the thing: when haven’t they been high? And when exactly will they be low? And I don’t mean comparatively speaking. Sure, a year ago gas prices were lower than they are now. Five years ago dido. But that doesn’t mean a year ago, or five years ago, we felt gas was cheap. No, we were complaining a year ago about high gas prices. We were complaining five years ago. Although I’m a young (but aging quickly) 30, I can’t remember a time when we weren’t complaining about high gas prices. I remember in my youth prices were around 55 cents/litre and people complained it was high.

If you think a carbon shift is bad policy that’s fine, differing opinions and all that. But if you think a carbon shift may be good policy, but we shouldn’t look at it now because gas prices are high, well, just when should we look at it? I suspect we’ll either run out of oil or the ice caps will melt before people consider gas cheap, or even moderately priced.

If we think it's good policy we should do it now. If not we should start talking about a Plan B, because I don’t think the environment can afford for us to wait for cheap gas prices before we start tackling the carbon issue in a serious way.

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Sean Cummings said...

>>when haven’t they been high?<<

March 2003, gas prices in Calgary were 57.5/litre.

When? Not now - the economy is slowing, Ontario is in recession and people are freaked about the price at the pumps. Maybe two years from now after we've gotten used to high prices and we've come out of an economic slowdown, it might make better politics.

Jeff said...

And at the time grumpy, was everyone of the opinion "man, gas prices are so cheap, yipee!" or did they feel at the time that they were too high?

Gas has always been cheaper in retrospect, but have we ever felt AT THE TIME that it was cheap? I don't recall such a time.

Sean Cummings said...

In 2003 it was about $40.00/barrel. I honestly don't recall anyone complaining about the price, but I have no empirical evidence to support that. I know that in the 1990's, oil was $10.00 barrel and we were in a recession for part of that time - still, no complaints either.

Perhaps the best indicator of determining whether people grumbled about the price at the pumps is to look at what Detroit was producing. In the 1970's, the high price of oil almost bankrupted the Chrysler Corporation to the point where they invented an economical and affordable family car for the masses that saved the company's bacon. In the late 70's Detroit started producing economical four cylinder cars - think Chevette, Pinto, 4 Cyl Mustang, Dodge Omni (a Rabbit Clone). The trend of small cars continued into the 1980's and then the recession hit. Oil plummeted, demand dropped and suddenly it was $10/barrel oil into the 1990's. In the 1990's, the low price of oil compelled Detroit to start producing SUV's and suddenly there was an SUV or a minivan in everyone's driveway. If everyone was able to buy gas pig SUV's to the extent where they now outnumber traditional compact vehicles, clearly, nobody was grumbling about gas prices from the time the 1992 Ford Explorer was unveiled until gas started it's ridiculous climb that we are now in.

Demosthenes said...

TGV: At that point, there would be complaints that the tax would "kill the recovery".

Republicans (and conservatives) will ALWAYS find an excuse to bash something, and I'm amazed Kinsella is dumb enough to believe otherwise.

It's actually amazing politics. It puts Dion in charge of the discourse, forces Harper to react to him for the first time, makes Dion look like a leader, taps into all the good ink he's got from Clarity...

...and (not incidentally) could lead to a a huge shift of Green voters to his party just at the time when Greens are starting to get second- and third-place finishes in elections.

And if he's smart enough to handle the tax cut/tax rebate side properly, he might even be able to run as a tax cutter. He'll already have hot and cold running economists praising him to the skies for this, as well as Suzuki and whatever environmental support Suzuki can command.

"Kinsella-the-strategist" is saying it's not a good issue?

Honestly, that's almost kind of sad.

Sean Cummings said...

I agree with Kinsella's analysis - I think it's bang on. What Dion has done wrong, is that he publicly mused about said carbon tax without actually having the policy available for public consumption and scrutiny. Because there was (is) no policy, it has given his political enemies time to frame the debate BEFORE Dion has a chance to sell said carbon tax. In short, Dion blew the PR on this one big time.

Saskboy said...

The problem is that the Earth doesn't have time for this to become clever "politics". The time is now.

As I explain here, this isn't a carbon tax. That's not the way to pitch it to someone. It's an INCOME TAX CUT (If the Green's platform is copied properly by Dion). Contingent upon the cut, is a corresponding raise to consumption taxes. Simple. People don't pay more taxes, they just pay more for products that we can't afford for them to overuse.

Sean Cummings said...

Assuming the climate change science is correct, time is not a factor because if we stop immediately all CO2 on planet earth, we will still have continued global warming. Therefore, why the rush? We're all gonna boil, starve, freeze or drown despite our best efforts.

Saskboy said...

Because I want my generation to be the first to move away from causing problems, instead of piling them up for someone else to live with later.

And assuming the science is correct (which it is) it would be madness to not start acting in the right direction. You know that expression about God helping those who help themselves? Well, if we don't start helping each other, heaven help us? I don't think so, not if we don't at least try.

rabbit said...

One serious problem with exchanging income tax for a carbon tax is that it's regressive.

First, the poor likely spend a far bigger percentage of their income on energy than the prosperous do.

Second, the poor don't pay much (or any) income tax due to personal exemptions. I don't see how you can prevent the poor from paying a carbon tax.

Third, the poor have fewer options for avoiding the carbon tax. They can't afford a new Prius, or have major renovations done on their homes.

rabbit said...


Because I want my generation to be the first to move away from causing problems, instead of piling them up for someone else to live with later.

Actually, mankind has over the last few decades had some major successes on the ecological front.

It's not fashionable to talk about these successes. I suppose ecological groups prefer the public to be in a constant state of blind panic than to admit that we occassionally solve some problems.

I think that's a mistake. Success breeds success, while the constant litany of doom the public is exposed to is likely to convince many people the situation is hopeless.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Saskboy, but if you are refering to the chimera of global warming when you say the earth doesn't have time, you're flogging a dying horse. More and more evidence is accumulating to contradict the doomsayers.
Rajendra Pachauri, the chairman of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has conceded, reluctantly, that the earth has, in fact, been cooling since 1998. In 2007 it dropped an average of .7degrees C, the largest movement since records for this type of measurement have been collected.
Noel Keenlyside, team leader for environmental studies at the Max Planck Institute, and a leading European proponent of the sky is falling theory, has admitted that once the latest and most comprehensive data is plugged into the U.N. weather modeling computer, the results show continued global cooling until at least 2015.
If Dion and company want to sell their carbon tax scheme they had better come up with another reason for the necessity of such a plan. Being Liberals, however, I am sure they won't find this too hard to do.

Demosthenes said...

Ah, denialists.

I'm sure that in the 1980s they'd be insisting that acid rain was good for you, too.

Barcs said...

I am not sure I understand your argument.

Gas has gone from 55 cents to $1.30.

That is about 150% increase. in 5 years.

Then you argue about "if not now... when?"

"people just complain about it"


If Dion is going to try to change behavior... how cripplingly high is his tax going to be?? And if it is to change behavior... why are many liberals trying to tell me it won't apply to gasoline; one of the largest pollution sources outside of power generation??

Barcs said...


You might also remember the population explosion that would outpace the worlds ability to produce food resulting in massive starvation and death by... well by now.

Or the ozone layer depletion.... that would have rendered large portions of the earth uninhabitable due to the suns radiation not being blocked and frying large tracks of plant and animal life.

Or with global warming the massive sudden sea rise from melting polar caps destroying all the coastal towns. (maybe over a couple decades but not in a year)

You can call me a denier if you want... but I want a little more information than say a holy book like the bible predicting the plagues and global apocalypse.

"the science is settled"- is not a phrase used by real scientists.

Steve V said...

""the science is settled"- is not a phrase used by real scientists."

You're right, in the sense of gauging the effects, timetables, but on the question of whether it is real or not, it's settled.

Barcs said...

Yes steve;

The earth is still flat.
The sun (and the universe orbits the earth.
Humans were put on the earth 4k years ago by a holy being.

Here there be dragons.....

Because the science was settled then too.

Our understanding of the world is much better no then it was a couple hundred years ago. But then maybe you might remember using punchcards for computers too.

Our science has come very far.... you are a fool to assume we have a achieved the pinnacle and that our understanding won't double again in the next 50 years (like it always has done).

btw: (NASA after finding global warming on Mars last year now thinks that Jupiter is warming too..... damn the carbon from the telescope)

Jay Currie said...

I'm with barcs on the science; but let's look at the politics.

M. Dion wants to put a tax of unknown amount on "carbon". That's as much as we know. Which gives the CPC open season to speculate.

The Lying Jackal's analysis - and he is a damn good political analyst when he isn't suing people - is spot on. Now is not the time.

Ontario is going into recession. M. Dion needs Ontario votes. A tax grab - no matter how spun and how "revenue neutral" - is not going to win those votes.

Plus, and even the most convinced warmist has to recognize this, the fever pitch of warmist hysteria has passed. While there are still lots of Suzukite yo-yo's "advocating" for bike in Edmonton in January, the real world has moved on.

Each night Steve kneels down and prays that no one tells M. "didn't get it done" Dion that the Green moment has passed. 'Cause if the Grits run on a Green agenda there is every chance that the CPC will pick up a couple of dozen suburban seats.

Demosthenes said...

jay currie, climate change denialist. How predictable.


You might also remember the population explosion that would outpace the worlds ability to produce food resulting in massive starvation and death by... well by now.Oh, well, that's right! Cheap gasoline and natural gas can do wonders for agriculture...

...oh. Right.

In any case, are you seriously making this argument now? If you believe that there aren't food problems, have I got some food riots for you!

Demosthenes said...

And in response to your question, BCer? Clearly, judging by this thread and the embrace of "OMG IT'S THE SUN" the answer is "never, you'll take the keys to my Escalade from my cold, dead hand".

Which is probably why Dion should ignore the typical conservative net-trolls and look at the actual political situation, which is that this plays up to his strengths, Harper's weaknesses, and pulls the voters away from the NDP and Greens that he needs to break apart the local vote-splitting that the Liberals have so much trouble with.

And if the tax-cut aspect is handled properly, hell, he might even swing some conservatives. Not all are as climate-blind as the "COOLING!!!!11one" trolls.

tedhsu said...

There have been a lot of comments already, but I just wanted to emphasize the point that a phased-in carbon tax might even lower the tax on gasoline temporarily. What you lose in taxes on gas you pick up on coal. For some numbers please see this post: