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Climate Hustle

How I lived through a carbon tax and survived to tell the tale

Posted on 8 April 2011 by Dan Moutal

A guest post by Dan Moutal, the voice of the Irregular Climate Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @ScruffyDan

Just over three years ago the province of British Columbia (BC) on Canada’s west coast implemented a revenue neutral carbon tax. And the world didn’t come to an end.

But three years on it is easy to find people who continue to unfairly criticise the policy and show that they simply don’t understand it.

For example this article from the New York Times:

John Hunter despises [the carbon tax].

"I've already insulated my house to be energy efficient. I already turn down my thermostat. Why should I have to pay $20 on my natural gas bill for something that is doing nothing for me?" the 64-year-old engineer said in an interview from his home in North Vancouver, British Columbia. His anger about the C$21.85 charge on his C$263 December bill prompted a protest op-ed in a local Vancouver paper. (One Canadian dollar equals roughly 1.02 U.S. dollars.)

What John Hunter might not realize is that the the carbon tax here in BC is revenue neutral. Meaning that every penny collected by the tax is returned to the public in the form of tax rebates (aka cheques in the mail) and lower income and corporate tax rates. So while John Hunter might have to pay a little extra to heat his home, he gets to keep more of his income in his pocket, and so does his employer. In fact it is entirely possible that Mr Hunter’s income tax savings are a fair bit larger than the $20 monthly charge on his home heating bill.

And since Mr Hunter has already taken steps to insulate his house and make it energy efficient, he is emitting less carbon and thus paying less taxes. The carbon tax gives people some amount of control over how much taxes they end up paying.  Instead of taxing the good (aka income), the carbon tax taxes the bad (aka GHG emissions). Emit less and you pay less taxes.

In fact thanks to the carbon tax, BC has the lowest income tax rates in Canada for people earning up to $118,000, as well as very low rates of corporate and small business taxes.

Yet that is rarely mentioned when the tax is criticized.

But let's back up a little; what exactly is the carbon tax policy here in BC? I need to be upfront and say that the tax here is modest. It started out at $10/tonne and has been increasing by $5 each year untill it reaches a maximum of $30/tonne in 2012. And as I mentioned earlier, all the money raised by the tax is refunded back to residents and businesses in BC.

So how has my life changed since the introduction of the tax? The short answer is that it hasn’t really changed much at all. The biggest change is that I get quarterly carbon tax rebate cheques from the government, because I fall into the low income tax bracket.

Sure gas and home heating is a little more expensive. But the economy did not collapse and I am proud to say that at no time did we travel back in time to the Stone Age.

And that price on carbon is exactly the point. By pricing emissions there are now greater incentives everywhere to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Activities or products which lead to lots of emissions are now relatively more expensive, while their low carbon counterparts are not. This leads to millions of small individual choices that result in less emissions. Those renovations Mr. Hunter made will pay for themselves sooner than they otherwise would, because of the carbon tax.

But there are limits to what a modest carbon tax like the one here in BC can do. At the maximum rate of $30/tonne, the results will never be sufficient to reduce BC’s GHG emissions enough to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, to say nothing of the GHG emissions of the rest of Canada or the world for that matter.

For that the carbon tax would have to be higher, with coresponding larger tax decreases elsewhere, and apply to a much larger jurisdiction.

Here in BC we have just taken a successful first step.

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Comments 1 to 50 out of 248:

  1. Dan,

    So very little pain for almost no measurable gain? Would this sum things up in BC? There sounds like there's good reason why the world didn't end.
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  2. Let me make sure I understand this. The government takes money off people, subtracts their administration costs, then gives it back? I just hope we never have to suffer such nonsense here. Is this government policy gone mad?
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  3. rhjames said: "The government takes money off people, subtracts their administration costs, then gives it back?... Is this government policy gone mad?" No. In fact, taking a larger view, it is all any government policy has ever sought to do. People who do not think so think paved roads and dams evolve naturally.
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  4. HumanityRules said: "So very little pain for almost no measurable gain?" Dan said: "thanks to the carbon tax, BC has the lowest income tax rates in Canada for people earning up to $118,000." This would be so much easier if you bothered to read the article.
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  5. and what's the result for CO2 emissions ?
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  6. @ rhjames

    Since governments already have all the infrastructure they need to collect taxes the administration costs are almost nill.

    @ Gilles

    It is too early to tell. Anecdotal evidence points to a small reduction, but nothing concrete just yet. But no one should expect anything drastic from such modest policy. If we want larger cuts in emissions (and I do) then we will need a larger carbon tax, whose cost can be offset by larger tax reductions elsewhere.

    It just makes so much sense to me. It is better to tax the bad (GHG emissions), than the good (income). But we also need to be realistic. It makes no sense for BC to get too far ahead of everyone else. We took a first modest step, but we can't take too many more until other jurisdictions catch up, otherwise we risk pushing GHG emissions out of BC and into neighboring provinces and states, which will hurt BC, and do nothing for the climate.
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  7. Such a tax doesn't have to be very high to have profound long-term effects. But they tend to kick in gradually, so they may be hard to discern from noise and more obvious effects.

    First off, it makes energy use a little bit more expensive, biasing individual decisions about energy use, systems designs, insulation standards etc towards energy efficiency and savings.

    Second, it boosts the competitiveness of renewable sources. For instance, you can either use natural gas or a combination of solar and heat pump to produce domestic hot water. (With the phasing in of renewable electricity, the heat pump contribution will be increasingly renewable, starting at about pari with gas for 100% fossile generated electricity.) Typically, investments will be much higher for the renewable way, but operating costs much lower.

    As for the effects of the tax, there may be an inverse Robin Hood effect if revenue neutrality is implemented by relative tax cuts. With flat tax reduction/payback, it may work the other way around. But in any case, the tax gives Mr Hunter an extra payback for his insulation efforts: He uses less than average gas, and therefore pays less than average tax, but gets the average tax cut back. So complaining, he is actually asking for worse condition for himself.
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  8. ubrew12 - There's a big difference between taking our money to build things, and taking money to give it back in cash. Dan Moutal - I think you're dreaming if you think a carbon tax doesn't mean a big new expensive governmental department.
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  9. @ rhjames

    Total money collected by the tax = $848 million
    Total money returned to BC residents = $1042 million

    Perhaps the BC government is also dreaming
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  10. Reference for my last comment
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  11. Dan Moutal @ 6:

    "It makes no sense for BC to get too far ahead of everyone else. We took a first modest step, but we can't take too many more until other jurisdictions catch up, otherwise we risk pushing GHG emissions out of BC and into neighboring provinces and states, which will hurt BC, and do nothing for the climate."

    This sounds remarkably close to arguments being mounted by carbon tax opponents for not having a carbon tax in Australia. The difference is merely one of degree - you impose a very small tax as opposed to a zero tax.

    Paradoxically, it also is very close to the position advocated by the oft maligned Pielke Jr in "The Climate Fix" who argues for the gradual introduction of a modest carbon tax.

    Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
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  12. Never mind that Hunter guy. People will always complain. It's revenue neutral (actually more than that), and it's taxing an undesirable thing, as Dan pointed out. What else can you want?
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  13. rhjames, when the U.S. government collects taxes and then uses those funds to build outdated ships and planes which the military insists they don't need and will never use what is that but a wealth transfer from the country as a whole to the people who will build those ships and planes (and especially the CEOs of the companies)?

    When a congressman gets money for road repairs in his district put into a bill what is that but wealth transfer from the country as a whole to his district - which no longer has to pay to do the work and gets the construction jobs and improved roads?

    The vast majority of what governments do is redistribute wealth. More frequently from the poor to the rich than vice versa.

    This carbon tax differs only in that it is transparent. It transfers wealth from carbon polluters to non-polluters. Very clear and simple, though, based on the article, some people still can't manage to grasp it.

    Further, administrative costs should be lower than most other forms of tax. Collection basically works like a sales tax impacting only energy products, which are provided by a small number of companies and thus easily monitored without a huge staff. Likewise, distribution is a simple payout. Very little bureaucracy involved; just money in and money out. There are wonderful machines called computers which are very good at doing that sort of thing cheaply.

    That said, the link provided by Dan Moutal shows that this 'carbon tax and return' was accompanied by several other tax reductions. This reduces the transparency / makes it more similar to 'business as usual' tax policy. For instance, back in the 80s Reagan raised payroll taxes (which mostly impact the poor) and lowered income taxes (which mostly impact the rich). BC is pursuing the same concept... lowering existing taxes to offset raising a new one. Thus far they've paid out quite a bit more than they've taken in, but that may change as the carbon price rises. It's never easy to precisely balance these things.
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  14. NB : three years ago was in 2008, just before the worst crisis since WWII. CO2 emissions have generally decreased in western countries thanks to (!) this crisis. So the effect of the tax should be estimated by comparison between comparable countries or states that applied it, or not.
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  15. Gilles @ 15:
    Canadell also points out that the financial crisis did not affect all countries equally. While carbon dioxide emissions dropped in 2009 in places like North America, Europe and Japan, they increased substantially in China and India.

    Looking ahead, the researchers note that the International Monetary Fund is projecting an increase of global GDP by 4.8% in 2010, which will lead to an increase in global emissions of at least 3% this year.

    from this ABC story, which also states emissions fell 1.3% as a result of the financial crisis. 15 seconds with Google was able to get me to that page. I'm sure if I searched a bit more, I could find some more concrete numbers for 2010 emissions.

    The point that Dan makes in the article above seems pretty clear to me:

    A modest carbon tax will not cause major economic disruption, and will provide an incentive for people to reduce energy usage. It may even save them money.

    Another way of looking at it: Now that there's a carbon tax in British Columbia, you can be sure that every business operating there (and many individuals too) is going to spend a least a little bit of effort on improving energy efficiency. A lot of the impacts of that will only be felt years down the track - kind of like fuel efficiency standards for cars. If you legislated today that new cars had to use 1/10th the fuel of current cars, it would take years before you saw a significant drop in total fuel consumption, and probably 20 years before you reduced consumption by 90%.

    On the flip side - if you refuse to implement better efficiency now, you'll pay the price for decades, in higher energy costs.

    I'm interested in finding out how much Mr Hunter paid for gas before he added insulation and turned down his thermostat. Was it more than he currently pays with the carbon tax?
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  16. I don't think a tax can produce a major recession - a tax is only redistributive. What I questioned was if it had really led to a measurable improvement of energy efficiency. And don't forget that improving energy efficiency doesn't guarantee at all that global emissions will recede - most likely they will keep increasing but with more wealth produced. Your figures show precisely that the increase is entirely due to developing countries, which are very far from thinking they can reduce their emissions -that are actually much lower per capita than ours. So whatever you spare here, there are plenty of poor people throughout the world who will be very happy to use it (I'm not saying it's bad).
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  17. It is interesting that skeptics want instant results from a carbon tax, while supporters point out that it takes time for people to install insulation to save on carbon emmisions. I suppose the skeptics think Paris was built in a single day! We can see in California that when energy is more expensive people use less. And they still have empty caves for new people to come and live in.
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  18. As a BC resident myself, I'll add two observations to Dan's excellent article. One is that the carbon tax was introduced by a right-of-centre government and was, for a while, opposed by the left-of-centre NDP. The other is that if any politician proposes to repeal this revenue-neutral tax, then they will, in effect, be arguing for an income tax increase.

    A carbon tax like BC's is simpler and administratively cheaper than a cap-and-trade policy. Since it also reduces income or payroll taxes, it ought to be popular among free-market enthusiasts who recognize that climate change is a serious problem. But, as Dan mentioned, the level of BC's tax needs to be much higher to gain real traction on carbon emissions. That's not possible until BC's trading partners start to adopt similar policies.
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  19. Gilles at 17:03 PM on 8 April, 2011

    Fair point. I guess the carbon tax is catastrophic AND innocuous, then... (new skeptcial argument for the list?)
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  20. Dan,

    I agree with you that this tax is still low: it's far lower than what's suggested by Hansen, Stern, or even Nordhaus. The latter uses an economic model that underestimates climate impacts and calculates an "optimal" carbon tax of US$27/ton. The formers point to much higher amounts. I don't remember Stern, but Hansen's figure is US$115.

    OTOH, I also agree with you that one isolated region would only export emissions if it sets a too high carbon tax.

    So it was a commendable initiative of BC, and let's hope this encourages others to take these first steps too.

    Thanks for the post.
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  21. Yeah, the tax being 'too low' to solve the problem isn't really the issue IMO. Rather, this BC tax is a great proof of concept in that it shows you can implement a carbon tax while simultaneously lowering the overall tax burden for all but a small pool of heavy polluters.

    The only problem is that this reality doesn't seem to be getting out. Instead you've got the insanity of people like 'John Hunter' in the article complaining about a tax which actually puts money in their pocket. The old saying, 'There are none so blind as those who will not see' comes to mind. Proving that a carbon tax won't hurt people economically doesn't do any good if they are so deeply in denial that they disbelieve it.
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  22. Great post, Dan. I think the (modest) success of the BC carbon tax thus far has flown mostly under the radar. Good comments by Andy S in #18 too.

    It's amazing people criticize a system which has caused a net decrease in taxes and encourages carbon emissions reductions. It's a great first step by BC.
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  23. CBDunkerson at 00:42 AM on 9 April, 2011

    The anedoctical account of John Hunter does not make justice to the overall acceptance of the initiative. The NYT article has some figures about polls on this issue:

    Environics Research Group Ltd. documented an almost 10-percentage-point rise in support among British Columbians for the carbon tax between when the tax was about to be implemented in 2008 and when it had been in place for a year in 2009, for example. Last month, researchers at three universities reported (pdf) that an even stronger majority, or 56 percent of Canadians, supported a carbon tax costing $50 a month.

    "Initially, some people heard the 't' word and went into a tizzy," said Robert Gifford, a professor at the University of Victoria and an expert in environmental psychology. "Then the end of the world didn't happen, and people just accepted the tax."
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  24. 19 Alexandre - I never said it was catastrophic - gas is much more taxed in France than in US, that's kind of a carbon tax, and we survive - and have much more efficient cars than in US. I just said it won't change the amount of FF under the ground, and won't make us stop extracting them either.
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  25. Sad that some here just cannot (or refuse to) grasp this simple concept. BC are clearly leaders and should be proud-- this is a proof of concept project (as CB noted) and so far it has demonstrated that a carbon tax can work. The NDP (the official opposition) also recently admitted that it was a mistake on their part to contest the carbon tax in the last election.

    Having been to BC, one thing is very apparent when one arrives. Taxi fleets have large numbers of hybrids, and cars in general are much smaller (and more fuel efficient). Now that does make a difference to emissions and pollution. The tax has also been an incentive to push to increase efficiency in other avenues.

    IMHO, the only problem with the tax right now is that the price is limited to $30 a tonne in 2012, in order for a carbon tax to be effective it has to increase incrementally until the population and industry respond and to substantially decrease emissions.

    Emission data from Environment Canada are only available until 2008, inclusive.

    This Wiki page might provide some more useful information.

    And no one is suggesting that a carbon tax is intended to stop extracting FFs-- please enough with the argumentum ad absurdum, this is not a Republican energy hearing ;)
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  26. Gilles at 01:26 AM on 9 April, 2011, says:

    I just said it won't change the amount of FF under the ground, and won't make us stop extracting them either.

    First, I'm relieved that you agree it's not catastrophic. So further such experiments should not end the world or harm anyone.

    Second, no, it will not stop people extracting FF at this point. But it will improve the economic attractiveness of the alternatives, and help them gain scale. For now.
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  27. I think in the first year of the carbon tax, we (everybody) got $120 rebated in cheques. I haven't received a cheque since then. It's too bad, because many of hte people here have forgotten that the tax is revenue neutral. They may need something tangible to be reminded periodically. I'd love for the tax to go up to $100, because I live in a high density area and can bike to work. For others, like those living out in the sticks, I can see why they wouldn't want to subsidize me. And I can see imagine still others who would travel across the US or Alberta border for gas if the tax gets too far ahead of other price in other places.
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  28. How much carbon saving has there actually been?

    Measured actually emission savings not supposed savings through carbon accounting.
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  29. Ranyl, how would you measure it? If not through accounting? Is your question sensible?
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  30. John Hunter:
    "I've already insulated my house to be energy efficient."

    This isn't sufficient. You have to continually be aware of the actions you take and the implications it has on energy use. eg. You can have as much insulation as you like, but if you habitually leave the door open, you have wasted your time.

    John Hunter:
    "I already turn down my thermostat."

    Making one liner remarks means nothing.
    If you have every room in the house heated and you don't use half of them, then you either need to downsize or you need thermostats on every radiator so that the unused rooms are heated enough to keep out the frost. To be honest making announcements about ones achievements is not relevant, what matters is how serious the person is in achieving a footprint that is sustainable and is within the bounds of a global sustainable per capita average.

    John Hunter:
    "Why should I have to pay $20 on my natural gas bill for something that is doing nothing for me?"

    Again the cost of the fuel isn't the issue. The issue is that John Hunter needs to analyse his life and find ways to remove £20 in Dec from other outgoings. Beer?
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  31. Interesting post Dan. I just came back from BC, where I went to wish a happy Bday to Vancouver :-)

    I enjoyed my trip very much, just wish I had my ski gear, as Grouse had a meter of fresh fluff and was at or below freezing with sunshine on Wednesday. A far cry from last year's Olympic snow starvation. Plus, the proximity and cable car access really decreases the carbon footprint of skiing :-)

    Overall, I was impressed with the attitude of the media and public.

    Someone mentioned nonsense earlier in that thread. I saw a lot less of that there than in the US. It does not seem that as many are inclined to argue endlessly over non issues just to give the impression of doubt. Nonsense does not appear to be given undue attention for the sake of "balance" or whatever excuse is given here.

    In 2 days, I saw 3 climate related stories between the environment and business sections of the 2 mainstream daily newspapers. I believe these 2 papers lean each on one side of the political spectrum, but it is a lot less obvious than in the US. All stories made sense. The Muller story was lifted directly from the LA times and appeared in the Vancouver Sun.

    The quality of the news on TV, radio and in print was far superior to that in the US. I listened to the radio quite a bit and caught a number of debates that were well moderated and informative. What a breath of fresh air that was. And that was in the midst of the approaching election.

    There is no doubt at all that the approach to the carbon tax there makes sense. Some will always complain anyway, regardless how much they enjoy the benefits of society.
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  32. Alexandre, thanks for that info. Good to hear that support for the carbon tax has been growing since it was passed. That suggests that people are seeing that it is beneficial to them... though I agree with Steve L in that any way it can be made 'in your face' (i.e. annual carbon tax rebate check or some such) would be a good idea for other areas looking to go a similar route.
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  33. If greater efficiency leads to greater use of energy (Jevon's paradox) I would guess a carbon tax would be necessary to neutralize that effect. And over time the tax rate should rise with (or faster than) increasing average efficiency, no?
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  34. RipVan, maybe I should look up Jevon's paradox, because I'm not clear on what you mean. Energy use isn't really the problem; production of CO2 is. The carbon tax is meant to increasingly decouple energy use from CO2 production.
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  35. Thanks everyone for all the comments. My responses are bellow:

    @ SNRratio Re: inverse Robin Hood effect

    Absolutely. It all depends on how the tax reductions elsewhere are structured, and is why people with low incomes get tax rebates. But this is now the main contention with the carbon tax. The NDP (the current opposition party here in BC) is asking for of the money to go to lower income people, and less to the rich and corporations. Finding the right balance is not easy, and depends on many value judgement where reasonable people may differ.


    I think you missed my point. What I was trying to get across was that it makes no sense to get too far ahead of the pack in regards to pricing emissions, because doing so will only shift those emissions to a jurisdiction that isn't pricing carbon. SO a $100/tonne tax would only serve to drive emissions across the boarder to Alberta and Washington state.

    But that is not an excuse for doing nothing. One can lead the pack, just not by too much. Plus I think Australia is more isolated than BC making it more difficult for emissions to be shifted out.

    As for Pielke Jr, the problem with his proposal IMO is that the carbon tax he proposes is modest, with no plans to ever increase. It also isn't revenue neutral which would limit how much the tax could increase without damaging the economy. And finally Pielke Jr plans to use the revenue generated by the funds to fund research into new energy technologies. This sounds good, but it means that it would be up to the government to pick the winners and losers. I have more confidence in the free market's ability to do that.

    @Alexandre Re: Tax rate

    Mark Jaccard (who anyone interested in carbon pricing should look up) estimates that in order to achieve the amount of emission cuts we need the tax would need to eventually rise to $200/tonne.

    Now before people freak out, remember the tax wont start out at that level. And as it rises it will send a clear signal to individuals and corporations that energy efficiency needs to increase (this is exactly the type of problem where the free market really shines). SO by the time the tax reaches the level of $200/tonne we will all be emitting MUCH less CO2. And of course other taxes should be reduced to preserve revenue neutrality.

    And yes, the NDP now admits it was a mistake to oppose the tax. Most of the criticisms at the provincial level are fizzling out. At the federal level (where a carbon tax was introduced by the Liberals in the last election and who also ran one of the worst campaigns I have ever seen) no mainstream party will touch the issue.

    @Philippe Chantreau

    Whenever I get depressed about Canadian politics, I just look south and always feel a little better, at least until I realize that what happens in the US had large implications for Canada.

    @CBDunkerson Re: Rebate cheques

    That is what Hansen proposes (he calls it tax and dividend), but one then runs the risk of making the tax regressive. It also adds to the admin costs (printing and mailing cheques isn't free). But I am not sure what the costs of that would be.


    Yep. Increases in efficiency aren't enough.

    @Steve L

    I think what RipVan is getting at is that if we only improve efficiency then people might drive more, or perhaps fly to more exotic locations, thus their emissions don't really go down. Think if it this way. Efficiency has been improving almost constantly, yet emissions continue to rise. So clearly something else is needed

    A price on carbon works to prevent this paradox.
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  36. "I just said it won't change the amount of FF under the ground, and won't make us stop extracting them either."

    Wow, you really *are* a broken record, aren't you Gilles? Nobody has suggested that a Carbon Tax-alone-will reduce the extraction or consumption of fossil fuels. The point is to make the *alternatives* more attractive by comparison. The BC approach sounds like a good one because, its hoped, the company & income tax cuts can be invested in energy efficiency & renewable energy measures for homes & businesses. Another approach which should be considered is for governments to start phasing out the various subsidies currently enjoyed by the fossil fuel sector, & start re-investing that money into energy efficiency & clean energy measures instead.
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  37. "Again the cost of the fuel isn't the issue. The issue is that John Hunter needs to analyse his life and find ways to remove £20 in Dec from other outgoings."

    Well yes, if Mr Hunter got past his *ranting* for 5 seconds & scrounged around for his old gas bills (pre-insulation & pre-thermostat lowering) he'd probably be shocked to find that-even with the $20 tax-he's still probably paying less for his gas bill than he was 10 years ago (excluding inflation of course).

    I know that's the case with me (though we don't have a carbon tax-yet-in Australia). 12 years ago I was using close to 15kw-h of electricity per day (at an average cost of 12c per kw-h), for an average cost of $54 per month. Now I use between 5 to 6kw-h of electricity per day (at an cost of 20c per kw-h), for an average cost of $33 per month. That means I'm currently saving around $21 per month in *spite* of an 8c per kw-h rise in tariffs in the interim. Of course, as I now am on a 100% green energy scheme-at a whopping 1c per kw-h extra-any future carbon tax will have *no* impact whatsoever on my household energy bills.
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  38. "Ranyl, how would you measure it? If not through accounting? Is your question sensible?"

    It would take some calculating but not sure why supposed savings on paper need to counted to see if the policy is effective.

    Did the use of fossil fuels fall in British Columbia fall or not?

    And then has the amount of imported goods risen or fallen, if it has risen it is a carbon addition if it has fallen there has been a carbon saving, most likely.

    Add those together and shouldn't it give at least some idea if carbon emissions have fallen or not due to a price for carbon encouraging low carbon use and low carbon products.
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  39. Marcus :"
    Wow, you really *are* a broken record, aren't you Gilles? Nobody has suggested that a Carbon Tax-alone-will reduce the extraction or consumption of fossil fuels. The point is to make the *alternatives* more attractive by comparison."

    sorry but I must have missed a point : why is it interesting to make *alternatives* more attractive, if it doesn't lead eventually to a smaller amount of extracted FF integrated over time?
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  40. This is classic redistribution of wealth. Karl Marx is smiling in his grave right now.
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  41. Seaward,
    This is classic redistribution of wealth. Karl Marx is smiling in his grave right now.

    A singularly uninspired, grossly exaggerated, insight-less and 100% false characterization of the issue, designed to cause a knee-jerk negative response in people who are (foolishly) still afraid of communism (primarily the 60+ crowd).
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  42. "sorry but I must have missed a point : why is it interesting to make *alternatives* more attractive, if it doesn't lead eventually to a smaller amount of extracted FF integrated over time?"

    Well at least I *have* a point Gilles-you just seem to have a PR based agenda centered around repeating the same catch-phrases over & over, in the hope that we'll just finally accept your point of view. My point, though, is that as alternatives to fossil fuels become more attractive to energy consumers, demand for energy from fossil fuel sources will decline; when that happens, the profit margins for the fossil fuel industry will drop to a point where it will no longer be worth extracting fossil fuels at all. Indeed, my prediction is that a combination of a carbon tax, removal of subsidies for the fossil fuel industry & the naturally rising costs of extraction will lead to many companies switching their attentions to more sustainable-& profitable-areas. Of course in the meantime they'll fight tooth & nail to retain their virtual monopoly in those nations where they enjoy it-through both the media & political process.
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  43. Giles The total amount of FF consumed integrated over time is not the correct metric to look at. The natural environment has been taking up about half our emissions every year; if the rate of our emission remain below the level that the natural environment can absorb (loosely speaking), then atmospheric CO2 will not rise at an unmanagable rate. Thus if alternatives cut the rate of our emissions sufficienlty, the consumption of FF consumed integrated over time is essentially irrelevant. Burning all the FF is fine, provided we don't do it faster than the environment (possibly with our help) can cope with.
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  44. BTW Gilles, in one of your previous rants about how much oil & coal was left to be extracted, someone rightly pointed out that the same is true of blue asbestos-yet we don't mine that anymore due to the obvious health dangers posed. Its interesting though how this analogy can be taken further. You see, long before blue asbestos was finally outlawed, there was *very* strong evidence that the asbestos industry *knew* about the dangers of its products, but did its level best to hide those dangers, & publicly attack anyone who tried to blow the whistle. Indeed, there is evidence that the insurance industry was also aware of the dangers posed by asbestos, as they refused to give insurance to anyone who worked in the asbestos industry-way back in the 1930's. Seems the Denial Industry has been at work for many, many decades-& in many, many industries.
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  45. 40, Gilles,
    sorry but I must have missed a point : why is it interesting to make *alternatives* more attractive, if it doesn't lead eventually to a smaller amount of extracted FF integrated over time?

    Obviously that is the point, and you know it.

    But you yourself said:
    I just said it won't change the amount of FF under the ground, and won't make us stop extracting them either

    So which is it, Gilles, do you get this, or don't you?

    Let me make it really, really, simple for you, so that you can't craft another careful half-truth to help confuse people who are reading.

    A small tax on carbon will encourage three behaviors:

    1) Energy efficiency, reducing overall use (such as improving insulation in a home)

    2) Reduction in use, reducing overall use (such as choosing a vacation spot closer to home, or cutting back on short trips to the store for bread and milk)

    3) Greater incentive to make use of carbon-neutral energy sources, which could ultimately replace some or all FF (such as the development of solar, wind and nuclear sources, and the infrastructure required to use such power in vehicular transport)

    Now, I know you're sitting there just chomping at the bit to trot out the tired argument that if the cost of FF goes down through increased efficiency, use will simply increase because it's cheaper. You've hinted at this with your statement that "it won't change the amount of FF under the ground, and won't make us stop extracting them either."

    That last statement is, in fact, false, for three reasons.

    First, the carbon tax can be incrementally increased to keep FF use high. Basically, just because a "free" system works that way, it doesn't mean that FF must work that way.

    Second, as the tax helps to make carbon-neutral fuel sources cheaper, by improving the technology behind them and the infrastructure that must be in place to support them, then FF will themselves become more expensive in comparison. FF will not necessarily become cheaper as efficiency grows. They are not expensive now because the entire infrastructure of the world is built around them. When that is no longer the case, they will no longer be cheap. Basically, competition from other power sources will drive the cost of FF higher (once those other power sources are given a fighting chance, by not competing against a power source that in effect has a monopoly and infrastructure and customer base).

    And, lastly, we can continue to use fossil fuels, and there are cases (such as airline fuel, plastics, and some fertilizers) where we possibly should or must. But as long as we can reduce the rate at which we use those fuels, we are okay, and in fact it will allow them to last longer.

    Which brings us back to the common denial alarmist meme, which is that if we stop using FF, civilization will end... and yet by using FF at such a prodigious rate, we are therefore hastening our own destruction.
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    Moderator Response: [Dikran Marsupial] Can I suggest we all take a less agressive tone towards Gilles? If his questions are genuine, and agressive tone is likely to prevent him from accepting the answer; if he is merely trolling then an aggressive dispute is exactly what he wants, so why give it to him? Either way, the truth is best served by calm answering of his questions (and leave the moderators do deal with anything that strays from the comments policy).
  46. DM#43: "Thus if alternatives cut the rate of our emissions sufficienlty"

    And what controls the rate of emissions? Here is direct evidence that increasing the price of fossil fuels (in this case gasoline) decreases demand.

    -- click for full scale

    The horizontal axis is annual miles driven per capita in the US; the vertical is USD/gallon. Plotted this way, the curve moves back and forth; apparently NYT doesn't think in terms of functions. But the message is clear: when the price goes up, we drive less.
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  47. muoncounter - in which case, Gilles' criterion is incorrect both scientifically and economically.

    For comparison, here in the U.K. petrol is about 134p per litre (which works out at about $8.73 per gallon). Civilisation has not gound to a halt here, so the US still has some room for manoever! ;o)
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  48. @ Gilles "why is it interesting to make *alternatives* more attractive, if it doesn't lead eventually to a smaller amount of extracted FF integrated over time?"

    Lets not use the word 'attractive' because it can mean many different things, even in this context. Lets use the 'less expensive' instead.

    What the carbon tax does is make FF use more expensive, which makes alternatives relatively less expensive. This eventually WILL lead to a smaller amount of FF from being extracted (aren't well all price sensitive). The question is at what level should the tax be implemented. And as you mentioned in France people make due even though gas prices are much higher, so likely here in BC a higher tax wouldn't be ruinous.

    In fact back in 2007 the Federal Conservative government commissioned a report (which they then tried to bury) which indicated that a $50/tonne carbon tax would have a modest impact on the economy at first, then provide slight benefits.
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  49. "This is classic redistribution of wealth. Karl Marx is smiling in his grave right now."

    Harry, I would like to hear your idea of what would be the best way to reduce carbon emissions. Carbon tax/carbon trading is usually assumed to be the methods of the economic right, while carbon rationing is the preferred choice of the left. A more politically acceptable way of reducing carbon emissions would be extremely welcome.
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  50. Dear all

    I already stressed that we shouldn't mix up three very different quantities

    * the carbon intensity A (amount of carbon burnt per unit service, or say per $ GDP)
    * the carbon consumption (it's B = A* GDP)
    * the total carbon burnt over the XXIth century C = \int (Bdt) (the integral of B(t) over the whole century).

    Before continuing arguing, do you admit first that A,B, and C are three different quantities (actually they are even dimensionally different) , and that reducing A doesn't imply that we'll reduce B, and reducing B at some period doesn't imply that we'll reduce C ?
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    Moderator Response: [muoncounter] Another attempt to drive yet another thread off-topic? This thread is about a carbon tax.

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