Eheee! The sky is falling!—or, more exactly, the Liberal government is now imposing a carbon tax on provinces that don’t already have a greenhouse gas reducing carbon tax in place. According to ads the Conservative Party of Canada is running in the press, on radio, social media, phoning and even door to door canvassing this abominable tax will bankrupt families and sink our already badly listing economy. Owners of large-tanked SUBs will pay $3 more to fill an empty tank-Yikes!

The Liberal Party hope is that a federal carbon tax will parallel the BC carbon tax that has clearly reduced carbon emissions in the province and begun to shift the BC economy toward more energy saving efforts. The Conservative Party is hoping residents of Ontario, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan will not much notice that BC, which has had a carbon tax for eleven years, is growing its economy faster than the other provinces while reducing its overall carbon emissions. What is particularly hard to compute is the Conservative Party hope that residents in provinces facing a new, federal carbon tax are not bright enough to understand that the new federal carbon tax is being fully rebated to consumers so they will experience no net loss in income. They could, however, see a net gain in income if they simply switch to more fuel efficient energy consumption while still getting the full carbon tax rebate.

Oh, my gosh, it’s the Jonathan Swift effect! We can’t get our noses out of the carbonswill—not even to save ourselves and our planet. I am very afraid the Conservatives will be able to milk this into the kind of full on Brexit, hysterical fear of the other that is sweeping human populations and propelling us headlong into extinction.

The thing that really worries me about a carbon tax is not that the extra five cents a litre of gas ($3 a fill up) is bankrupting me. The thing that REALLY disturbs me is that the Conservatives are right—five cents is not going to save us from the heat that is cooking our planet and off gassing our children’s future. I now have three beautiful grandchildren. It disturbs me mightily that a planet habitable to human life is being sold off to the inexhaustible greed of the oil companies. Five cents a litre carbon tax will no more save our fast sinking planet than an over-chewed wad of gum will patch the gaping hole in the ship of state we have run aground on our inability to imagine a world beyond glutinous  oil consumption.

All kinds of polls and scientific studies have been done to access whether BC’s carbon tax has actually reduced greenhouse gas emissions. The consensus is… yes, it has reduced emissions—a little. In January, the Sierra Club reported on the B.C. experiment: “emissions were higher in 2015 than in 2010 and have risen in four of the last five years. B.C.’s latest emissions data mark years of failure to reduce emissions by more than a token amount.”

But if you are looking for a conclusive answer about the effect of a five cent a litre gas tax on CO2 emissions you need only sit at the corner of Ryan Rd and Guthrie for an hour and watch the volume of cars go by. Now you might not notice a 5% reduction since 2011 but you will come away convinced that the one cent a litre increase in carbon tax since March has not reduced traffic—it’s all the snarl it ever was! But wait! (he says sales hawker style) while the carbon tax has gone up one cent, the gouging by the oil companies has increased the price by almost 40 cents a litre! Do you think motorist have some intricate internal calibrator that says ‘when the price of gas goes up due to a carbon tax you need to reduce your use of the family car but…BUT when the price goes up 40cents due to oil company greed you can go on adding up the mileage as though nothing significant happened.  Actually (aside) isn’t it fascinating that the federal Conservatives (well conservatives of all brands and locations) seem obsessed with carbon price increases of five cents but don’t blink at 40 cents added by oil company price gouging?

I met a woman recently who told me she was in Germany when gas cost the equivalent of $3.50/litre—and it still didn’t dent the traffic jams! The only good thing we can say about a carbon tax is it may affect industries that more carefully monitor their costs than motorists do, and maybe it gets people thinking about the need to come up with more effective solutions to climate change. It’s called social capital. It means that by working together we learn about the value of working together. Unfortunately the beyond the pale efforts of the Conservatives to pretend that five cents a litre is bankrupting us creates a massive deficit of social capital—capital we need just like money in the bank in order for any collective action on climate change to work.

I think a carbon tax is the only way we will effectively deal with climate change. We simply cannot make the changes on the broad scale on which we need change without enlisting the help of the market that instantly reaches the actions and decisions of all of society. BUT, to be effective, a carbon tax would have to be on the scale of—at least–$5/ litre! Wow you say–that would bring our economy to a standstill. Well we have already practiced at this softening the blow through rebates. A carbon tax of that magnitude would have to be largely rebated to consumers with $2/litre of the carbon tax going to fund the massive Green New Deal effort to reorient to a truly sustaining and sustainable economy. When gas costs an extra $5/litre at the pump there will be lineups around the block at the electric bike stores. Busses that now go round the town with a couple of passengers will be full of passengers happy to pay the $2 for a ride.

No, it can’t be done! you say. Imagine the fit the Conservatives would whip the citizenry into over $5/ litre! And yes I agree that it doesn’t look possible—politically. But we are approaching a tipping point where what was not possible one day becomes very possible the next.  Look at the massive investments that accompany war time spending—have you heard Conservatives fussing about the spending during a war? Or consider the original New Deal declared by President Roosevelt in the 1930s. Yes there were critics of that kind of spending but it was clear that society was failing/falling apart. Hoover’s tight monetary policies had tried to save the banks—and even the banks failed. Roosevelt saved the citizenry with massive public spending on the common good—and even the banks survived.

Unprecedented flooding in Ontario and Quebec along with fires already driving people from their homes in Alberta generates massive social capital for meaningful action on climate change. AND students striking for action on climate change adds depth to that social capital for effective action on climate change. Five cents/litre piddle little stuff doesn’t get the social capital because it is so clearly just pretend action. 

Our Earth is at a tipping point. We can either take that as a call to the kind of profound change that can ameliorate disastrous levels of global warming or we sit by while the Liberals and Conservatives play piddly little games over a 5 cent/ litre gas tax.


Norm Reynolds