July 7, 2013 in Opinion

Smart Bombs: The real carbon tax hoax

By The Spokesman-Review
 

To avoid offending local energy hogs, I’ll reference a study of a Swiss village that found 21 percent of households emitted half the town’s greenhouse gases. The authors of the study, published in Environmental Science & Technology, noted that the energy used to power homes and vehicles accounts for 70 percent of the greenhouse gases belched into the atmosphere, where it stays for a century or more.

Most remedies are aimed at industrial suppliers of fossil fuels, but if we are to ever enact serious act global warming policies, we’re all going to have to take responsibility. That’s why a carbon tax makes the most sense, but I can hear the wailing already: Will ruin the economy. Will devastate the poor. Will impose a crushing tax burden.

Well, the four-year report card on British Columbia’s carbon tax is in, and it should chill the criticism. Sustainable Prosperity, a policy and research network based at the University of Ottawa, conducted the study, Taking the critiques one by one:

Will ruin the economy. The province set the tax low at the outset (2008) and has steadily raised it. For instance, it’s currently 7 cents on a liter of gasoline, or about 25 cents a gallon. Economic growth in the province has outpaced the rest of Canada.

Will devastate the poor. This was the argument posed by liberals, but rebates to the poor and those in rural areas who don’t live near mass transit have mitigated the impact.

Will impose a crushing tax burden. Because it’s revenue-neutral, the carbon tax allows the province to lower other taxes. B.C. has the lowest individual income tax rate in Canada. Its corporate income tax is among the lowest of the G-7 nations.

This tax swap is probably a major reason the province has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions. Businesses knows it’s there and were given a chance to adjust. They also know it isn’t going away, because the tax is pretty popular. So a “we’re all in this together” mindset has taken hold, and behaviors have adjusted accordingly.

By pricing carbon, businesses and individuals are forced to face up to their contributions to global warming. In the United States, we escape responsibility by turning the science into a political hot potato. Center-right politicians devised and promoted the carbon tax in B.C. by pushing the value of personal responsibility. In our country, many conservative leaders call the issue a hoax.

The study suggests British Columbia might have reached its limit on the carbon tax without hurting the economy. For such a levy to have a global effect, all nations need to act. At least the British Columbia experiment shows that the fears are the real hoax.

Situational activism. If there’s any justice, the people who forever whine about “judicial activism” but supported the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on the Voting Rights Act will be forever rendered mute. Come to think of it, this applies to the associate justices who signed on to the majority opinion.

That’s not to say there aren’t arguments against the law, but lawmakers, not justices, should be making them. The law was struck down because five justices agreed the circumstances have changed since the original passage of the law in 1965. OK, but that’s a policy matter, not a constitutional one. It’s up to members of Congress to act.

Instead, they reauthorized the law in 2006, President George W. Bush signed the bill and the Supreme Court decided to intervene.

Turnover. One complaint about downtown parking reminds me of the line uttered by Yogi Berra about a popular restaurant: “Nobody goes there anymore. Too crowded.”

Critics have wondered why the smart meters can’t just total up the bill and charge people after they’re done parking. If programmed to do so, the meters are smart enough to do this. But if the best spots didn’t have time limits, they’d be perpetually occupied.

Successful restaurants need customers to leave so they can serve those who are waiting. It’s no different for downtowns.

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at garyc@spokesman.com or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks.

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