Green Shift, Green Shaft, Red Shift: there are as many names emerging as there are writers. The vitriol is rising: those who don’t offer carte blanche sign-on to the notion of adding a carbon taxation element to the tax scheme (regardless of whether the new tax is “revenue neutral” or not) are climate change deniers, antediluvian cretins and a whole series of other epithetical labels. It’s enough to make one want to climb under the comforter, pull it up and block the world out — except, of course, for the nonce it’s far too hot for that, being summer and all.
So, let’s look at why neither the BC carbon scheme that settles its hooks into my meagre income tomorrow morning nor the Stéphane Dion “we must do this or the world will end” Green Shift promised as policy should the Canadian people be conned into electing a Liberal Government the next time around is deserving of support.
Frankly, both schemes are hung on several petards where these political “leaders” could hoist themselves, thence to flap in the breeze, for neither BC nor the Federal Liberals offer a true programme aimed at the environment (despite the mounds of lying statistics, promised carbon savings, threats and jeremiads unleashed by their hangers on in the corporatist “environmental axis” of academe, foundations and pressure groups). For neither is dealing in reality.
That this sort of idiocy continues to dominate the pages and airwaves of the pabulum-pushing media, of course, is due to the equally inept and ridiculous approach the Harper Government, the BC NDP, etc. are taking to the issue. They’re not dealing in reality, either. In a clash of “ideas” (hah!) between these forces it is Canadians that are the losers.
Reality: Suburbia is a Dead Duck: The notion of a car-centred plot of land with a McMansion on it that requires two parents to be pressed into permanent roles as drivers, to get to work, to get the groceries, to ferry the children everywhere, has run its course. Those who live there, for the most part, are stuck there. House prices will
crash decline rapidly to reflect the cost of filling the tank and operating the vehicles. This will be accentuated by the collapse of credit, which is already unfolding around us (and is a correlate to the loss of growth potential as cheap energy fades from the scene, coupled with the blow-off strategies that have ruined balance sheets all through the 1990s and 2000s to date).
Reality: Oil Production is Already in Decline: New finds? Practically none for fifteen years now; what’s been found is extremely expensive to recover, and a small field (by comparison) to boot. World production for the last two years has not exceeded 84 million barrels/day (Mbbl/d), down from its peak of 85.7 Mbbl/d in 2005, despite many new wells, extensive growth in non-traditional oil recovery, etc. Cantarell (formerly the world’s third largest field) is collapsing at over 15% per year; Ghawar (the world’s largest) likewise. Meanwhile world demand is well over 87 Mbbl/d. While there will be price ups-and-downs (as there are with any commodity) the trend is up — and up on an accelerating curve.
What’s more important is that no oil will be saved through carbon taxation. With demand greater than supply, savings in Canada translate into product available for immediate purchase and use elsewhere. In other words, it’s not as though we would be acting to either reduce emissions or save oil for future years, when it will be even harder to come by. (Canada has less than 10 years left of conventional light crude and natural gas. The United States has less than four. Mexico has less than five.) No, it will just be burnt and add to that devil of the twenty-first century, global warming, elsewhere. A true reduction is worth some disruption; taxing ourselves to death to allow the Chinese, the Indians, etc. to drive themselves (and us) to the breaking point of civilisation as we know it just as rapidly makes no sense at all. (Note that Stephen Harper’s objections to Kyoto have centred, in good measure, on its exclusion of these countries: apparently “blue” is greener than “red”, “orange”, “teal” or “green” itself, not that any of that army of environmental “experts” nor zeitgeist-setting tub-thumpers like Lawrence Martin, Jeffrey Simpson, Carol Goar, etc. will acknowledge it.)
Reality: Trucking is for the “last mile”, not for distance: So shipping goods by truck, if fuel will be hard to come by, is a pretty dumb idea, right? Not according to the BC Government, nor the Green Shift. BC wants to build new perimeter roads, new bridges, etc., all to make shipping by truck even easier. Billions to be spent — ahead of the investments in alternative transport, either as public transit, interurban rail or heavy rail infrastructure for commerce (and nothing for water-borne transport) — to make it possible to build ever more suburbs on the country’s prime agricultural land. Stunned? You bet! Meanwhile the Dion Green Shaft makes Western Canadians and Atlantic Canadians pay so that the same sprawl lifestyle in Ontario and Québec can be maintained and extended. (Sprawl in the West and in the East isn’t sustainable either, of course, but sucking the productive parts of the country dry to keep the unproductive parts — such as Dalton McGuinty’s “same old transfer mind-set” province — carrying on just as before ends up reducing us all to penury (and makes the inevitable changes we must make that much harder for the waste of the resources we have today).
But, hey, it’s about votes, right? Not about the environment, not about changing us to live in the real twenty-first century: it’s all about just getting elected (or in Campbell’s case in BC, re-elected yet again). À l’enfer avec vous politiciens libéraux perfides — especially those who have the knowledge to know better, like Garth Turner. Comment about Garth Turner removed.
Reality: We need a better infrastructure: We need a massive investment in rail, and an electrification of many of the lines. We need to restore the interurban (lighter rail, regional services) systems we once had and ripped up to accommodate the automobile. We need electrically-run public transit: trolley buses or streetcars or light rail trams. We need the nuclear and hydro plants to power these — or a minimal number of carbon sequestration coal plants. We need to restore water-borne transport systems, using our rivers and canals. We need local agriculture. We need local manufacturing (no more McCrap from China at the “Great Wall” Mart). We need to restore communities of human scale. There is a long list of jobs, in other words, and it will be expensive.
This is what a real environmental programme would look like. Note that none of this depends on changing the behaviour of any other nation: just our own. We (barely) have the time and resources to do this now, but we (unlike our southern neighbours) can do it — our cracking of deficit financing last decade by first Chrétien and then provincial premiers, building on the removal of operating deficits under the Mulroney years, has given the country the fiscal capacity needed.
Separately, once in a generation you can uproot and restructure the tax system in a big way. If there is a complaint I have about the BC carbon tax regime and the proposed Green Shift it is that it misses that opportunity. Wipe out income tax entirely and replace it with consumption taxation (carbon and/or value added tax). Wipe out all other taxes (excise, gasoline, etc.) and just have a pump-based carbon tax. This was a time for big opportunities. Unfortunately, what we’re getting are the ideas of little men afraid of their shadows.
The Conservatives have yet to be heard from: It is time for the Conservatives to stop whingeing, fear-mongering and lashing out. Will they provide what no other party has (or probably can): a set of policy proposals that actually deal in the reality we are experiencing and that will unfold over the next few years? Or will they, too, miss the chance by playing it safe?
The time for a real leader is now.