January 4, 2009

The Green Shift was the right thing to do

By admin

According to James Hensen of NASA, a ‘green shift’ was the right thing for Canadians to do.

This article
reminds us that we blew an opportunity to institute a new system for penalizing polluters.  Instead, we blew it because some of us were wooed by a blue sweater vest and the rest of us were too busy bickering amongst ourselves to get a majority for progressive voices when we needed it the most.

According to James Hensen, a tax is the only solution.  And it’s a critically important one if we’re ever going to control carbon emissions:

The physics of the matter, together with empirical data, also define the need for a carbon tax. Alternatives such as emission reduction targets, cap and trade, cap and dividend, do not work, as proven by honest efforts of the ‘greenest’ countries to comply with the Kyoto Protocol :

(1) Japan: accepted the strongest emission reduction targets, appropriately prides itself on having the most energy-efficient industry, and yet its use of coal has sharply increased, as have its total CO2 emissions. Japan offset its increases with purchases of credits through the clean development mechanism in China, intended to reduce emissions there, but Chinese emissions increased rapidly.

(2) Germany: subsidizes renewable energies heavily and accepts strong emission reduction targets, yet plans to build a large number of coal-fired power plants. They assert that they will have cap-and-trade, with a cap that reduces emissions by whatever amount is needed. But the physics tells us that if they continue to burn coal, no cap can solve the problem, because of the long carbon dioxide lifetime.

(3) Other cases are described on my Columbia University web site, e.g., Switzerland finances construction of coal plants, Sweden builds them, and Australia exports coal and sets atmospheric carbon dioxide goals so large as to guarantee destruction of much of the life on the planet.

Indeed, ‘goals’ and ‘caps’ on carbon emissions are practically worthless, if coal emissions continue, because of the exceedingly long lifetime of carbon dioxide in the air. Nobody realistically expects that the large readily available pools of oil and gas will be left in the ground. Caps will not cause that to happen – caps only slow the rate at which the oil and gas are used. The only solution is to cut off the coal source (and unconventional fossil fuels).

Coal phase-out and transition to the post-fossil fuel era requires an increasing carbon price. A carbon tax at the wellhead or port of entry reduces all uses of a fuel. In contrast, a less comprehensive cap has the perverse effect of lowering the price of the fuel for other uses, undercutting clean energy sources.vi In contrast to the impracticality of all nations agreeing to caps, and the impossibility of enforcement, a carbon tax can readily be made near-global.

It looks like we’re going to need some feedback from the NDP, given that they’ve always supported a cap/trade system.  If you’re with the NDP and you have some comments, please post them below.

In the interim, for those of you who are concerned about the cost of a carbon tax, DO THE MATH.

  1. Alberta / Tar Sands exports go mostly to the US.  Our local gas prices wouldn’t be affected as much, given that we get fuel from such stable locations as Libya and Nigeria.  We’d export the cost of environmental remediation to American consumers.
  2. A tax of, say, $40 dollars per tonne translates to about $0.02 per litre.

If that’s all it takes to help us dig ourselves out of our self-fabricated economic and environmental disaster, then you’ve got my 2 cents.