When it comes to addressing climate change, there is no shortage of money changing hands.
Here in Canada, the federal government tacked on a $20/tonne carbon price for Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and New Brunswick after these provinces failed to meet Ottawa’s targets on carbon pricing. Without a “price on pollution” the federal backstop has become the new norm.
In New York City, a new toll will apply to every car crossing 60th Avenue in a bid to get big money for transit upgrades while also reducing the congestion and emissions that Manhattan is famous for.
In Australia, the government announced AUS$3.5 billion for an emission reduction fund. It’s seen as a way to entice urban voters frustrated by a lack of action on climate change in the country, as constituents head to the polls later in the year.
Of course the question on everyone’s mind is will all these fees and taxes actually do anything?
First, let’s start with an agreement: climate change is real. Just as GMOs are safe and vaccines are critical, you can’t pick and choose which science you want to believe. They may not be linked, but the scientific consensus is there for each of these.
Second, we are all impacted by climate change differently. Just because we have an average winter with typical snowfall, doesn’t mean somewhere else isn’t feeling the impact. A report from Environment Canada this week suggests that Canada’s north is warming up faster than other parts of the world. This is serious stuff.
Too often I think that we get the idea that doing something about climate change means we have to pay a heavy price.
And maybe that does come, but as the federal Liberals are famous for saying “pollution can’t be free anymore,” I wonder why they’ve put their blinders on to believe that a tax is the only way?
Here in Ontario, we’ve now got a $20/tonne price. The numbers I’ve heard put that somewhere about 4-5 cents per litre of gasoline. I’ve seen swings in the price bigger than that in an afternoon. And you know what happens? Nothing. People fill their tank, pay, and drive away. Maybe this isn’t fair, because the only place I tend to fill up is in a rural community, so all I see is people that have no choice but to drive. After all, what does the government think my alternative options are? Am I supposed to stop heading into town to the grocery store to restock on fruits and vegetables each week? At the end of the day, when there isn’t a public transit option, then driving your car is the only way, whether that be to work, or the doctor or to get groceries.
Electric cars have been pushed as a superior option, but again, not a logical one from anyone in rural Ontario. The Chevrolet Volt boasts an electric range of 85 km. Knowing that a battery isn’t nearly as efficient in the winter time, that wouldn’t get me to town and back. And I actually live fairly close! Anyone in a more rural area like Western Canada won’t even make it one way.
Which is why I think there needs to be a new plan put on the table. Why are we forcing Canadian families to make the change, when instead we could drive the change as a country?
If electrification of vehicles is one step, why isn’t enormous investment into research being made? Do you really think the folks in Silicon Valley care one bit about the range someone from Northern Ontario needs to get to and from the store? No.
Instead of taxing every day products, we should be investing where emissions are greatest and improving those numbers. Just think, as transportation generates 173 megatonnes of carbon emissions, second only to oil and gas as the largest contributor, then research in this area could also do wonders for the electrification of other vehicles, such as buses and transport trucks.
(In case you’re wondering, agriculture is on the hook for 72 megatonnes of emissions, the sixth largest contributor, behind oil and gas, transportation, buildings, electricity, and heavy industry, in that order).
Of course, if we move to electrify transportation, then electricity becomes a bigger contributor. So let’s nip that in the bud right now, too. Investing in finding more affordable, green electricity. The first solar panels around here are making 80 cents per kilowatt hour. That’s not a sustainable price. Fortunately that price has come down over the last decade, but it needs to move more. We need to find new ways to produce and then store that electricity so that a highly efficient solar panel can get its power through the day, but the actual power can be used to recharge your car at night. Why is that not the government’s focus, instead of taxing us one way and (apparently) handing the money right back?
And what about the idea that by making carbon more expensive, we encourage changed behaviour? Rural Canada struggles with poor cellular service and access to rural broadband. If we’re to drive less, how to you expect someone in rural Canada to telecommute if the infrastructure isn’t there to support it?
I know around our business, we focus on the low hanging fruit first. Pulling a bit of money out of every Canadian may seem like low hanging fruit, especially when you tell them you are giving it all of it back to them. In Ontario that carbon tax is also taxable via HST. So really, $20/tonne generates $2.60 a tonne in HST revenue. Some HST paid is recoverable, yes, but some back-of-the-napkin math suggests that Ontario on its own would generate about $400 million in year in HST. As the price of carbon rises, that’s estimated to hit $1 billion. Add in every other provinces’ pricing, and I start to realize that this “revenue-neutral” plan, isn’t so neutral after all.
We’ve got to do better. Rural Canada deserves better. We need go come up with a way that will meaningfully deal with the biggest emitters without pressuring each Canadian’s pocketbook. That way, rather than just paying more and not getting any results, we might actually start making a difference.