EDITORIAL: Looming global energy issues behind carbon tax

In 2008, when B.C. introduced its carbon tax, it was widely hailed as a model of environmental and economic design.

In 2008, when B.C. introduced its carbon tax, it was widely hailed as a model of environmental and economic design.

Applied to the purchase or use of fossil fuels within the province, the tax rates were initially set at $10 per tonne of CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions, rising to $25 last July, and $30 per tonne this year.

Motorists will be paying 6.67 cents per litre of carbon tax on gasoline this summer. And as a story in this issue of The News details, farmers are complaining that the tax is spiking their costs, and affecting their competitiveness with American and other markets.

The Liberal government committed that the initiative would be “revenue neutral,” with the money generated returned to taxpayers and businesses by way of tax deductions.

Now almost four years old, B.C.’s carbon tax is still the centre of much debate.

Has it been effective in its objective of reducing the use of fossil fuels? Stats Canada reports the consumption of gasoline in the province held relatively steady since 2008, and increased in 2010.

In the global scheme of things, the impact of B.C.’s carbon tax on the release of greenhouse gases since its inception can be considered miniscule, if not irrelevant.

However, it has led to some positive changes in awareness and attitudes, with examples found in industry and civic infrastructure where energy-efficient measures and alternatives to fossil fuels were implemented.

In fact, while opponents call for the demise of the carbon tax, calling it ineffective and unfair, proponents maintain it must continue to be ramped up to change bad energy habits.

In response, critics point out that realistic alternatives may often not exist, such as the lack of transit for commuters in outlying suburbs and in B.C.’s far-flung, small communities.

It is also true that B.C. stands out in North America with its carbon tax initiative. Does it make sense for this province to continue to pursue this if even other Canadian provinces don’t have escalating carbon taxes, or none at all?

The question becomes even broader if one is among the “deniers” and rejects the entire greenhouse gas and global warming theory.

However, regardless of where one stands on the level of mankind’s impact upon climate, the supply of fossil fuels is finite.

At present, the global consumption rate of oil is approximately 85 million barrels per day, and current trending sees that rising over 100 million barrels per day by 2020.

Rail against initiatives to pursue environmentally-friendly strategies, if you must. However, if alternative energy sources are not vigorously pursued now, the world is headed for an energy crisis.

That makes for a strong argument that instead of carbon taxes being “neutral,” they should instead be funnelled directly into government and private research and development projects that provide solutions to a looming fossil fuel shortage.

Equally important are conservation initiatives, since each barrel of oil not used is the equivalent of producing more. A carbon tax is considered a conservation measure since it raises the price of fossil fuels, and motivates consumers to find alternatives.

It makes more sense then to invest the revenue from carbon taxes – or a taxation program by another name – into energy-wise initiatives, such as transit and other transportation alternatives.

B.C.’s carbon tax may not be entirely equitable. It is a rare tax indeed that wins 100 per cent approval.

Some adjustments for agriculture may be justifiable, although that’s opening the door to lobbying from every industry that sees additional costs from taxed fossil fuels. But, full exemptions defeat the principle and purpose.

Governments around the world can choose to avoid the questions that give rise to initiatives such as carbon taxes, or carbon cap and trade policies, which are often neither publicly nor politically popular.

Yet, global energy issues will become the greatest challenge modern mankind faces, and in context of the human time frame, that challenge is right around the corner.