By Allen Small
(TORONTO, ON) – Toward the end of last year, Preston Manning, the godfather of Canadian conservatives, wrote an op-ed in The Globe and Mail. The piece was entitled, How To Communicate A Good Idea: Carbon Pricing, an idea that will likely appear in the Ontario Spring Budget.
Conservatives around the country may have been shocked by this position, but they should not have been. Manning, like any member of a mainstream political party, views the hammer of government as the primary solution to all social and economic ills; real or imagined.
In his sales pitch, Manning compared carbon pricing to, “water pricing to conserve water, garbage pricing to deal with waste, and road pricing to reduce traffic congestion.” Those comparisons fail at a fundamental level.
Clean drinking water, the ability to haul and dump garbage, and an adequate road system are all scarce resources and very costly for people to improve.
It makes sense that providers should meter these services and charge users accordingly. However, burning fossil fuels that release the colourless, odourless gas called carbon dioxide, a vital ingredient
of all living systems, is a totally different issue.
Carbon dioxide is absorbed by all green vegetation in the process of photosynthesis which, by fortunate happenstance, produces atmospheric oxygen as a waste gas. Virtually all the food that people and other creatures eat is created this way; directly or indirectly.
Add more carbon dioxide to any system and more will be absorbed, so more food is produced, to a point. Carbon dioxide barely constitutes a tiny 0.04% of all atmospheric gases.
But, Manning says that in “the production of energy, we should identify its negative environmental impacts, devise measures to avoid, mitigate or adapt to those impacts, and include the costs of those measures in the price of the product.”
It’s true, using any fuel, particularly fossil fuels, will cause unwanted pollutants and negative impacts but, to a large extent, these can be removed at source by modern scrubbing devices or using low polluting fossil fuels like natural gas. The exhaust of modern day automobiles, for instance, is relatively pollution free but, of course, those are not the pollutants Manning is talking about.
The widely accepted assumption that Preston Manning shares, and few question, is that carbon dioxide is a pollutant. If that were true, one could easily suggest that the by-product of photosynthesis, atmospheric oxygen, was also a pollutant. Fortunately no one suggests that, yet.
So this newly assigned so-called pollutant, carbon dioxide, shortened to just carbon by the political class to make it appear dirtier, is produced by normal respiration and burning. It’s also alleged to trap heat, raising the temperature of the atmosphere and the oceans, thus altering Earth’s climate.
The theory is, as carbon dioxide increases, more heat is trapped and we get the greenhouse effect.
Once, this was called Global Warming. Now it’s called Climate Change, because warming does not always occur and there are other hypothetical negative impacts.
I say hypothetical because these are mostly forecast, and are not real, negative impacts, based almost entirely on computer models of Earth’s future climate. Each of the models forecast warming to a greater or lesser extent, some with potentially catastrophic consequences. This is where most of the alleged negative environmental impacts exist.
Ask any scientist to point with certainty to a real catastrophic negative impact of carbon pollution and few will. Most will hedge or speculate simply because there is no definitive cause-effect certainty in such a short time frame; a threshold that still remains as a hallmark of science.
Virtually all of the so-called anomalous weather events that have been observed in recent years, some attributed to climate change, are within the parameters of ordinary weather variability. There is no doubt that the climate is changing; it always has over the history of Earth.
Ice has retreated in Polar Regions, and has been retreating in North America, for example, since the most recent continental glaciation about 12,000 years ago. Presumably humans have added to a general warming of the planet by producing greenhouse gases, of which carbon dioxide is just one.
But why pick on carbon dioxide?
Water vapour is by far the most abundant greenhouse gas. Shouldn’t we tax it too?
If the serious negative impacts of carbon pollution are speculative, does it make sense to apply a carbon tax to mitigate them? Indeed, what if the impacts are positive, the greening of the planet for instance, and an increase in food sources as carbon dioxide is added?
Moreover, how is the size of the tax going to be determined in view of the fact that carbon dioxide also adds benefits and is removed at a faster rate by the aforementioned greening?
Canadian law has provisions for damages, civil wrongs, to individuals and their property. Judges make certain that an offending party fully compensates the victims of these torts when the evidence is beyond doubt. Are we all to be considered offenders and victims simultaneously?
Where is the evidence of damage in Ontario? Where, in Ontario, are the victims that need to be compensated? Why should the imposition of a carbon tax on everything and everyone in Ontario be held to a lower standard than a simple property damage judgment in a court?
Why should carbon tax revenue go to government?
I would say that if there is no measurable harm, there is no a reason for what amounts to a pre-emptive fine; a carbon tax.
Manning concludes his article with five bits of advice to help communicate this so-called good idea to the general public.
His tips include “avoid using the word tax”, and make sure scientists do the sales pitch, not politicians.
For me, these are brazen statements for a politician of his supposed stature, which lend an entirely different meaning to the phrase political science. This type of chicanery is what gives all politicians a bad name.
A carbon tax really penalizes all of us, individuals as well as businesses, for alleged, but unproven harms. There should be no penalty if there is no demonstrable violation of rights or no identifiable rights violator.
Allen Small is the leader of the Ontario Libertarian Party.