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Even With Climate Change, You Catch More Flies with Honey

The proverb; a spoonful of honey will catch more flies than a gallon of vinegar, first appeared in the United States in “Poor Richard’s Almanac” in 1744.

As Benjamin Franklin noted, “tart words make no friends”.

It is applicable to many endeavours including climate change.

The Carbon Leadership Coalition, chaired by economics professors Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University and  Nicholas Stern of the London School of Economics and Political Science, has concluded that in order to achieve the temperature target of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, a carbon tax in a range of between US$40–80 per ton of carbon dioxide is required by 2020 and US$50 to $100 by 2030.

A carbon tax is called a Pigovian tax, in honour of the English economist Arthur Pigou who introduced the concept and is intended to correct an inefficient market outcome when market activity generates negative externalities that are not included in the market price, such as the environmental ramifications of burning fossil fuels. Pigou proposed that negative externalities should be offset by such a tax, while positive externalities should be offset by subsidies.

It was an engineer, however, MIT Professor David Gordon Wilson who first proposed a carbon tax when gas stations started running dry as a result of the oil embargo imposed by the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries in response to the Yom Kippur War. The embargo was targeted at nations supporting Israel in the war and by the end of the embargo, five months later, oil prices had risen from a prewar price of US$3 per barrel to $12, a floor which it has not gone below ever since.

The average annual price since 1973 has been $34.70 and the world has seen it go as high as $91.48 in 2008.

Instead of gas rationing, which was proposed by some in 1973, Wilson proposed taxing fossil fuels to promote conservation but instead of making this a government tax grab, he proposed returning the money in the form of a dividend for every adult.

Before the public ever got its dividend or government saw its new revenue source though OPEC pocketed the dividend for itself and has been doing so ever since.

The 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development defined renewed interest in a carbon tax.  Amongst the rights of the people to be involved in the development of their economies, and the responsibilities of human beings to safeguard the common environment proclaimed by the deceleration was a polluter-pay principle that endeavours to promote the internalization of environmental costs and the use of economic instruments to ensure that those who produce pollution should bear the costs of managing it.

Finland was the first country to actually introduce a carbon tax in January of 1990, followed by Poland, 1990, Sweden and Norway, 1991, Denmark 1992 and others since but the province of British Columbia has been cited by many, including David Wilson, as having “the best in the world.”

Starting from a base of $10 per tonne of carbon dioxide in 2008 and increasing by $5 a year to its current rate of $30 the province of British Columbia says it is taxing what people want to reduce – carbon pollution – and using the revenue to reduce taxes on things its citizens want to encourage: employment, investments and economic growth. Provincial leaders claim the tax is revenue neutral, although this is disputed here, but the official position is for every dollar generated by the tax other taxes, including personal income tax, general corporate income tax, small business corporate income taxes and industrial property taxes are reduced.

Initially the split between individual and business tax relief was roughly even but currently, it is closer to 65 percent for business and 35 percent to individuals so there is little wonder businesses have called for even stronger carbon taxes.

Essentially, from the outset, economists have been putting their collective thumbs on the scale gauging the importance of the economy and the environment and the proof is in the statistics that are their stock and trade.  The province of British Columbia claims it is committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below 2007 levels by 2050 yet the Federal Ministry of Environment and Climate Change estimates the province’s emissions will grow 32 percent between 2013 and 2030.

A dismal environmental record for a province having a massive renewable hydropower resource that provides 85% of its electrical requirements. But more understandable when its rationale for a controversial project like the $10.7 billion Site C dam is cited as power for a provincial liquefied natural gas export industry and/or power for Alberta’s oil sands

In the latter case, Kinder Morgan has been granted approval by the Government of Canada to triple the capacity of its Trans Mountain pipeline that moves petroleum products through the heart of Canada’s third largest city.

Little wonder people are cynical when they are asked to pay higher prices for carbon even as global warming goes unchecked. Especially when they are denied the jobs and opportunities that would resolve the problem even as they are contemptuously fed fictions like fracked gas emits less carbon than coal or oil and false hope about natural gas being a bridge to a carbon-free future.

Or the one foisted on them by their federal government that pipeline builders are nation-builders even as they foreclose lines that would move oil through Eastern Canada and embargo tanker traffic off the North Coast of British Columbia while greenlighting a pipeline expansion that will adversely impact one of the most beautiful cities on the planet.

The Canadian government has been trying for decades to square the economy/environment circle by claiming the country can leverage its traditional resources like oil to deliver clean-energy solutions for tomorrow but tomorrow never comes.

Instead of tart words that make them few friends, politicians, economists and policymakers would be better advised to show us the honey?

A carbon tax is trickle-down economics in that society at large is the last to benefit whereas what is needed is a solution that will build a sustainable economy up, slowly but surely from the bottom, by first recognizing the problem.

As Dr. John Abraham, a professor of thermal sciences, University of St. Thomas, put it in a Guardian article last week, “if you want to understand global warming, you need to first understand ocean warming.”

The paper of Cheng and Zhu of the Chinese Academy of Science, in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, notes that 2017 was the warmest year on record for the global ocean.

It was 11.6% warmer than 2016, which according to NASA was the warmest on record.

The years 1998 through 2013, on the other hand, were a period of slowdown for global mean surface temperature rise, which is now understood to be period of redistribution of the excess heat of warming, primarily through the oceans and from this vantage should be a blueprint for a sustainable future.

It seems to this voice in the wilderness, it behoves us to learn from this natural analogy and such edification was the intent of the first two instalments of this trilogy to be found here and here.

In the paper, Improved estimates of ocean heat content from 1960 to 2015 Cheng et al., shows that the meridional overturning circulation is a key mechanism involved in the sequestering of heat in the deeper ocean (below 700 m). This overturning, however, depends on the heat first moving away from the tropics towards the poles, which is problematic in terms of sea level rise.

The most direct way to sequester heat originating near the equator is to move it directly into deep water through a heat engine that converts a portion of the heat into productive energy.

The paper Abyssal ocean overturning shaped by seafloor distribution also demonstrates that heat moved below the surface of the Indian and Pacific Oceans to a depth of at least 1000 meters would be trapped there for centuries and would be safely out of sight out of mind, which is a massive bonus in a world where NIMBY confronts virtually any other energy undertaking.

The public is not well served by politicians, scientists, philanthropists or even otherwise well-meaning economists who won’t acknowledge the problem let alone its solution.

No less than Warren Buffett acknowledges that ‘the real problem’ with the US (and by extension the rest of the developed world’s) economy is people like him.

Real people don’t need to be clubbed over the head with taxes that raise global carbon emissions and the offshoring of their jobs to places like China with its lask envrionmental regulations.

Show them instead the honey, a way to prosper by doing good by the environment, and I rest assured they will gobble it up.

Photo Credit: Neva Swensen via Flickr

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