Snowballing Green Policy

In the last week, Australia’s Senate voted to axe the carbon tax –er, price. It is another example of a frustratingly unique aspect of environmental politics – just how easily reversible environmental policies can be.

The decimation of Canadian environmental regulations at the federal level is another recent example. Conservatives even scrapped fisheries and water protection rules created by previous Conservative governments.

A study by Australian National University found that the carbon tax curbed carbon emissions by 1-2% from the electricity sector in the few years it existed. The deputy leader of the Greens lamented repealing the tax is Australia’s “asbestos moment, our tobacco moment.” The IPCC finds that carbon pricing is a powerful tool: it makes cleaner energy sources more attractive and promotes innovation in low-carbon sectors.

Environmentally, a carbon price is the right thing to do. Politically, like other environmental policies, it fails to create its own longevity.

If you invest in your pension for 30 years, you will fight any government that wants to repeal pensions. You’ll fight for better pensions. You, and millions of your fellow seniors and soon-to-be retirees. Key voters no politician can ignore.

Pensions create their own biggest supporters – voters who are monetarily invested in the system and rely on it for their future well-being. The policy becomes self-perpetuating by its very nature.

Environmental policies do not create groups of people invested in a policy’s future. Parks have eco-tourist companies that benefit, yet they are too few and too small to defeat recent changes to BC Parks Act allowing for feasibility studies of roads and pipelines. Asthmatics benefit from air pollution rules. They may not realize how, and how much, they benefit – certainly it’s not like getting a cheque in the mail.

Highways and infrastructure also keep snowballing along because they require a big, initial investment. After that pot of money is dedicated, and the road or train line is built, it’s very costly and difficult to change. Other policies, like health care, can be the same way. After you invest in setting up one system, it’s nearly impossible to reverse course and start anew.

Environmental policies ask industries to put some technologies in place, such as filters to scrub the sulfur from the emissions coming from the stack pipe.

Here’s a modest suggestion: the profits from carbon taxes should go to two places. Individuals who pay the tax when the fill up their cars and heat their houses should get that money back when they file their income tax. For individuals, a carbon tax should be revenue neutral.

The second pot of money earned from big corporations slow to reduce their emissions should go into health care. For corporations, the carbon tax would help support Canadian society, particularly our health system.

Canada’s health care system could use the boost. People would care about the carbon tax, they would have a vested interest in seeing the tax continuing. Given the links between health and climate change, this is not a stretch

Any politician wanting to repeal the tax, and take money from our precious health care system, would have a tough time explaining this to Canadians who love, and need, our health and environmental systems.

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