Opinion

Lambs to the carbon slaughter

OPPOSE CARBON taxation and you’ll be accused of being in the pocket of Big Oil. But whether governments tax or “cap and trade” carbon dioxide to finance alternative energy boondoggles like ethanol, the oil execs are completely unconcerned.

We never heard a peep out of Big Oil as successive federal governments raised gas taxes to the point where we now pay a whopping 50 per cent more for fuel than they do in the United States. Executives know you have no choice but to buy oil products directly or indirectly.

Taxing cigarettes failed to reduce smoking rates more quickly than in the United States, and we have just as much alcohol consumption in spite of exorbitant taxes. How can anyone, even a politician, believe the same strategy will work to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels?

Unless we build more nuclear reactors, a large proportion of our energy will come from oil wells for the foreseeable future. Even if politicians banned gasoline engines outright we’d still need fossil fuels to generate electricity or to make hydrogen. The inescapable science that no politician will dare mention is that there are over 20,000 man-hours of energy in a single barrel of oil, the equivalent to 10 people doing manual labour all year long. Not bad for $150.

As long as countries like India and China don’t reduce carbon-fuel consumption, environmental action will amount to nothing more than the biggest tax humanity has ever seen; it’s not strictly a monetary tax measured in dollars and cents, but also a tax on progress, GDP, lifestyle, and western civilization itself.

Wind, solar, tidal and hydro generation offer less than 17 per cent as much bang for the buck as fossil fuels do. This will slowly improve, but taxing us only punishes us while we wait for technology.

Carbon taxation is all about appearance. Politicians don’t care that it will fail to wean us off oil. It makes them look like they care, which in turn allows anyone who supports them to pretend they care as well. It’s a disservice to the planet that appearance is now 99 per cent of the act when it comes to going green.

There’s no conclusive evidence for man-made global warming. Does saying this mean I’m a nasty non-environmentalist or that I have shares in an oil company? No. I still want to wean civilization off fossil fuels. But nanny-state taxation is not the answer.

And yet, some argue that you’re either in support of “green” tax-grabs or you’re a spiteful, self-serving apologist for oil companies. In the public relations battle to save the planet, mythical conceptions are replacing healthy scientific discourse. This will inevitably wind up costing us a bundle.

If higher prices led to reduced consumption, not only would Canadian smoking and alcoholism rates decline faster than American rates, we’d also use less of every other consumer good that costs us so much more. But we don’t. We simply pay higher prices in Canada whether they’re due to artificial inflation by manufacturers – as is the case with cars and books – or whether they result from our self-flagellating tax regime.

We can be green and fight for a cleaner, brighter future for our children without paying more taxes. Going green is already proving to save an individual household money. Surely common sense dictates that an energy paradigm shift in this country and throughout all of western civilization will occur faster because of the economic benefits and not because of the economic disincentive of a tax.

There was a time when governments took a piece of the action by shamelessly taxing anything that made money in order to bring in revenue.

Now we’re being told to pay more tax not as a punishment for success, but as a route to ecological salvation. And now you know politicians are officially out of ideas.

Taxing an entire provincial economy like B.C. Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell has done, or an entire nation as federal Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion plans to do, reveals a complete lack of imagination, leadership and honesty. Oil companies, which many will tell you have everything to lose, see right through it. When will the rest of us?

Mischa Popoff is a columnist and author who lives in Osoyoos. He takes a keen interest in political affairs.

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