I wonder how many seniors on fixed incomes would be able to manage it when their monthly home heating bills spike to $500 in the dead of winter?
That’s all I could think about as I interviewed Dale Beugin, executive director of Canada’s EcoFiscal Commission.
To be fair to the group: they are economists. They look at what Canada’s stated objectives are to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and then give advice on the most efficient way to achieve results.
It’s a simple rule of supply and demand that if you make something more expensive, people will use less of it. Therefore, increase the cost of fossil fuels by adding on a carbon tax and you will reduce the use of fossil fuels. It looks so good on paper.
LISTEN: Dale Beugin with Canada’s EcoFiscal Commission discusses the carbon tax
In practice, it’s not so simple.
Beugin said the evidence on carbon taxes is clear. Looking at the 10-year record of the carbon tax in B.C., for instance, they estimate the tax has reduced the amount of CO2 emissions by five to 15 per cent below what they would have been, compared to a non-carbon dioxide tax scenario.
If that sounds heavily couched, it’s because it is.
Absolute emissions are still going up. They are just going up by less than they otherwise would. I suppose that’s a measure of success.
But what worries me is this: if a $20 per tonne carbon tax has such measly results, what would it take to meet Canada’s stated objective of 80 per cent below 2005 levels by 2050 or 30 per cent below by 2030?
Beugin cited studies that suggest a carbon price of $100 to $200 per tonne may be necessary to curb use to meet these targets. He said it could be implemented slowly over a period of time to minimize the negative impact on consumers.
Perhaps to an economist, moving from $30 a tonne to $200 a tonne on a carbon price by 2030 – just 12 years from now – would be considered gradual. But to real-world consumers, there is nothing gradual about it.
I checked out my January gas bill. With my 34 GJ of usage in January, I would have had to pay $560.83 for home heating alone if the carbon price was $200 a tonne.
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I don’t have a problem paying a higher fuel tax on gasoline: my next car is going to be a hybrid. I’ve already planned out how I’m going to offset the increase in cost. I can live with that.
What sticks in my craw is the carbon tax being levied on natural gas. The NDP government is phasing out coal and planning for 70 per cent of our grid power to be generated from natural gas. My home heating comes from natural gas. My hot water tank is natural gas. There is not a good alternative for any of these.
If it was practical to be 100 per cent wind and solar and be able to have a reliable grid, no doubt the NDP would do it. They aren’t, which should tell us all something about how realistic renewables are to provide baseload electricity.
So, even if I switched my home heating to electricity, most of it would be generated by natural gas – which will be subject to the tax. My other option is to switch to geothermal, with an estimate as high as $40,000 to switch. That’s not practical either.
I suppose I could try to become more energy efficient. But, there is a cost and a limit to that too, as my listeners reminded me.
Paul is on the board of an 11-building condo complex that just replaced their aging commercial boilers in five buildings. They are fueled by natural gas – there is no alternative.
Theresa replaced her windows and installed a new energy efficient furnace and her monthly bill is still $400.
Eric is a pensioner who is replacing his insulation himself because to hire a contractor to meet provincial requirements for a grant he would have had to shell out $100,000.
Ray told me there is also no alternative for him as a courier. There is no electric or hybrid vehicle that can haul up to 25,000 pounds with a driving range of 600 km.
Abacus Data’s poll found that 42 per cent of people believe carbon taxes are more about generating revenue than changing behaviour.
No wonder. People are changing their behaviour as much as their finances and the best available technology will allow, and they will still have to use fossil fuels and still have to pay more in taxes.
Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said this week, “I have no time for folks who are like, you know, ‘We shouldn’t take action’… I don’t have time for politicians that play cynical games about climate action.”
Really? Well the rest of us don’t have time for cynical politicians who know there are no other options, but continue to plow ahead anyway.
Someone has to get realistic about what is actually achievable – and quick.
Danielle Smith can be reached at email@example.com.