Why Canada won’t have an effective climate change policy anytime soon

We want action, but aren’t ready to pay, writes Stephen Gordon

Any effective climate change policy requires imposing significant costs on consumers and households. Canada doesn’t have an effective climate change policy because Canadians don’t want to pay those costs.

Or do they? This is from an article posted at the David Suzuki Foundation site:

While Canada’s federal representatives — including Environment Minister Peter Kent — were doing all they could to obstruct the talks, public opinion and social research institute The Environics Institute was conducting its annual check with Canadians on our thoughts about climate change.

The findings of the new poll couldn’t paint a starker picture of the divide between Canadians and their political leaders.

More and more of us are confident about the science that shows climate change is happening and that we are mainly responsible for it, largely through burning fossil fuels. The good news in the poll concerns what Canadians believe we should do to tackle this serious issue. Across the country and among all political stripes, most of us believe that governments need to do far more to curb emissions. As the pollsters note, “a clear majority believe the problem is real, that government must take the lead role through new regulations and standards, and that citizens like themselves must help pay for the necessary actions through taxes and higher prices for the goods and services they consume.”

Here are the polling numbers about Canadians’ willingness to pay:

The steady increase in the percentage of people willing to pay for action on climate change is encouraging. But if I were a politician, I wouldn’t interpret these numbers as a mandate for effective action to reduce GHG emissions.

$100/year times a population of 35 million works out to $3.5 billion that Canadians are willing pay. According to Figure 1 of this NRTEE report (the same one I used in this post), Canada’s GHG emissions are running around 700 Mt. $3.5 billion divided by 700 Mt is $5/tonne.

This passage from Andrew Leach puts those numbers in perspective:

The David Suzuki Foundation and the Pembina Institute describe the emissions reduction goals put forward by the Canadian government as modest in their Climate Leadership, Economic Prosperity report, and the David Suzuki Foundation has called Alberta’s Climate Change Strategy weak (see p. 18-19). Modeling work done for the report by Mark Jaccard and Associates showed that Canada would need a carbon price of at least $100/ton by 2020 to meet our modest targets.

(Emphasis in the original)

According to that Environics poll, a small majority of Canadians are willing to pay one-twentieth of what it would cost to implement a modest climate change agenda.

You can see the problem. So can politicians.




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Why Canada won’t have an effective climate change policy anytime soon

  1. “According to that Environics poll, a small majority of Canadians are willing to pay one-twentieth of what it would cost to implement a modest climate change agenda.”

    But of course it doesn’t mean they are not willing to pay more.

  2. Former climate change crisis believers are better planet lovers and are happy a crisis was exaggerated, not disappointed.
    *In all of the debates Obama hadn’t planned to mention climate change once.
    *Obama has not mentioned the crisis in the last two State of the Unions addresses nor any of the debates.
    *Occupywallstreet does not even mention CO2 in its list of demands because of the bank-funded carbon trading stock markets run by corporations.
    *Julian Assange is of course a climate change denier.
    *Canada killed Y2Kyoto with a freely elected climate change denying prime minister and nobody cared, especially the millions of scientists warning us of unstoppable warming (a comet hit).

    • My god, it’s so clear now – Obama’s speeches, Julian Assange’s opinion and a political decision in Canada totally outweigh all that science!

      • mememine has spread that nonsense all over the web hoping to influence people. Of course everyone is ignoring it.

        • Ok you find me the IPCC warning that says it will happen, not just might happen. Science did not commit any crime. Exaggeration isn’t a crime, yet.

          • Try ANY of their reports. All online too.

            Not even WILL happen….IS happening.

  3. Canadians currently pay $189.2 billion in income tax.
    If there was to be a $100/ton price established through a carbon tax; that would be $70 billion for 700 Mt. So if the government decided to implement a carbon tax and grant reductions to income tax to compensate…
    Then Canadians could be paying $70B in carbon taxes and $119.2B in income tax which would be no impact on the average Canadian. It would be extra costs on Canadians that pollute more than average and lower costs on Canadians that pollute less than average. BUT the average impact would be negligible for Canadians.
    This would move government revenue away from income taxes towards consumption taxes; I believe this shift is supported by most economicists.

    • “BUT the average impact would be negligible for Canadians.”

      Key word there is “average”. But this would impact low income earners who pay little or no income tax significantly. Also, if there is no financial impact then the effectiveness of the tax is diminished greatly. There is simply not enough incentive to alter behaviour, if at the end of the day, it all works out the same.

    • interesting idea

  4. Carbon based energy (oil, coal, natural gas) provides billions of dollars in tax revenue. Actual carbon taxes and reductions in the use of carbon energy will eventually reduce the tax revenue available, just as intense tobacco use reduction programs have led to a drop in tobacco revenues. These revenues must come from somewhere, or there must be spending cuts of an equal magnitude.
    My question to those who advocate for reductions in the use of carbon energy is a simple one; What free stuff from government are you willing to give up today, in order to pave the way for governments to forego that carbon revenue in the future?
    Remember, wind and solar do not generate tax revenue, they absorb it so any expansions on that front are genuine reductions in the ability of governments to fund schools, roads, hospitals, the CBC, etc.

    • Carbon based energy (oil, coal, natural gas) will cost billions of dollars in environmental damages and effects. Actual carbon taxes and reductions in the use of carbon energy will eventually reduce the damages required to be paid for in the future…

      My question for those who do not advocate reductions in the use of carbon energy is a simple one; why do you want your kids to pay for your mess?

      • Reductions in the use of carbon energy can be done on an individual level, easily. If there is a will there is a way, always.

        If you and so many others believe that strongly in the ill effects of carbon use, then why do we need governments to tell us to consume less? Bunch of followers without the capacity to think independently.

        • No. Not easily. As I pointed out to you before. It is simply not cost-effective to go green right now. It’s giving to charity. What’s worse, is that it’s giving to a charity that really isn’t very effective unless everybody’s on board. And yet still some people, like myself, do it anyway. So perhaps you might come down from that high horse and see what an ass it actually is.

          We don’t need government to tell us to consume less, we need governments to level the playing field so that the full cost of using carbon intensive energy gets factored into it. If that happens, the demands for carbon reducing technologies goes up, and they might even become economical.. which would be the point where they start to become really effective.

          • What are you rambling on about? What does the giving to charity have to do with any of this?

            I don’t own a dishwasher; I do my dishes by hand (and wait for a full load so as to not waste a lot of hot water).

            I do wear my clothes for more than one day before washing them. I do not use my dryer in summer.

            It’s called independently acting as a result of independently thinking.

            I am leveling the playing field thus, as I urge David Suzuki to come down a level or two (perhaps three, four….).

            Stop wasting people’s lives with the spreading of grand concocted schemes. Give people a sense of responsibility (on all fronts) and the world will be a better one.

          • Hm. What does a carbon tax do other than highlight the responsibility? Use energy wastefully and pay for it. That seems to be the very essence of responsibility.

          • Talking about going green is all well and good in the abstract and, as Francien points out, we already take steps to conserve energy in our daily lives. We turn down the heat, we try to drive for fuel economy, etc. But, virtually all the energy I use beyond heating and lighting my house is used to advance my family economically. When you talk about increasing the costs of carbon based energy beyond what is economically practical, purely to reduce the abstract costs of carbon based energy, you’ve entered another realm of sacrifice.
            Again, what price are you willing to pay? Keep in mind that all the installed wind and solar capacity in North America would only replace the 35th largest coal plant in the USA, so how many millions of square miles are you willing to blight with windmills? Ditto for solar. How much are you willing to pay for electricity? 5 times the current rates? 10 times? How much are you willing to pay for gas? $2/liter? $3? How much a month to heat your home?
            Remember, if you work in the private sector, as I do, then every dollar per month more that you have to pay for energy is a dollar that you don’t get to put towards your or your family’s economic well being and future. If you work in the public sector, it means that much less money that the private sector has available to contribute to your economic well being (i.e. your defined benefit pension plan). Like it or not, artificially inflating the price of energy in order to meet abstract goals (i.e reducing global warming) has a very real and direct impact on people’s lives in the form of job losses.
            What real, direct, cost are you personally willing to pay today in order to meet the supposed challenge posed by climate change? It’s a valid question as you’re asking others to do exactly that- make real, direct sacrifices.

          • That was rather exactly my point to FV. Francien is saying if it was important everybody would do it.. but as you say — it’s a sacrifice. The thing is, as more of us do it, it becomes less of a sacrifice because the demand encourages suppliers and causes the prices to drop.

            Artificially inflating the price of energy does affect everybody, yes. It also creates jobs as it creates demand for more energy efficient technologies. Better insulation. Tankless water heaters. More home solar installations. And that’s without even thinking that the taxes you speak of don’t just disappear into the ether.

            What real direct costs am I personally willing to pay? Well I’ve already had my home reinsulated. I’ve paid to have a tankless water heater put in and re-done nearly all my lights to LED. Moving to a higher grade window is the next item on the list, but I don’t have the capital right now to get it done. None of it was or is cheap, and I’ll probably never see a positive turn on those costs.. but it was something I did anyway.. as charity to our world and your kids. So you can thank me, but I’d prefer if you followed suit.

            And if you won’t follow suit out of charity, then maybe you will if it’s in your own self interest.. that is the energy costs are high enough that it makes sense to take the extra steps to reduce your intake.

          • All well and good, but…you’re missing a big economic fact here. Several, actually. When energy costs rise, we use less of it, causing an increase in supply which drives down the price. The kinds of energy conservation devices that can actually have big impacts on our energy supply simply don’t exist or have serious drawbacks, including costs. Home-based solar is costly, and is seriously limited by airborne dust, clouds, and even snow. Solar will have to come down by a further 50-75% to be cost effective, yet at current market prices solar companies are dying faster than a Prius in a cold snap.

            Wind takes up enormous tracts of land, and is currently not economically viable without tax supports. There is no indication that the installed cost of windpower has any prospect of going down, as the price of land, energy (to build) and labor will remain the lion’s share of any wind project. Even if the towers were free, the cost of wind power would still exceed market value of the electricity generated. Add in the cost of environmental assessment and hearings (Why should wind projects be given a free pass in that area, when carbon, nuclear, and hydro must be assessed thusly?), and wind is a mugs game.

            So, in order to get actual energy costs up in order to reduce consumption, I detect a desire to do so via taxation. Ya really want to go there? The Libranos proved that they were wholly incapable of having the keys to the public purse without dipping their hand in. I know you guys think that we conservatives are the devil incarnate, so I can’t imagine you guys thinking we should be in charge of all those billions. That leaves the NDP’s and the Greens. Sorry, there is no way on God’s green Earth that the innately corrupt Socialists should be allowed access to that kind of money. (Old internet saw- “No matter how responsible your monkey seems, never give him your gun.” That applies here.)

            Do you really think the Montreal Mob would pass up a shot at all that money? They’d get out Montreal construction rackets faster’n a turpentined cat, and would be all over every federal revenue department like seagulls on a McDonald’s parking lot. Yeah, that’d turn out real good. The single biggest price of big government, Thwim, is big corruption, and the kind of taxation you greens expound is nothing more than big government writ large. Sorry, it’s a non-starter, and it lies at the heart of why I and many others dismiss so much of what you and others keep promoting.

          • LOL.. so your argument comes down to “Well we can’t trust the government with our tax money!”

            And when it comes to good taxes, which I believe a carbon tax is, yeah, I don’t want the money wasted, but I’m not going to let childish fears prevent me from advocating what needs to be done. If that means the CPC gets to handle the money.. fine. I’ll bitch about what they spend it on if I figure they’re doing it wrong, but I’m not going to say they shouldn’t take it when it’s the taking that helps us all out.

    • Tax revenue or loss is not an inherent quality of any energy source. But to your broader point, that reducing reliance on carbon fuels will be financially difficult: yes, it almost certainly will be – perhaps terribly so. But since I believe climate change is real, extremely dangerous, and caused or seriously amplified by carbon emissions, I’m less concerned about the cost of action then I am about the cost of inaction.

  5. The day when David Suzuki starts living in a small house, starts flying less or not at all, will be the day when I start believing that climate change is being taken seriously.

    Until then I do as they do and not as they say.

    • So you’re saying you can be no better than David Suzuki?

      I’d tend to agree, but given what you think of David Suzuki, I’m surprised you admit it.

      • To all the Thwims in the world, I have news for you: David Suzuki is a hypocrite.

        Most people do much better than David Suzuki. I use much less oil and gas than Suzuki, as do many others.. And I don’t scaremonger. In fact, most people don’t think the world is coming to an end.

        But Thwim, go ahead and spent endless hours trying to label other people incorrectly, if that’s what seems most important to you. No one really cares about your tactics used. People don’t believe you.

        • I agree with you, except I really couldn’t care less what Suzuki lives in. A scam is a scam is a scam.

        • Are you sure about that?
          You do realize he does most of his talks by teleconference these days? That his home *is* his office?

          After all, you were the one who said you’d start believing when he starts flying less.. guess what.. already happening. So I take it you’ve accepted facts now?

          And even if not, perhaps you’re familiar with the concept of investment. Where you have to pay to get returns? Works with carbon too.

          • Nice try there, Thwim, but your spin doesn’t add up. I reiterate: on an individual level I consume much less energy than does Suzuki. My office is in my home also.

            Mr.Suzuki flies much more often than I do.

            Investments? I’m willing to invest in personal responsibility – not willing to invest in grand schemes which won’t make a difference. In fact, the bigger the scheme, the less personal responsibility is looked into. So going in directions of big schemes is the wrong direction to go into.

            Green energy will happen – over time. Just like any other change has happened over time.

          • So what you said before.. about when he “starts flying less” that was just a flat out lie?

  6. So its not like we have a choice.

    Whether its cheap or expensive, we have to move to clean energies or else we are toast and our kids future is toast. The longer we leave it the more costly it is financially and destructively.

    The future depends uniquely on our decisions and mettle now.
    Lets get on with it.

    Harper has obviously abandoned rational thinking and policy.

    We need to move past him, we need to act now for a future.

  7. You fear mongers wanted this misery to have been real to drag us all down in your miserable lives. REAL progressives doubt and question and challenge all authority, especially one that threatens the “planet” itself.
    Science has NEVER said a crisis was imminent, only “most likely” etc. Deny that!
    My planet is on fire……………………..maybe?
    Not one single IPCC report of crisis is without a boatload
    of “maybes” so the exaggeration is obvious and real planet lovers are happy a crisis was averted for whatever reason.

    • Sorry your wrong or misled or you havent seen the latest science.

      • The leaked IPCC report claims that the sun has more effect than man.

        • Duh. Of course it does.
          Now, when you have some means to control what the sun does, get back to me.

          Until then, we’ll have to deal with what *we* do.

  8. Deny this: Proof that climate change is not a crisis is the fact that the millions of people in the global scientific community have condemned only our kids to the greenhouse gas ovens and do not act like it’s a crisis for their kids.
    Or are dozens of climate change protesters good enough to convince you the science isn’t a legal exaggeration? “catastrophic climate crisis” “species extinction” “unstoppable warming” …..
    The exaggeration is laughably obvious and you remaining Reefer Madness clowns that still enjoy giving billions of children their CO2 death threats will be omen worshipper jokes for the history books. “I see the signs” “The signs of change” “The weather gods are angry.”
    You doomers never loved the planet; you just hated Humanity itself with your CO2 death wishes for our children. Who’s the neocon now?

    • Why dont you ck in again with the science…Sorry your wrong or misled or you havent seen the latest science.

      • I did. All they study are effects, rarely causes of an assumed to be real crisis of climate crisis and all of it’s endless worst case senarios. I’ts not a crime to exaggerate, yet.
        Why are the millions of good and honest people in the global scientific community not acting like this coming hell is really the deadly crisis they say it “could be”, never “will” be.
        Climate change wasn’t energy, it was a CO2 death threat from the same world of science that gave us pesticides. You cling to a headline and wish this misery to be real, why?

  9. You Reefer Madness Clowns of Climate Blame:

    You remaining believers just sit there and condemn our children to the greenhouse gas ovens, spewing your fear and hate for Humanity and expect us to love the planet with fear for another 26 years of the CO2 mistake? What else do you doomers do for fun besides fear mongering our kids? Maybe rubber neck car accidents, pull fire alarms, trip old ladies?

    How many climate change believers does it take to change a light bulb?

    None but they do have full consensus that it will change,…………..maybe, could be, likely…..

    Science agrees alright, agrees it’s really not a crisis otherwise they would have said it was, not might be a crisis. Deny that!

  10. Most Canadians are willing to reduce their carbon footprint. They aren’t willing to donate to a climate fund for the Third World. Much like Mr. Dion’s Green Scheme to use carbon credits to pay for social services, this is not about climate but about fleecing the middle class to subsidize the lower class.

  11. The oil and gas industry won’t allow an effective climate change policy in Canada because that would reduce corporate profit, and Harper’s Con jobs are all about oil and gas corporate profit. As for each Canadian contributing to the cost of responsible policies, how about re-directing oil and gas industry annual government subsidies and tax incentives totaling $1.4 Billion (every year!) to the cause, instead of (once again) piling expenses onto the backs of taxpayers?

    • There’s no point blaming the oil and gas industry. They don’t vote. They don’t respond to public opinion polls. This is a collective failure on the part of Canadian citizens. The longer that failure is denied, the longer it will last.

      • There is *some* point to blaming the oil and gas industry. Unless you’re saying they don’t lobby government for conditions that benefit them.

  12. The issue of how much Canadians are willing to pay for action on climate change needs to be re-framed.

    To build public support for $100/ton or more by 2020 we need an incentive. Why not raise the price of fossil fuels starting at the source, eliminate fossil fuel subsidies to the oil industry, and return the tax 100% to the people?

    That way we allow the market to work without letting the government pick winners and losers. To pay less tax, businesses and banks will want to invest in renewable energy. Citizens will want to buy these new low-carbon products so that they can keep more of their dividends. Carbon emissions will go down because people are burning less fossil fuels.

    100% revenue neutrality means that most Canadians will come out equal or ahead regarding the increase in energy costs.

    Asking citizens to voluntarily burn less carbon when others may refuse to do so can be demoralizing. So give them a reward for doing the right thing

  13. CO2′s Reefer Madness

    Seriously, as an advanced civilization we have to stop this
    needless panic and these CO2 death threats for billions of helpless children
    from our tragic 26 year old CO2 exaggeration. News editors and ideologues were
    the liars here, not the scientists for
    not ever mentioning that science had never said any crisis would actually
    happen, only “might’ happen despite science saying we “could” (never “are” or “will”),
    be at the point of no return from unstoppable warming. Science played along,
    just like when they poisoned the planet apparently with the pesticides they
    gave us. This CO2 insanity wasn’t about a changing climate; it was about
    controlling a changing climate with taxes and corporate run and politically
    ruled “carbon trading stock markets” funded by the world banks along with human
    sacrifice of modern lifestyle. We may as well be screaming; “We must please the
    angry weather gods!”.

    How many climate blame believers did it take to change a
    light bulb?

    None but they had full consensus that it would change,
    maybe, could be, likely, possibly, most likely……….

    Science and news editors and political hijackers were the
    high priests of what history is already calling; CO2 Omen Worshipping as in: “I
    see the signs of change. I see the changes…”

  14. A $100 tax on carbon is not equal to $100 more per household, since the money raised by a tax goes into reducing reducing other taxes or paying for other services.

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