Penny for your thoughts or any carbon-intensive activities that result therefrom

Tom Friedman’s column in the Sunday New York Times begins the way all Tom Friedman columns do — Hi! I’ve got a Big Idea™ and I’m just going to type like a dervish until you catch up with me about halfway down the column! — but eventually it turns out to be… well, poignant, if you’re a Canadian reader. For Friedman is today urging President-Elect Obama “to increase the federal gasoline tax or impose an economy-wide carbon tax.”

Friedman holds out no great hope that Obama will actually do such a thing. Obama didn’t campaign on a carbon-tax promise after all. The Democrat’s preferred choice of mechanism is a cap-and-trade scheme closer to Stephen Harper’s: massively interventionist, cumbersome, harrowingly difficult to design, prone to loopholes and investor confusion, destined to take forever to implement — in a word, French. It’s easy to see why Stephen Harper and John Baird would have cooked up such a plan: they were banking on delay and eventual failure. Massively awful program design was a feature for them, not a bug. It’s also easy to understand why Stéphane Dion preferred cap-and-trade at first, because as we’ve all learned, Canada’s new coalition prime minister has a soft spot for cumbersome solutions that don’t actually work.

It’s less clear why Obama is in the cap-and-trade business, unless some Obama fans are right when they worry that Obama’s “moderation” is actually a prelude to exquisitely even-handed difference-splitting that will  produce no real change. Whatever the case, the questions and challenges Friedman puts in this column are also worth putting to anyone who claims to want to address climate change with anything resembling the fierce urgency of now. People like, say, this guy:

Michael Ignatieff, after all, was the first of the 2006-vintage Liberal leadership candidates to propose a carbon tax. I’m not saying that in a blame-y way, and unlike Ryan Sparrow I do not now plan to dismiss everything the Liberal sort-of-leader proposes from now on as the ramblings of a carbon taxer. It’s fair of Ignatieff to say, as Bob Rae and Dominic LeBlanc were saying when they still thought there would be a leadership campaign, that the voters were asked their opinion of carbon taxes in October and they gave a firm answer.

But that leaves a question hanging. If you believe climate change is real and catastrophic; that human agency can inflect its course; that Canada has something to contribute to the search for a solution; and that dawdling is no longer permissible — then what better idea do you have?

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.