Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Taxing Credulity

Nation, I'm kicking off 2017 on this blog with a simple plea:

Don't be dumb.

I've watched the hysteria around the NDP's shiny, new "Carbon Levy" (aka "Carbon Tax" or, if you're reading from the Jason Kenney talking points, "Job-Killing Carbon Tax") for a while now, and now that the levy is actually in effect, it's time to face some hard truths.

I want to make it perfectly clear right here at the outset: Humans are major influencers on global climate change. Some areas are getting hotter. Some are getting colder. Weather extremes, from drought to snowfall records, are popping up all over the map with more and more regularity. This is happening, and we are, in large part, to blame. The science is as settled as science can get.

Now, I've seen a video floating around on social media over the past few days, featuring my favourite comic of all time: George Carlin. In the video, George talks about the staggering arrogance of humans thinking they can "save the planet". About 2 and a half minutes into the video, Carlin makes the point that there's nothing wrong with the planet. "The planet is FINE...", he says.

My fellow conservatives are by this point in the video typing furiously away on their keyboards about how much they agree with everything Carlin has said. FINALLY, someone willing to call it like he sees it (Carlin's fearlessness in sharing his perspective - whether you agreed with what he was saying or not - is one of the things that I loved most about the man as a performer; he challenged convention and made you THINK, as well as laugh). Derisively dismissing the concerns of "white, bourgeois liberals", a shot at bike paths and Volvos, criticism of the environmental movement as being motivated by self-interest...  it's got everything that a "red-blooded, true blue conservative" would want to hear. Especially one in a country and province where to be considered conservative politically, you must apparently swear unwavering fealty to the energy industry.

I just wish they watched and paid attention to the conclusion of Carlin's line at 2:30.

"The planet is FINE... the PEOPLE are $*@#ed."

I don't think we're engaging in any industry that will actually split the planet in a Rura Penthe-style cataclysm (bonus points to those of you who got that reference without Google). Hell, even if every country with nuclear weapons simultaneously fired off their entire stockpiles, if you fast forward a billion years, you're going to see a vibrant, life-covered planet... keep in mind, the dinosaurs were wiped out by a global environmental catastrophe - including a 6-mile-wide space rock slamming into the Yucatan - that wiped out almost all plant life from the surface of the Earth and an estimated 75% of ALL life on the planet a mere 66 million years ago. The most powerful nuclear weapon ever detonated would need to go off 2 million times, at once, to equal the impact. In the time since, the mammals that survived evolved into US, and the world is once again green and vibrant. The wheel turns, and the Earth endures.

And yet, the issue is not about whether the Earth will survive. Of COURSE it will. The question is whether WE will.

Drought. Flooding. Extreme weather. Fires.

All of the above were happening LONG before there were people around to notice them. And they'll continue to happen long after we're gone. But if there's something we can do as a species to mitigate the risk, even slightly, isn't it incumbent upon us to act in our own best interest and that of our children? We don't watch as the fire takes our house and say "well, fire's always been a part of the ecosystem...". We grab a hose and try to put the damned thing OUT.

And by the way, folks: Yes, CO2 is plant food. No, your argument that unchecked emissions of CO2 will therefore make the planet a healthier place for us to live because: plants and trees, is not valid. The atmosphere of Venus is 96% CO2. The surface temperature is 480 Celcius. I can't say for SURE that there are no plants there, but I sure don't want to meet them.

Now, let me be clear: Alberta, and Canada, are not going to stop climate change by themselves. All the countries of the Earth, working in unison, won't completely stop it. Humans aren't the ONLY factor that contributes to climate change, and in much the same way that a better diet and exercise will probably help you live longer, there are still things out there that will hurt you that aren't heart disease or diabetes.

But does the fact that we can't completely stop it, mean that we shouldn't at least try to slow things down if we can?

This brings me to the carbon levy (tax) in Alberta.

If this was being applied universally, and all the funds were going into research aimed at cutting our emissions, finding alternative sources of energy and encouraging energy efficiency, I'd be all for it. It would make sense: We're taxing destructive behaviour to encourage less destructive behaviour. In essence, it's the cigarette tax.

But in reality, that's not what we're doing. At all.

The tax isn't being applied universally: Inter-jurisdictional flights, farm fuels, and a whole list of others are exempt.

The funds aren't all being spent to make the world a cleaner, safer place: a full third of the revenue will be returned to certain Albertans (also known as "voters") and small businesses.

Now, I'm not opposed to getting some of my money back, but: WHY?

If you're going to give the money back, why are you taking it in the first place? What earthly purpose does it serve to take money under a "carbon levy" that you have no intention of using to try and fix the problem? Does the CO2 from my rich friends do more damage than mine does?

Global CO2 emissions are a problem, and they're contributing to global climate change. We should be looking for solutions, and I have no problem paying a tax on my CO2 production if it will help mitigate the damage that my generation, and the ones before me, are doing and have done to the place my kids and their kids will have to live some day. If I can pay 3 cents/litre at the pumps and that money in part helps fund a scientist in Canmore or Camrose who figures out how to run a car on saltwater or find a completely clean fuel source to heat a home in the depths of Canadian winter, that's well worth it in my mind.

But that's not what I'm being asked to do. I'm being asked to pay a levy that is going to be sent right back to me, and will change nothing, and BECAUSE it changes nothing, I will still have to heat my home with natural gas, and will still have to fill my car with gasoline, and my emissions won't change.

Where's the logic in that?

Here's the Carlin video. It should go without saying for a guy who wrote and performed "Seven Words You Can't Say On Television", but it is VERY MUCH NSFW, and you should consider the vocabulary you hope to teach your children, if they're in the room.

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