Tuesday, July 29, 2008

An Emerging Theme?

My NDP friends will surely disagree, but I can't help but notice an emerging sense outside of partisan considerations, that the NDP has it wrong in the climate change debate. Just one more voice, but a sentiment that keeps propping up as we move forward:
Most interesting though is the opposition from the NDP, a party that often touts itself as greener then the Green Party. In lieu of a carbon tax, the NDP has thrown its support behind cap and trade as a method of carbon pricing, causing unnecessary polarization of the climate change debate.

Though these models are not mutually exclusive, the partisan debate has degenerated into which model will achieve the 60 to 90 per cent CO2 emission reductions needed to curb the devastating effects of global warming

Here in Canada, St├ęphane Dion has recognized the complexity of cap and trade and has boldly introduced a carbon tax. This is uncharacteristic for any politician, especially for one within the ranks of the predominately populist Liberal party.

Sadly, by denouncing the Liberal plan, the NDP chose to politicize a global threat that is intolerant to partisan politics. Climate change poses an unprecedented challenge to all; however, responsibility for change rests largely in the hands of current politicians who have the power to implement large-scale emission reduction policies. For once in this country the leader of a mainstream political party has put good policy above votes. Dion, it might be a hard sell, but kudos nonetheless.

39 comments:

ottlib said...

Yes, it is too bad the NDP has decided to politicize this issue.

The Conservatives have done this as well but we expect that from them. Heck, they would make a trip to the bathroom a partisan issue.

"Stephane Dion pees sitting down!! He is not a leader!!"

But I digress.

Carbon tax, cap-and-trade and other methods of reducing ghg emissions are not mutually exclusive. I see them as a continuum all working together as a whole.

I believe it Stephane Dion can inform Canadians of that and highlight the tax cut portion of The Green Shift Plan he will be in very good shape.

northwestern_lad said...

I find these politicization comments hilarious. As soon as anyone has a policy on any matter, it's politicized. Stephane Dion politicized this when he brought his Carbon tax plan out too, but who'll point that out.

Frankly, I'm not sweating any when the Queen's University paper is coming out against the NDP. That kind of news is kinda like reporting that the sun rose today as a stunning event.

Steve V said...

Cam

I think Queen's has the pulse of the nation actually ;)

ottlib

One thing to keep in mind here, Dion specifically said in the townhall I attended, that the Liberals have more, but they want to keep it for the election. That could turn out to be important.

ottlib said...

steve,

Considering the impact The Green Shift Plan announcement has had on the political dynamic this summer why would Mr. Dion release anything else? He really does not need to.

I would be really disappointed if the only major plank in the Liberals election platform was The Green Shift.

It is great that they released it and it is great that it is being cemented in the consciousness of Canadians. However, it is not enough to sustain a 36 day election campaign.

So, I am looking forward to a campaign where The Green Shift is one of many good policy ideas.

Steve V said...

ottlib

I meant more to come on the environment front. I didn't mean to suggest the entire platform.

Frankly Canadian said...

I believe it is essential that Stephane Dion and the whole Liberal Party are successful in properly explaining the "Green Shift Plan" to Canadians. What worries me is that this issue seems to be following a similar pattern to that of Paul Martin. Mr. Martin set out to get to the bottom of the sponsorship scandal, and attempted to bring some accountability to Canadian politics. What ended up happening is that the N.D.P. ganged up on him and the whole Liberal party for being corrupt, and the conservatives campaigned on bringing accountability to Ottawa. We now see that the conservatives have in fact continuously proclaimed that they have been accountable while in fact totally disregarded all accountability. The same seems to be happening here with climate change Mr. Dion has tried to do the right thing for our planet and for his country, however because the conservatives have found good bedfellows with the N.D.P. and have been able to get the proper media spin when ever they need it, the Liberals could be fighting a very steep uphill battle. It is a sad testimony to our current state of affairs, that when someone tries to do the right thing, they are in turn cast out probably because people have a tenancy to resist change. I sincerely hope that with a new Liberal thinking president in the United States that this attitude will change quickly.

catherine said...

When the NDP released their plan to the press and Dion was asked his opinion, he replied simply that cap and trade was good and went on to say that he planned to keep that option open but a carbon tax could be implemented sooner. Even before the Liberals released their plan, Layton denounced carbon taxes out of hand, saying they hurt people.

This strikes me as a pretty obvious example of Layton politicizing the issue and causing unnecessary division.

One day, Layton may be able to publicly admit the similarities between a carbon tax and cap and trade and, like Dion, be able to say both systems are good, so let's talk about the details of implementation. But, Layton has a lot of backtracking to do now, if he is ever to get to that point. I'm not sure we are going to see it.

knb said...

frankly canadian, you make some good points. The difference though is that Dion has third party validation. Martin didn't have that and the media went wild in the other direction.

catherine makes the point that Dion has been honest from the beginning. She's right.

I saw this article today and thought it's good to see that there is a real dialogue going on.

In other words, people who care about this subject are paying attention and the NDP are playing this wrong.

Jaytoo said...

But the NDP has long opposed a carbon tax, catherine. What people here call "politicizing" is them sticking with their consistently articulated policy.

Right up until the G-shift, Dion opposed the carbox tax too -- vigourously when Ignatieff and others raised it. There was a hard-won oppo consensus that cap-and-trade was the place to start -- reflected in the co-rewritten Bill C-30.

I continue to believe that cap-and-trade is the place to start. But even as we disagree there ... surely we can agree that Dion is the one who has "politicized" things by suddenly going solo with the carbon pricing approach that the other oppo parties always opposed.

Even if you do NOT accept my belief that Dion has done this (a) to stoke conflict with the kindling of "tax" language to change channels on "Weak Leader"; and (b) to underwrite precisely this perverse attack on the NDP as "politicizing" things.

colten said...

If you oppose it,

you "politicize" it.

If you propose it, as the CENTER PIECE OF A COMPAIGN as a POLITICIAN, trying to GAIN POWER,

it's nowhere near politicizing it.

Now that's funny.

Mushroom said...

James Laxer must be having fits over Layton right now, given his recent blogpost.

colten said...

BTW,

the founder of greenpeace believes that the whole "green" movement today has been overtly politicized - hijacked by leftists with an anti-capitalist agenda.

He is right.

The man who named his dog after a failed international wealth transfer scheme designed to put economic shackles on our industry under the guise of "saving the planet",

Dion is the grand Green politicizer.

Mushroom said...

Colten,

If you take your talking points from Patrick "I love nuclear power" Moore, then you can go plant kisses at John Baird. Maybe you can crash the dinner that Moore, Baird, and Laureen Harper went to.

catherine said...

I looked at Dion's arguments of why he thought cap and trade was better than a carbon tax (during the leadership campaign) and they were superficial. For example, the US Congress Budget Office has studied carbon pricing for many years, with a hefty budget and many experts at their disposal, and have concluded that a carbon tax is more efficient at achieving set targets than cap and trade is. Dion argued otherwise, and he likely had some sources of information which led him to say that. If one focusses solely on direct costs to industry, cap and trade looks more efficient. One has to look at the entire cost.

Good for Dion. He learned more and changed his mind. There may be places or situations where cap and trade is better. EU adopted it because it was easier to get agreement on than on carbon taxes and the US may adopt it because it is easier to get votes on. When we get to the point of international carbon pricing, cap and trade may be the way to go.

The differences between the two systems in principle are not as large as the differences in either system depending on details of implemention. I will support either system provided it is reasonably comprehensive and addresses the regressive nature of carbon pricing, even though my personal preference is for a carbon tax.

Steve V said...

catherine

I think people make a critical error when they confuse flip flop with evolution. I just don't see the cunning politico Dion jumping on a carbon tax in an opportunistic way. I just don't think he operates this way, and as a matter of fact, prior to this decision many were vehemently arguing against it, for ironically political reasons.

Sean S. said...

Its politics, so of course it is being politicized.

The NDP has been against a carbon tax for sometime, so for them to oppose the Green Shift isn't too much of a surprise.

It also isn't too much of a surprise for the leader of the opposition who swept to his position on green policies, who once denounced the carbon tax, who's opposition (Cons and NDP) support cap and trade, to come out swinging on the opposite side of the issue. I mean that's just good politics. So it's a stretch to suggest the Liberals come out smelling like roses on the who "politicizing" front.

It's great that Dion has hinted that he also supports cap and trade and that the Liberals might entertain the notion; however, to even suggest that we should just trust a politician is laughable. Put it writing, support the policy in public, and than maybe sign a blood oath with your mother's blood, and maybe than their word can be taken half seriously.

Steve V said...

"to even suggest that we should just trust a politician is laughable."

Well, then that applies to Jack too, right? Actually, wasn't it Jack who said Dion would never win because he wasn't a politican, too honorable to win the Liberal race? Not an irrelevant comment when viewing with cynical eyes.

catherine said...

Sean and/or jaytoo, you say the NDP has been against a carbon tax for a long time. Can you explain why? The arguments I hear from Layton is that any carbon tax hurts people (suggesting cap and trade somehow doesn't, since by hurt he means prices increase) and
that this is the way the world is going (meaning the US and the EU, although much of the EU has both). First, under Bush it really has not been clear the US has been going to cap and trade and second, the first phase of the EU cap and trade had problems, stopped in 2007 and was only recently restarted. So this second reason could not have been there for a "long time".

So what are the reasons? I understand the positions of McCain, Obama and the EU (and none of them are based on the premise that cap and trade is intrinsically better.) I don't understand Layton's.

Anonymous said...

There are too perfectly good reasons why Dion's plan is for the birds.

1. It has no targets for GHG reductions at all. For all we know it will have about as much impact on GHG emissions as the GST had on consumer purchases.

2. Because it is supposedly revenue neutral there is no money being spent on all the massive investments that are needed in transit and green technology.

This is the environmental equivalent of Harper ditching a national child care program to instead give everyone $200 a month that they can spend on beer and popcorn.

Demosthenes said...

The best part of that anonymous troll is the pointless dropping of the "beer and popcorn" thing. Very nice, hope you get lots of kudos from whoever is farming out those talking points.

As for Layton? He wants the NDP to replace the Liberals. He's also terrified of the Greens. There's no political advantage in supporting the Liberals and possibly losing votes to those other two parties, so he'll grasp at whatever straws he can.

(At least until Jack and his buddy Steve get their stories straight.)

burlivespipe said...

Dion's plan requests that all canadians participate, while Layton lies when he says 'only business will pay.'
Layton's cap-and-trade scenario is the same as Harper's 'carbon sequestering' in that neither can be implemented today nor tomorrow.
For the NdP to be screaming at Dion and the Liberal party for having delayed action, then poo-pooing their platform because it is too much seems some kind of crazy.
Let's just delay any action until we get a NdP gov't in Ottawa. Tell it to the polar bears, i'm sure they'll wait.

Anonymous said...

Individual Canadians are already making great efforts to conserve energy and to have environmentally friendlier lifestyles. Its about time that we made the big industrial polluters lift a finger. I know its politically expedient when you are a party like the Liberals with a lot of ties to the oil and gas sector - to try to deflect all the blame on to individuals - but the first step has to be to go after the big industrial polluters, use the money to make the MASSIVE investments in transit and green infrastructure and then ask individual Canadians to do beyond the Herculean efforts they are already making.

Jaytoo said...

Your sincere engagement is a breath of fresh air, catherine. I only have a few mins before heading out for the day, so just one quickie: I believe cap/trade will be much faster -- where pace is defined as the gap between now and bankable results on GHGs.

Yes, full-auction could be a couple years off -- longer still for international integration -- but phase 1 with modest caps can surely be getting results in a year. Granted, we need to see Layton's full proposal with timetable vs. my warm imaginings of what it will be.

Cap/trade starts from results -- fixes hard caps and makes the carbon price float. Conversely, a carbon tax sets a price and hopes for results. To work, it depends utterly on the willingness of successive governments to keep hiking a tax until results emerge. Given recent Canadian experience, why should any environmentally-concerned Canadian have that faith?

Does it seem insignificant to you that Dion's plan banks on zero emissions reductions through its full four-year phase-in cycle? That its revenue neutrality projections literally count on that? That it defers all absolute GHG reductions to the good intentions of future governments?

catherine said...

"fixes hard caps and makes the carbon price float. Conversely, a carbon tax sets a price and hopes for results"

I agree that cap and trade places more certainty on emission reductions with the uncertainty placed on cost, whereas a carbon tax does the opposite. Note emission reductions are not "fixed, hard" even in cap and trade, as one sets penalties for exceeding caps/allotments, one does not simply close down the factory and fire all the workers once the allotment is exceeded.

The bottom line is that when the cost per ton in the cap and trade system matches that in the carbon tax system (for a predictable time -- as companies respond to uncertainty as well) then the end results are the same (assuming the systems are equally compehensive, efficient, etc.) One can do modelling to estimate the costs in cap and trade and, hence, protect those in need, but these are at best estimates. [The US Congress Budget Office does such estimates.] If you want to ensure that low-income families are taken care of, it is easier and more reliable, for a fixed target in reductions, in a carbon tax system.

While having set caps sounds more environmentally agressive, the majority of environmentalists recognize that what really matters is what one achieves over the next decade, not what one achieves in one year. Significant reduction in emissions is seen as an urgent long-term goal and there are good arguments as to why carbon tax takes one there more efficiently and protects low-income more reliably, while being able to achieve the same results in a decade.

Does the Green Shift calculator worry me? No. I recognize the difficulty of putting hard specific figures on this very complex system (even more so for cap and trade). I interpret the calculator as giving an estimate that people can understand without investing huge amounts of time. It gives me more of an idea of how the carbon tax would work than the NDP sites gives me of their plan. I have no idea if I would be on the hook for $100/yr or $1000/yr or more under that plan. The LPC numbers give me some estimate.

JimBobby said...

Whooee!
Does it seem insignificant to you that Dion's plan banks on zero emissions reductions through its full four-year phase-in cycle? That its revenue neutrality projections literally count on that?

By raising the tax rate each year for four years, Dion's plan seems to assume that carbon reductions will happen at that magnitude. If there were zero projected reductions in CO2, the rate would stay the same. By conceding that the rate must increase to bring in the same revenue, the plan assumes real reductions will occur.

...the first step has to be to go after the big industrial polluters, use the money to make the MASSIVE investments in transit and green infrastructure and then ask individual Canadians to do beyond the Herculean efforts they are already making.

Sorry, I don't see much by way of Herculean efforts. Get on the 401 or QEW at rush hour and notice how many single occupant vehicles are still clogging the expressways. Walk down any suburban street and notice the preponderance of two-car and three-car families. Hang around a convenience store and notice how many customers drive up from a few short blocks away. Go out on any Great Lake or recreational waterway and watch the jet skis and power boats zip around spewing noise and pollution. Walk down any street on garbage day and notice the waste.

Ontario has announced a lawn pesticide ban starting next year. The public response has been to make sure the lawns are sprayed this year and to stockpile personal supplies of pesticides to apply surreptitiously next year.

Big oil and market speculation have driven prices up far more than Dion's paltry $10/tonne plan could ever hope to do. Yet, our federal government continues to lavish tar sands developers with $1.4 Billion per year, like they've done for the past 30 years.

The EU experience with cap'n'trade has been that it is slow to implement. Setting up a market is the easy part. Establishing the hard cap levels that make the market operate is not easy. The negotiations to set caps are being used very effectively by big polluters as stall tactics. The EU's been negotiating on cap levels for 10 years.

Everything is political. Environmental policies are enacted through political means.

Changing one's mind on a previously held belief is risky --- especially for a politician. Not too long ago, many MP's changed their minds on SSM and our society became fairer.

What we're seeing from the NDP is an unwillingness to admit that GHG reduction can best be achieved with a two-pronged approach. That stubbornness coincides with a delusion that Jack Layton will someday be PM.

I think there are closet skeptics and deniers in all parties. The Con's are mostly out of the closet. There are a number of Lib's who still buy into the false dichotomy of environment vs. economy. If we accept the science of climate change, we must use all the tools in the toolbox. The unwillingness of the NDP and CPC to use a two-pronged approach suggests tepid acceptance of the crisis that is upon us.

JB

Johny said...

JB sez: By raising the tax rate each year for four years, Dion's plan seems to assume that carbon reductions will happen at that magnitude. If there were zero projected reductions in CO2, the rate would stay the same. By conceding that the rate must increase to bring in the same revenue, the plan assumes real reductions will occur.

Seems? Yet doesn't. The Green Shift handbook presumes carbon tax revenues of $15.3B in 2012 and outlines corresponding tax cuts. To generate $15.3 at $40/tonne, we'd be emitting GHGs at peak 2006 levels.

Given a larger 2012 economy, that represents a cut in pollution "intensity," but zero absolute reductions. For absolute progress, we're left depending on unforecast good luck and/or the willingness of future PMs to keep raising the tax.

(Erin Weir does the math.)

catherine said...

johny, I addressed this. Say emissions are at 2006 levels in January 2009 when Dion implements the Green Shift. Then suppose emissions are cut by 20% over the next 4 years. So, the estimates are off by 20%. So maybe the carbon tax would be $48/ton in year four, or perhaps it would jump to $60 in year 5. This is your beef?

Tell me (just to within 30% is fine) how much the NDP cap and trade proposal would cost a family of four with an income of $30,000 and how much they would get back from the government. BTW, they rent from an absentee landlord who could not be bothered upgrading.

The EU implemented a massive cap and trade for several years as a trial system (after smaller trial systems) just to get started and help design phase II where they hoped to start seeing emission reductions. A carbon tax will be easier to get up and running and to adjust as we see what the results are.

Anonymous said...

"Sorry, I don't see much by way of Herculean efforts. Get on the 401 or QEW at rush hour and notice how many single occupant vehicles are still clogging the expressways. Walk down any suburban street and notice the preponderance of two-car and three-car families. Hang around a convenience store and notice how many customers drive up from a few short blocks away. Go out on any Great Lake or recreational waterway and watch the jet skis and power boats zip around spewing noise and pollution. Walk down any street on garbage day and notice the waste."

...and guess what, Dion has sworn on a stack of Bibles that his plan will not be applied to gas at all and that drivers will not be affected at all. I love how you give examples of GHG emitting behaviour on the part of Canadians - that Dion himself swears up and down that his plan will have ZERO impact on!

JimBobby said...

I love how you give examples of GHG emitting behaviour on the part of Canadians - that Dion himself swears up and down that his plan will have ZERO impact on!

I ain't a Liberal or a Dion supporter. I'm a treehuggin' Greenie. The GPC plan calls for the carbon tax to be applied to gasoline.

You stated that Canadians are making Herculean efforts to reduce fossil fuel use. My anecdotal observations tell me that they are doing no such thing. A few of us have been doing what we can for years. The high price of fuel (without any carbon tax) has meant that a few more conservation minded people are doing a bit more. If a significant portion of the population were making Herculean efforts, we wouldn't be seeing the examples I cited.

Want some non-gasoline examples? Here in my shack, we keep the thermostat fairly low in the winter and wear longjohns and sweaters. When I go to visit friends in their overheated homes, I need to remember to leave off the longies and sweater. When I take my 83 YO mother to the grocery store in the summertime, she needs to bundle up because the AC is set to a ridiculously low temp. Ditto for every shopping mall and supermarket in Canada. As I walked by my local high school the other night, the massive AC unit kicked in. School's been out for weeks. It was a cool evening.

So far, Canadians are not making any Herculean efforts and if you're going to make such OTT claims, back them up with examples.

JB

Anonymous said...

If you don't like the temperature in shopping malls and supermarkets - urge the government to pass a law making it illegal to set thermostats above or below a certain level. It's not up to me, where Loblaw's sets their thermostats.

JimBobby said...

If you don't like the temperature in shopping malls and supermarkets - urge the government to pass a law making it illegal to set thermostats above or below a certain level. It's not up to me, where Loblaw's sets their thermostats.


I haven't had much success urging the government to pass laws, lately. How about we just tax the electricity and natural gas to the point that the stores and shopping malls start to do what conservation-minded Canadians already do in their own homes?

I'm through responding to you, Anon. You just can't seem to grasp simple concepts and debate intelligently. Maybe some education would help. I'm still waiting for examples of those Herculean efforts you spoke of a few comments back. I've given plenty of examples of Canadians NOT making Herculean efforts but you can't respond with anything to back up your absurd claim.

Leave the conversation to the adults, if you can't converse and debate on an adult level.

JB

Anonymous said...

"I haven't had much success urging the government to pass laws, lately. How about we just tax the electricity and natural gas to the point that the stores and shopping malls start to do what conservation-minded Canadians already do in their own homes?"

You seem to think its simple to have governments pass laws raising taxes, but not to have them pass laws forbidding people from wasting power. If you really want society to use less power - legislate it! (Of course, if super markets are forced to be too hot, i wonder how much food will spoil and how many more cases of food poisoning we would have?)

catherine said...

Anon, what are you suggesting? Prison terms? Fify lashes? If you are talking fines, then that is exactly what carbon pricing is designed to do: make it more profitable to change than to pollute. And carbon pricing does it efficiently.

Anonymous said...

According to the Liberals, the carbon tax will have ZERO impact on people energy use - they will just pay a bit more and continue to consume as before. Why not pass a law rationing electricity and making everyone get thermostats that cannot be set outside of some strict parameters?

Steve V said...

"Why not pass a law rationing electricity and making everyone get thermostats that cannot be set outside of some strict parameters?"

Why not have rising prices subsets, wherein normal use, based on typical demand, is charged one rate, but this goes up incrementally the more glutious the usage. In this way, those that show no responsibility pay through the nose, the money then used for environmental purposes, while those that are responsible aren't punished.

Anonymous said...

"Why not have rising prices subsets, wherein normal use, based on typical demand, is charged one rate, but this goes up incrementally the more glutious the usage."

This already exists. Take a look at your hydro bill.

Steve V said...

"This already exists. Take a look at your hydro bill."

I must be a good boy, because I only see one rate? Can you expand on that...

Anonymous said...

My utility bills clearly state that the rate per unit of gas or electricity used goes up significantly beyond a certain threshold. Its been this way for a long time.

Steve V said...

Turn off the lights then ;)