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North Island Rising: Carbon pricing

“I’ve been fortunate enough to hear from and talk with all sides of the climate discussion”

What if, horror of horrors, we’ve got this whole carbon-pricing thing wrong? And what if many of those who don’t believe in climate change are actually more concerned about the impact of carbon taxes on their lives then they are about the negative impacts of climate change?

A recent study shows that 34 per cent of Canadians either don’t believe in or are only mildly concerned about climate change. The 66 per cent who feel climate change is a major threat say the science is irrefutable. Admittedly, I’m on the irrefutable side but I’m beginning to think I’ve made a mistake in supporting carbon pricing as a solution. Let me explain.

As a journalist, I’ve been fortunate enough to hear from and talk with all sides of the climate discussion. I’ve seen links to scientific and pseudo scientific sites tossed about on social media that claim to be the definitive proof of a particular opinion.

Everyone claims expertise and knows someone who knows someone who talked to someone who knows a scientists who told them.

However, in the midst of the short-tempered vitriol that is now so common on social media, I have noticed a recurring theme and a repeated demand. No matter how detailed and lengthy the argument against the existence of climate change is, in the end there is almost always a demand for the withdrawal of the carbon tax. That tax is the inescapable foe.

It is the flag to which climate counterclaim arguments rally around and I have started to wonder if denial is simply the ground on which to fight a tax and political battle as opposed to the climate battle.

And so I began to wonder what would happen if the flag was removed from the field of battle.

The current carbon tax system has some significant inequalities, especially if you live in a rural setting. In addition, it has not lived up to the promise of investments in clean technology, transparency and the promised but never again mentioned, revenue neutrality.

Admittedly, it does encourage conservation but the model is based on threat and punishment. The amount paid is somewhat under your control. However, given the size of our country (transportation) and severity of our winters (heating), we will be punished for the fickle fate of geography we all share.

So what would happen if we changed the carbon tax model from punishment to a reward model? The carbon – one size fits all – tax for consumers is abolished and replaced with an incentive model.

Lower your consumption and you are rewarded with tax credits. Chose not to increase or decrease your consumption and nothing happens, including no tax credit. Increase your consumption and much like luxury taxes on expensive homes and fancy cars, you will have to pay extra for the privilege.

Punishment, which takes money out of your pocket, is showing signs of becoming part of the problem instead of the solution. And shaming is simply the fastest route to entrenched polarization.

That leaves us with an incentive system, rewarding healthy behaviour and putting money back in people’s pockets. And while I’m not an economist, I have a suspicion it would actually cost less, obtain better results and improve the situation faster than the punishment model.

Bill McQuarrie is a former publisher, photojournalist and entrepreneur. Semi-retired and now living in Port McNeill, you can follow him on Instagram #mcriderbc or reach him at bill@northislandrising.com

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