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How I lived through a carbon tax and survived to tell the tale

Posted on 8 April 2011 by Dan Moutal

A guest post by Dan Moutal, the voice of the Irregular Climate Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @ScruffyDan

Just over three years ago the province of British Columbia (BC) on Canada’s west coast implemented a revenue neutral carbon tax. And the world didn’t come to an end.

But three years on it is easy to find people who continue to unfairly criticise the policy and show that they simply don’t understand it.

For example this article from the New York Times:

John Hunter despises [the carbon tax].

"I've already insulated my house to be energy efficient. I already turn down my thermostat. Why should I have to pay $20 on my natural gas bill for something that is doing nothing for me?" the 64-year-old engineer said in an interview from his home in North Vancouver, British Columbia. His anger about the C$21.85 charge on his C$263 December bill prompted a protest op-ed in a local Vancouver paper. (One Canadian dollar equals roughly 1.02 U.S. dollars.)

What John Hunter might not realize is that the the carbon tax here in BC is revenue neutral. Meaning that every penny collected by the tax is returned to the public in the form of tax rebates (aka cheques in the mail) and lower income and corporate tax rates. So while John Hunter might have to pay a little extra to heat his home, he gets to keep more of his income in his pocket, and so does his employer. In fact it is entirely possible that Mr Hunter’s income tax savings are a fair bit larger than the $20 monthly charge on his home heating bill.

And since Mr Hunter has already taken steps to insulate his house and make it energy efficient, he is emitting less carbon and thus paying less taxes. The carbon tax gives people some amount of control over how much taxes they end up paying.  Instead of taxing the good (aka income), the carbon tax taxes the bad (aka GHG emissions). Emit less and you pay less taxes.

In fact thanks to the carbon tax, BC has the lowest income tax rates in Canada for people earning up to $118,000, as well as very low rates of corporate and small business taxes.

Yet that is rarely mentioned when the tax is criticized.

But let's back up a little; what exactly is the carbon tax policy here in BC? I need to be upfront and say that the tax here is modest. It started out at $10/tonne and has been increasing by $5 each year untill it reaches a maximum of $30/tonne in 2012. And as I mentioned earlier, all the money raised by the tax is refunded back to residents and businesses in BC.

So how has my life changed since the introduction of the tax? The short answer is that it hasn’t really changed much at all. The biggest change is that I get quarterly carbon tax rebate cheques from the government, because I fall into the low income tax bracket.

Sure gas and home heating is a little more expensive. But the economy did not collapse and I am proud to say that at no time did we travel back in time to the Stone Age.

And that price on carbon is exactly the point. By pricing emissions there are now greater incentives everywhere to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Activities or products which lead to lots of emissions are now relatively more expensive, while their low carbon counterparts are not. This leads to millions of small individual choices that result in less emissions. Those renovations Mr. Hunter made will pay for themselves sooner than they otherwise would, because of the carbon tax.

But there are limits to what a modest carbon tax like the one here in BC can do. At the maximum rate of $30/tonne, the results will never be sufficient to reduce BC’s GHG emissions enough to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, to say nothing of the GHG emissions of the rest of Canada or the world for that matter.

For that the carbon tax would have to be higher, with coresponding larger tax decreases elsewhere, and apply to a much larger jurisdiction.

Here in BC we have just taken a successful first step.

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Comments 51 to 100 out of 248:

  1. There are, to my knowledge, only three ways to control human behavior:

    1) Make something illegal, and punishable by law (e.g. no stealing)
    2) Instill a moral imperative (e.g. no lying)
    3) Tax it (e.g. no using carbon based fuels without paying extra for the damage that such use is doing to civilization)

    It is pretty obvious that the first two solutions will not work in the case of fossil fuel use, so it falls to us to develop a fair way to manage the third.

    Why is this so difficult for some people to understand and accept? What alternative have I missed?
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  2. Sphaerica @ 41

    Can you please rephrase this statement of yours so I can make sure I understand what you are saying? Thanks.

    "...in people who are (foolishly) still afraid of communism (primarily the 60+ crowd)."
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  3. Sphaerica @ 51 and other places:
    The alternative you have missed is called capitalism.

    My wife and I live in the U.S. She recently replaced our 13 year old washer and dryer that were still operating reasonably with a more modern pair. Why? Better performance, less water usage, less electricity usage, etc... Water wise we are using half as much per load as before. I don't have quantitative numbers on the electricity usage, but it should be noticeably less. We spent some money, but our return on investment (ROI) should be realized within a few years.

    The money she spent went to the manufacturer, the distributor, the transportation entity, the appliance store, the salesman, and the delivery/setup guy.

    I then turned around and sold our old units to a family that lives in poverty. They got a good deal and can now wash clothes in their own home instead of a laundromat. Saves them some money, but does increase their home energy use.

    Adding a tax to my energy consumption had nothing to do with our decision. We simply wanted to more efficient.
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  4. Gilles @ 50:
    As Muoncounter has stated in the moderator response to your post, this article is about a carbon tax, not carbon intensity.

    The simple answer to your question, though, is that a carbon tax isn't intended to reduce carbon intensity, it's intended to reduce carbon consumption (your 'B'). You're putting the cart before the horse, by insisting the objective is to reduce intensity of FF use, when it's not that at all.

    Reducing B will lead to a reduction in A, as people will find ways to reduce the amount of carbon tax they pay while continuing life as normal.

    As for the last bit: Er, if C is an integral of B.dT over the 21st century, then of course reducing B at any point reduces C... If you don't see that, then I suggest a basic calculus course might be in order.

    The point being: a carbon tax makes using fossil fuels more expensive, so people will use less of them, or even better, find a cheaper alternative that burns no fossil fuels whatsoever.

    Given the amount of research & development going on, I suspect that we will soon have much cheaper alternatives, and the payoff in improved air quality in many major cities will be dramatic over the next few decades (especially as automotive use of FF declines).
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  5. It is true that capitalism (not the free market but the undercompensation of productive labor) shortens the path of technological progress (vs. feudalism, anyway. vs. socialism, the jury's out). It does so with a human cost. It is also extremely wasteful, encourages mistrust and fraud, allows commodity relations to dominate (dehumanization), undermines democratic rule, and leads to bizarre behavior among the ruling class . . . among other features. It must be bliss not to have to confront the history of a thing bought in a store.

    I would add, Bob, a fifth: collective agreement to do what has been determined through painfully slow deliberation to be in everyone's best interests. Obviously Harry's fourth and my fifth are not compatible.

    There is also the assumption that the "free market" will automatically provide humans with exactly what they want. The problem is that if you discourage the social determination of needs, then shortsighted, nearsighted individuals trapped within a private property system with diminishing resources is what you're left with. It ain't pretty, except, of course, for the owners of the means of production and the managerial class (which occasionally suffers angst while doing laundry and looking at their shirt tags, wondering what "Madagascar" is).

    What we're doing with carbon taxing is paying for the sins of our grandfathers and fathers, many of whom are still alive. Had we had the collective foresight and the means to materially express that foresight, we'd probably have simpler machines, fewer people, less killing, more sickness, less medical fraud, a more effective democracy, less expensive but weaker armies, and certainly an atmosphere that isn't developing into a giant pain in the market. I'll bet we'd be happier (antidepressants would not be no. 2 in popularity, after painkillers).
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  6. Harry for the life of me I can't see how your example is supposed to make a measurable difference to carbon emissions. The logic is already operating but carbon emissions rise. It would make more economic sense to buy a fuel-efficient car but people buy SUVs. All you are suggesting is business as usual.

    The problem is how to harness capitalism to deal with a situation with FF is cheaper than alternatives and the environmental costs are borne by other the FF consumers. (Notably a future generation). We need something realistic here to cut carbon intensity.
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  7. @ Harry Seaward

    You seem to be making the same mistake as John Hunter

    @ DSL

    I think you are over complicating things a bit. I have always found that the most useful framework for understanding the free market (and it pros and cons) is to think about externalities. Pretty much any environmental issue has at its root an externality. Find a way to intenalize those costs (which is what a price on carbon attempts) and the free market takes care of the rest. Usually.
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  8. DSL @ 55
    Name just one example where socialism or communism solved anything. If FF are truly the issue that many think they are (and many don't), and there becomes a great demand for the solution, then some ingenuitive capitalist(s) will find a way to solve the problem.

    And, can you clarify this, please: "we'd probably have simpler machines, fewer people, less killing, more sickness,..."
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  9. "If FF are truly the issue that many think they are (and many don't), and there becomes a great demand for the solution, then some ingenuitive capitalist(s) will find a way to solve the problem."

    Harry, you want to give even a *shred* of evidence that backs either part of the above comment? Where are the "many" people who don't think FF's are an issue? Well, outside of those with a vested interest in the Fossil Fuel industry of course.

    As to the 2nd part of your comment, there are plenty of intuitive people in both the public & private sectors who've come up with numerous ways to solve the problem. Unfortunately, the proponents of the so-called "free-market", & their lackeys in politics & the media, are doing their level best to prevent any attempts to implement any of these solutions-whilst simultaneously ensuring that all the long-standing tax-payer funded subsidies for the fossil fuel industry continue to be maintained. Sounds like your beloved "Free Market" isn't quite as free as you claim.
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  10. "Name just one example where socialism or communism solved anything."

    Hilarious, Harry. Can you give me just one example of where *true* Capitalism solved anything? I find it interesting, though, that those nations with the most "Left-of-Center" political systems are also those with the highest quality of life indicators (mortality rates, median income, crime statistics, homelessness). For all your talk, Harry, I've not seen that bastion of the Free Market-the US of A-solve the problems of poverty, homelessness, drug use, racism or crime-so what makes you think the free market is going to solve the *many* environmental & social issues associated with the use of Fossil Fuels?
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  11. 54 : Bern, there are several interesting points in your argument :

    first : "a carbon tax isn't intended to reduce carbon intensity, it's intended to reduce carbon consumption (your 'B')."

    do you agree that if the carbon intensity A is not reduced, but the carbon consumption is, then the GDP = B/A must decrease ? so actually in a first step you're claiming that GDP will actually decrease ? (that's exactly what happened in 2008-2009 BTW - that's not at all a virtual situation).

    second : "Reducing B will lead to a reduction in A, as people will find ways to reduce the amount of carbon tax they pay while continuing life as normal."

    Now the third point : "As for the last bit: Er, if C is an integral of B.dT over the 21st century, then of course reducing B at any point reduces C... If you don't see that, then I suggest a basic calculus course might be in order."

    I perfectly see that - but there is a point you seem to ignore - this is that FF are finite and will peak some time in the XXIth century. So the curve will decrease anyway. But sparing now FF means that at the date of the forecast peak, we will have still a large amount left, because conservation will have been efficient to spare them. But now comes the important point : to insure that B(t) is reduced at any point , you must insure that the second curve (B2'(t) ) will peak at the same time as the first one B1(t), to keep always below it. If you don't do that, the two curves will intersect after the peak, because B2(t) will keep on increasing, as FF have not yet been exhausted.

    So tell me : by which mechanism will you insure that FF will peak at the same time , or early enough to insure that the curves won't intersect ? this is actually the same kind of question as the previous one, because it is equivalent to ask : how do you intend to prevent future people (instead of current poorer people) to use the spared FF you have left to them ? and how will they know that they should peak at the same time as B1(t) since they have no damned idea of when B1(t) would have peaked if we didn't have conserved energy before ?

    again,not a virtual question : that's exactly what happened for oil after the 70's. If you extrapolate the growth curve before 1970, oil production was increasing by 5 % a year at this time and would probably have peaked in the 90's. But thanks to conservation measures, it actually changed its slope and increased much less than expected. Result : there was still plenty of available oil in the 90's. Collapse of FSU helped also to reduce the world consumption. Did we make the production peak in the 90's to insure we would always stay below the first curve? no, of course, and for very obvious reasons. Nobody knew what would have been the real date of the peak - and no oil producer or oil company would have the slightest ground not to use oil that was there , in their wells, ready to flow, just because they WOULD have peaked if the demand had been larger before - that's a total nonsense. Instead, oil production kept on increasing, until the real peak was reached in 2006 - but for the same total amount as before.


    In conclusion : it is perfectly understandable that if B(t) is reduced at any time , then the integral will be lower - it is just an unphysical assumption.

    Now the only reason why the total consumption would be reduced is your last one : "Given the amount of research & development going on, I suspect that we will soon have much cheaper alternatives, "

    But this is only wishful thinking, and I'll do two concluding remarks
    * this does *not* really depend on a tax, but on technical and economical issues that are far beyond the capacities of a tax to be solved.
    * if you're right , that R&D will soon insure much cheaper alternatives than FF, then a tax is useless, because BAU would also insure automatically that people switch to cheaper alternatives - and even energy companies would have their interest in investing massively in these new cheap techniques to make more profit than their competitors.

    So the real reason why we should consume less FF is that they would become useless, but this is not granted by a mere tax, and if it is true, the tax becomes worthless. A tax is mainly only redistributive - and it can be carbon or anything you want.

    this is another point : you claim the tax will insure an improvement of A (so it contradicts what you said just above : "You're putting the cart before the horse, by insisting the objective is to reduce intensity of FF use, when it's not that at all." - because it is in fact exactly that : the aim is to reduce A.)

    now another question : if A is reduced and B is reduced also for the same GDP, how do you insure that the spared FF won't be burnt by other, much poorer, people in the world ? do you think that these much poorer people simply don't exist and that nobody else in the world needs increasing their energy use ?

    so how do you intend to prevent them from using the left FF, and more importantly, how do you justify it ?
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  12. sorry I mixed up some sentences which makes the argument difficult to follow. The last paragraphs after "this is another point" up to the end should be placed between my "second" and "third" points - this actually an answer to the second point.
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  13. scaddendp : "The logic is already operating but carbon emissions rise. It would make more economic sense to buy a fuel-efficient car but people buy SUVs. All you are suggesting is business as usual.'

    the real reason why carbon emissions rise is not because people by SUVs instead of fuel-efficient cars. It's because people who were deprived of cars are able to buy one, increasing the number of cars. See point 2. Carbon emissions DO decrease in OECD - they increase much more in poorer countries.
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  14. Harry, what incentive are you giving capitalists to solve a problem?

    Also, I strongly contest that carbon tax/carbon trading as socialism and here is why.

    Firstly, consider carbon trading. In its purest form it involves contracts between emitter and credit creator. It is left to market to find the best low carbon technologies (which will be cheapest) and best methods of capture (most efficient means of creating credit). By contrast, subsidies implies a government rather than market picking winners. The government-imposed limit on emissions that drives the market will make carbon emissions expensive and it expects capitalist solutions. Ie the consumers will use their buying power and desire for lowest price to pick the best tech and create profit incentive to drive the development.

    In practical terms, there are all manner of issues with carbon trading, notably keeping it honest. A carbon tax is simpler and cheaper to administer, but only honest if revenue goes to carbon credit generators.

    Now I am not necessarily in favour of either - both are problematic in different ways - but to call it socialism/communism is to demonstrate that you dont know what either really is.

    Since you object to tax, we asked for an alternative that would work. So far you presented hope and nothing else. Furthermore, you also seem to falling on the idea that since you cant find a solution to the problem that fits your political philosophy, then perhaps the problem doesnt exist. This is pure dishonesty.

    For this discussion to be fruitful, please suppose that you have been presented evidence that utterly convinces you that emissions must be cut or at held at present levels for the your own good and that of future generations. Now if this evidence was available, what real solution, not hand waving, would be acceptable to your political philosophy? Imagine instead that an asteroid is headed our way. Would you be prepared to pay a tax to deploy an asteriod-destroyer? Would you pay for it even if you couldnt be sure the asteroid would hit your home town and instead might hit say china/russia/iran? What if the probability of it hitting US was 10%? 50%? 75%?
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    Moderator Response: [Dikran Marsupial] Bold tags fixed
  15. "So the real reason why we should consume less FF is that they would become useless, but this is not granted by a mere tax, and if it is true, the tax becomes worthless. A tax is mainly only redistributive - and it can be carbon or anything you want."

    Gilles, are you just being deliberately *obtuse*? To cite, *again* the example that was already given to you before-they didn't stop mining asbestos because asbestos became worthless-they stopped mining it because the government believed it to be too dangerous, so it was *banned*. Now its already been pointed out that that, like cigarettes, fossil fuels won't be banned. So the only other measure at our disposal is to tax them to the point that their use becomes *more* expensive than other, less harmful means of generating energy. In the interim, though, its hoped that a carbon tax will make the unit cost of FF based energy more expensive, thus encouraging a more efficient use of that energy. Of course, as efficiency increases, so does the energy intensity of the whole economy-which will obviously lead to a decrease in demand for fossil fuels. This will obviously then make fossil fuels less attractive to extract.
    Now, none of this is exactly *complicated* Gilles, so I just have to wonder why you can't seem to get your head around it, but instead just repeat your tired old cliches?
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  16. Gilles - my point was that assuming every good capitalist buying efficient would solve the problem obviously doesnt work. Your objection is irrelevant to that point.
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  17. "now another question : if A is reduced and B is reduced also for the same GDP, how do you insure that the spared FF won't be burnt by other, much poorer, people in the world ? do you think that these much poorer people simply don't exist and that nobody else in the world needs increasing their energy use?"

    Again, Gilles, you give us your tiresome claims that increased FF consumption is somehow the panacea to poverty. I've already highlighted how this claim is complete *hogwash*, yet it doesn't stop you from repeating the claim. The best thing we can do for the poor nations of the world is to ensure their economic development without getting hooked on fossil fuels-like Western nations did. Targeted development schemes should be aimed at setting up a non-Fossil fuel based energy infrastructure from *day one*. Of course, as this clashes with the agenda of the fossil fuel industry, that isn't happening. This leaves us with a situation in which the developed world are struggling to improve their standard of living whilst they simultaneously remain horribly indebted to the multinational corporations who control the bulk of the world's fossil fuels. Hardly a recipe for reducing poverty.
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  18. "Now its already been pointed out that that, like cigarettes, fossil fuels won't be banned."

    If you want this comparison : If cigarettes were a finite resource and if we only taxed them, but not banned them, then the total number of smoked cigarettes would be exactly the same, whatever the tax is : just the initial number. Cigarettes are renewable, not stock goods. If they were, they would have exactly the same problem as FF. Are you just being deliberately obtuse not to understand that ?
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  19. Sphaerica - there actually is a 4th way - social pressure. Humans are social animals, and while there will always be those who do the opposite of the crowd, for the most part people do what everyone else is doing.

    This is in the Operating System of being human.

    So more people using renewable energy leads to even more people using renewable energy.

    Given the failure of government in most countries, I expect this is how the solution will actually occur, if it does occur in time (which is looking unlikely at this moment).
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  20. Marcus :"Again, Gilles, you give us your tiresome claims that increased FF consumption is somehow the panacea to poverty. I've already highlighted how this claim is complete *hogwash*, yet it doesn't stop you from repeating the claim."

    well may be you should write all energy agencies and tell the authors of SRES that they're all totally wrong, because I don't know *any* projection from them that doesn't show a net increase of FF in poor countries. Do you mean they only publish garbage (including SRES ?)

    "
    The best thing we can do for the poor nations of the world is to ensure their economic development without getting hooked on fossil fuels-like Western nations did."

    Man, but what are you talking of ? in which world are you living? western countries insured first their economic development by a huge increase of their FF consumption , and then improved it by a combination of better techniques, exportation of energy intensive industries in third world, and some financial hold-ups to increase their wealth and keeping the other poor enough to use their manpower at low cost. Nevertheless , their FF energy consumption per capita is still much higher than that of poor countries ! I defy you to find only one western country whose FF consumption per capita, multiplied by the number of living human beings, doesn't exceed by far the global production capacities.

    "
    Targeted development schemes should be aimed at setting up a non-Fossil fuel based energy infrastructure from *day one*. Of course, as this clashes with the agenda of the fossil fuel industry, that isn't happening.""

    which "fossil fuel industry" does control chinese coal extraction? which one makes Icelandic people import so much oil , although they have plenty of renewable energy? again, in which world are you living ?
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  21. BTW someone forgot to close a bold tag, so I took the liberty of doing so in my comment (John it is probably worthwhile to double check the sanitation you do to the comments before they are posted)


    @Harry Seaward

    Currently there exists a rather large (and delayed) externality on GHG emissions. As I see it, this is at the root of the problem. How do you propose to solve this?

    There is nothing socialist about forcing costs to be internalized. In fact the free market depends on this.

    @Marcus Re: the freemarket

    Lets not forget that the free-market works amazingly well. But it makes some assumptions, namely that there are no externalities. This is obviously not the case in regards to climate and GHG emissions, so barring any policy to correct for this, we can expect market failure (which is code for some VERY big and scary costs).

    So the problem here isn't capitalism or the free market, but rather the lack of policy to internalize the costs of GHG emissions.

    Another way to think about this is that we aren't capitalistic enough! This works well for climate change (and many environmental issues) but not for social issues like Health Care and poverty.

    Re: Asbestos

    They haven't stopped mining asbestos. Not here in Canada anyways. We ship it to thrid world countries that don't have many regulations regarding asbestos. But the asbestos industry has declined significantly. Why? Because most countries did ban, or severely regulate the stuff. Why? Because it caused significant externalities (aka cancer).

    @Gilles

    Much of what you have written assumes that carbon pricing policies will cause emissions to become very expensive in developed countries while continuing to be cheap in developing countries.

    Obviously that would lead to a situation where emissions are shifted out of developed countries, but not actually reduced.

    In fact I have already touched on this in this thread. Needless to say that this scenario wouldn't work. Eventually policies to limit GHG emissions will have to spread to developing nations, which will be a double challenge because due to the poverty issues that face.

    All I am arguing for is that developed nations (on in this case provinces) take the lead (but not get too far ahead), then help developing nations catch up. So far even this has proved to be too much for most jurisdictions.

    But I don't see any other way to solve the issue.

    BTW this (which I stole from Forbes) is the shape I would like global policy to take.
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    Moderator Response: [mc] Please restrict image width to 500 by including width=500 or less within the IMG tag.
  22. #Dan : I understand that you're speaking of annual rate B(t), not the integrated quantity C. please read again the post here about the discussion of the peak date. With a finite, bell-shaped resource, decreasing the consumption at some time doesn't insure that the integral will decrease, because the spared FF will simply be burnt later (and the two curves intersect at some time). And developed nations consumption per capita, multiplied by the number of human beings, exceeds by far the production capacities of the world.

    Anyway, before a tax could change significantly the annual consumption of western countries, it should first give a hint of visible effect ! putting real figures, which rate of decrease of FF consumption in western countries do you expect, for which amount of tax ?
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  23. "If you want this comparison : If cigarettes were a finite resource and if we only taxed them, but not banned them, then the total number of smoked cigarettes would be exactly the same, whatever the tax is : just the initial number. Cigarettes are renewable, not stock goods. If they were, they would have exactly the same problem as FF. Are you just being deliberately obtuse not to understand that?"

    No, its only you who continue to be deliberately obtuse. If a safer & cheaper alternative to cigarettes existed, then people would begin switching to that alternative, so the number of smoked cigarettes would decline-as will be the case with fossil fuels vs renewable energy. Of course, we all know that a combination of taxes & warnings *is* leading to a decrease in the number of cigarettes smoked as (a) people who already smoke choose to smoke fewer cigarettes, (b) people who already smoke choose to quit & (c) as fewer people take up the habit. So you see that, once again, your claims are completely *bogus*.
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  24. @ Gilles " With a finite, bell-shaped resource, decreasing the consumption at some time doesn't insure that the integral will decrease, because the spared FF will simply be burnt later"

    Again this assumes that some countries will not implement policy to reduce GHG emissions (be it a tax or something else). If they do, and that policy is effective, we can expect the integrated quantity of GHG emissions to decrease.

    If China (for example) does nothing, ever, then that wont be the case, and you would be correct. But I doubt anyone here thinks otherwise.
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  25. BTW I am making the assumption that a awsome technofix wont make FFs obsolete. But I think, unfortunately, that this is a safe bet.
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  26. "which "fossil fuel industry" does control chinese coal extraction? which one makes Icelandic people import so much oil , although they have plenty of renewable energy? again, in which world are you living?"

    Hmmm, I could ask you which world you're living in, given that you seem not to have heard of companies like BHP, Rio Tinto, Shell, ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP....need I go on? All of these companies benefit from the continued sale of fossil fuels, & all have continued to manipulate government policies in order to ensure that Business as Usual continues. Once again you cite Iceland, even though you've been *told*, numerous times, that the oil is there to fuel their cars-something that their renewable energy industry hasn't yet substituted. Interestingly, though, oil consumption *peaked* in Iceland between 1998-2006, & has even fallen slightly from that peak over the last 4 years, & is predicted to fall further still. So here is yet another claim of yours that on even cursory examination is utterly bogus.
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  27. @ Dan Moutal. The fact is that China is already doing its best to limit the amount of energy it gets from fossil fuels-& is already a leader in the amount of energy it gets from renewable energy sources. At the same time its already put schemes in place to limit the energy intensity of their economy going forward. So its pretty much wishful thinking to assume that China won't do as much-if not more-to curb fossil fuel use as developed nations. However, I've noticed that wishful thinking is all Gilles actually has.
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  28. "well may be you should write all energy agencies and tell the authors of SRES that they're all totally wrong, because I don't know *any* projection from them that doesn't show a net increase of FF in poor countries. Do you mean they only publish garbage (including SRES ?)"

    You keep making this claim-but you've yet to provide evidence to back it up-why is that? I'm fairly certain that the projections you refer to-assuming they even exist-are based purely on *business as usual* approaches to development-a position no doubt pushed forcefully by the fossil fuel industry when these projections are being put together. However, I've shown you many perfectly good examples-in developed & developing nations-where there is little if any link between per capita GDP & per capita CO2 emissions. I've also shown plenty of examples where developed nations have achieved increased GDP growth whilst reducing their energy consumption *and* their CO2 emissions per dollar of GDP-all of which *proves* that you do *not* need to burn fossil fuels to improve standards of living-but that other factors, such as improved education, health-care, welfare & gender equality & income equality are much much bigger factors in reducing poverty.
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  29. Marcus : I carefully insisted on the difference between annual rate and total integrated number, but you still use them in a confuse way. When you say :" Of course, we all know that a combination of taxes & warnings *is* leading to a decrease in the number of cigarettes smoked as (a) people who already smoke choose to smoke fewer cigarettes, (b) people who already smoke choose to quit & (c) as fewer people take up the habit"

    do you speak of the annual consumption or of a total consumption , in the case where cigarettes were in finite amount. If you want, to make the discussion clearer, we can replace "cigarettes" by "bottle of Bordeaux 1985 (excellent year)" : they ARE in finite amount. So you can restrain the drinking of wine, per year, but the final question is : are there bottles that you will never open, yes, or no ? If yes : why? if no : then the final total number of opened bottles is the same, whatever the rate.

    So the real question is : are there fossil fuels that we'll never extract with a tax, that we would have extracted without it ? and if yes, how much can we spare, with which amount of tax ? do you have an idea ?
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  30. Marcus : 78 : I ask you two precise questions :

    * do you know one single scenario , from an official agency or from the SRES, that predicts the possibility of developing poor countries without increasing their FF consumption, whether it is BAUsual or BAUnusual (I don't care about mottos) ? and if yes , can you give me the reference?

    * do you know one single western country, say member of OECD, whose FF consumption per capita, multiplied by the number of human beings likely to live in the XXIth century, wouldn't exceed by far the known FF reserves, and if yes , can you tell me which one ?

    that's basic, factual data. The rest is imagination, wishful thinking, and hand-waving- you're free to imagine what you want, but I'll stick to facts.
    0 0
  31. Sphaerica@51 you missed out education from your list. This is probably the greatest influence on human behaviour. It tends to be long term and can change entire nations and cultures.
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  32. "So the real question is : are there fossil fuels that we'll never extract with a tax, that we would have extracted without it ? and if yes, how much can we spare, with which amount of tax ? do you have an idea ?"

    The answer to the first question is *yes*-if the price of extraction continues to increase due to taxation & reduced supply, but total demand dwindles, again due to increased cost, then eventually the oil industry will have no choice but to reduce & finally end fossil fuel extraction altogether. This will probably occur without taxation, but will happen much slower. What I do know, though, is that we *cannot* afford to extract & burn fossil fuels at the current rate, for both social & environmental reasons-that's a fact that none of your wishful thinking can get us around.
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  33. Gilles@80

    Most developing poor countries can increase their carbon footprint per capita without blowing their budget. The problem is wealthy nations, because they rely on old technology and an established fossil fuel culture.

    Don't say you are quoting 'factual' data just to make yourself sound impressive or more credible.
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  34. @ Gilles #80.

    "* do you know one single scenario , from an official agency or from the SRES, that predicts the possibility of developing poor countries without increasing their FF consumption, whether it is BAUsual or BAUnusual (I don't care about mottos) ? and if yes , can you give me the reference?"

    You claim you don't care about "mottoes", but which approach we use entirely the point-clearly you're just confused-a common failing with you. All existing predictions of future fossil fuel use in developing nations-that I've seen-are based on a Business as Usual approach-which of course skews the results. That doesn't mean that this is the way development has to go. Nor, in fact, has increased fossil fuel consumption guaranteed improvements in standards of living-as countries like Nigeria, Indonesia & Saudi Arabia can attest. Countries such as Sweden, Iceland, France & Germany represent perfect examples of where GDP has continued to rise whilst CO2 emissions have continued to fall-a fact that you continue to ignore. So, Gilles, we're all still waiting for you to present your "real, factual data", but instead all we've gotten from you is the your usual wishful thinking & hand-waving exercises-something which is becoming increasingly *tedious*, as I'm sure everyone else here will attest.
    0 0
  35. Gilles:
    "the real reason why carbon emissions rise is not because people by SUVs instead of fuel-efficient cars. It's because people who were deprived of cars are able to buy one, increasing the number of cars."

    Someone isn't deprived because they do not own a car. I haven't owned a car for over 10 years. In places like China, electric cycle sales are far higher than car sales.
    You also neglect the fact that the production or 4x4s (SUV is not a global term) is a part of the car production system. The mass production of cheaper vehicles is a part of the same system that produces 4x4s. If you buy a 4x4 then you are buying into the increasing sales of cheaper cars.
    0 0
  36. Marcus : you keep saying qualitative things, without answering precise questions. Do you admit first that the answer to my two questions are

    a) none
    b) none

    ?
    0 0
  37. TheVille : please be more quantitative, too.
    #83 : what is a for you a reasonable carbon footprint in tCO2/capita/year, and for how long ?

    #85 : How many people in the world should have a car, ideally , following you, and for how long ?

    I need figures before answering.
    0 0
  38. I don't answer your questions because-in spite of your claims, there is nothing *precise* or even *sensible* about either question. Ask questions that are precise, easily understood & on-topic & maybe I'd be prepared to answer them.

    This, however, might be of interest-there is a study by researchers at the Harvard University and Tsinghua University which suggests that China could meet *all* of its electricity needs from Wind alone by 2030 Sort of puts paid to your idea that *only* fossil fuel consumption can help Countries lift their standard of living.
    0 0
  39. Gilles @ #86 & #87. Excuse me, but we've already given you plenty of quantitative answers-both in this blog & in previous ones. Your response to our answers have been to simply trot out the same industry propaganda time & time again. Personally, I think everyone here has been more than patient with you-far more patient with you than you actually deserve-given that you *clearly* don't want to listen to any answer that flies in the face of your ideology.

    For the record, yet again, I don't think we can sustain our current levels of fossil fuel consumption world wide, simply because it probably *will* run out before the end of this century. That, along with all the toxic byproducts generated by fossil fuel burning, are perfectly valid reasons for using whatever mechanisms are at our disposal to reduce global consumption of fossil fuels. Several jurisdictions have proven that a tax-based approach can be successful in achieving this goal-so what *exactly* is it that you're having a problem understanding?
    0 0
  40. Oh, & there's another document I just looked at which predicts the amount of energy China gets from coal will drop to only 30%-50% of total energy consumption-a prediction made by Chinese Energy Experts. Given that these same energy experts predict that total energy consumption will eventually be *less* than it currently, it does kind of wreck, once again, this notion that *only* fossil fuels are capable of reducing poverty. Another nation where this doesn't apply is Indonesia-a nation that could greatly benefit from a distributed generation framework based around a combination of Geothermal, Tidal, Wind & Solar energy. I doubt that Indonesia would need to build even a single coal or nuclear power plant in order to meet similar levels of per-capita energy demand as currently exists in the OECD.
    0 0
  41. Gilles:
    "what is a for you a reasonable carbon footprint in tCO2/capita/year, and for how long ?"

    The per capita footprint for most poor developing countries is well under 1 tonne, in many cases it is below 0.5 tonnes.
    Whilst the US has about 20 tonnes per capita.
    Even by ignoring climate change issues, it indicates that the US is wasteful and bloated, whilst others survive on a lot less.

    Even in comparison to Europe, the US is bloated and wasteful.
    0 0
  42. Gilles:
    "How many people in the world should have a car, ideally , following you, and for how long ?"

    You don't get the point at all.
    You don't need a car to live an advanced life style. If you believe that then you have been sold a false promise.
    0 0
  43. Marcus : "For the record, yet again, I don't think we can sustain our current levels of fossil fuel consumption world wide, simply because it probably *will* run out before the end of this century. "

    Right. On this point I fully agree with you. Now I remind you the set of SRES scenarios



    http://www.bbc.co.uk/sn/hottopics/climatechange/climate_challenge/images/illustration1.gif

    as you can see, the overwhelming majority of scenarios don't predict any "run out" with levels of consumption much higher than the current one. So can you explain me the discrepancy ? are you holding that the set of SRES scenarios is strongly biased towards unrealistic high consumption levels ?
    0 0
    Moderator Response: [DB] Enlarged image and added source link.
  44. "The total amount of FF consumed integrated over time is not the correct metric to look at. The natural environment has been taking up about half our emissions every year; if the rate of our emission remain below the level that the natural environment can absorb (loosely speaking), then atmospheric CO2 will not rise at an unmanagable rate. Thus if alternatives cut the rate of our emissions sufficienlty, the consumption of FF consumed integrated over time is essentially irrelevant. Burning all the FF is fine, provided we don't do it faster than the environment (possibly with our help) can cope with. "

    Yet when in 1970ish carbon emissions were below current land based natural sink absorption (3 billion tonnes carbon) yet atmospheric CO2 was still rising and it shouldn't have been according to your premise.

    Also it is generally accepted that the world is going warm up another 0.6C at least whatever happens. Everytime in the past when the world has warmed the amount of CO2 in the atmopshere (with all the natural sinks intact and larger (there were more forests bach then)!) has risen, so why now should the sinks act in a way to draw down CO2 when the world is warming and absorb any extra CO2 emitted by man?

    Also when the oceans warm they can hold less CO2, the ice melting over the Arctic is most liklely to create an additional CO2 source, plant pests are increasing which decreases land sinks and causes releases of CO2, as the temperature rise and autumn extends respiration increases releasign more CO2, the boreal forest in Canada has been a CO2 source since 2000, the 2010 Amazon drought just released a huge amount of carbon, the oceanic sink of Japan, Northern Atlantic and Southern ocean have all decreased their rate of CO2 removal and the Southern westerlies are heading south which again should turn the southern ocean from a sink to a source as the warming contiues. C4 plants (most grasses) don't respond to CO2 fertilization and large amounts of land have been converted to grassland rather than forest, the permafrost is melting, peat bogs are emitting more and more CO2, and as the climate changes it is predicted that many climatic systems will shift again stressing the natural sinks, add in all the other destruction of the natural sinks (deforoestation, pesticides, massive over fishing etc) and suggesting that natural sinks mean we can continue to burn fossil fuels just at the correct rate is at best dangerous.

    Also considering the Pliocene 350ppm is where we need to get and asap to avoid 2C in 100years, so don't we need every single drop of natural sink CO2 absorption to get anywhere near that and cease all FF emissions asap as well.

    And lastly all renewables and nuclear are not carbon neutral and are not environmentally neutral either, I would suggest looking up tri-nitro flouride and the fate of migratory bats in the US just reported in science express and impacts this will have farmland pests. And also look up the CO2 costs of biofuels as it is most commonly found they have a larger CO2 legacy than oil!

    Now don't get me wrong I in no way advocate using FF either, the crux of the matter is we need to use a lot less power and stop consuming none necessaries.

    So basically impossible, so maybe we should start planning for the consequences of >2C and that does mean....not worth even saying is it.
    0 0
  45. "as you can see, the overwhelming majority of scenarios don't predict any "run out" with levels of consumption much higher than the current one. So can you explain me the discrepancy ? are you holding that the set of SRES scenarios is strongly biased towards unrealistic high consumption levels ?"

    Clearly you can't read a graph. The majority of those scenarios show a leveling off of CO2 emissions before the end of the century. Given that the bulk of the rise in CO2 emissions are expected to occur *before* 2050, I don't think they're based on "unrealistically" high consumption levels. Also, don't forget that deforestation is adding to CO2 emissions too-& that there is the CO2 currently stored in the oceans which warming will cause to be released. So the SRES scenarios are *not* based purely on fossil fuel consumption-which wants again highlights how your previous statements are based on a complete ignorance of what the SRES scenarios *actually* represent.
    0 0
  46. "Yet when in 1970ish carbon emissions were below current land based natural sink absorption (3 billion tonnes carbon) yet atmospheric CO2 was still rising and it shouldn't have been according to your premise"

    You're right , ranyl, I forgot to answer this one....

    it is totally incorrect to think that if we lower the CO2 production, the natural sinks will keep absorbing the half of the current production : they will absorb the half of the actual production - in a linearized model. That's because in a linearized approach as the Bern model, you should convolve the input emission by a "impulsive response" that behaves linearly with the emissions. If we lower the emissions, CO2 will first start to decrease, and then stabilize at a level when about one half of the real emission is absorbed (with an infinite absorption time, the amount of CO2 that will never be absorbed is about 20 % in the Bern model). This is irrespective of the rate at which we emit the CO2 - the final value will only depend on the total amount burnt.
    0 0
    Moderator Response: [Dikran Marsupial] That is not correct, to a first approximation environmental uptake is proportional to the difference between current atmospheric CO2 and its equilibrium concentration. The airborne fraction is only constant because our emissions are increasing approximately exponentially. The factor of about a half is only true while our emissions increase exponentially, it has no other significance. Stabilisation depends only on rates - to reach a new equilibrium our rate of emissions cannot exceed environmental uptake - that ought to be obvious. This is true regardless of how much has been emitted. Total emissions do dictate the maximum rate of emissions that allows stabilisation. The final level of CO2 in the atmosphere is pretty much irrelevant, if we take care to minimise the disruption over the next 100 years, the residual disruption hundreds of thousands of year hence will take care of itself. BTW the Bern model is non-linear, if it was linear they could evaluate it by simply performing the convolution rather than by a computationally expensive simulation.
  47. Marcus , you said it was impossible to sustain the current consumption. The CO2 emissions level off but at a much higher level than the current one. How is it possible if even the current one is unsustainable ?
    0 0
  48. I am astonished that Gilles at 80 is asking for a reference when he never supplies references. A search of the current threads of this website would find this peer reviewed article of generating all energy in the entire world (including developing countries) with renewables. Of course Gilles has limited his request to only official documents which have not been written yet.

    Gilles blather and the responses to him have dominated this site for the past month. Gilles never cites references to his claimed "facts". The comments policy should be altered to require citation of data by frequent posters so that if he continues to troll without any references he can be limited to one or two posts a day, or banned from the site if his posts continue to be unsupported. His posts are simply his uninformed, unsupported opinion and this site is supposed to evaluate the science and relevant measured data. He will never change his mind, he does not care what the data says.
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  49. "Marcus , you said it was impossible to sustain the current consumption. The CO2 emissions level off but at a much higher level than the current one. How is it possible if even the current one is unsustainable ?"

    What I meant was that it couldn't be sustained over the *long term*-seriously, your comprehension skills are utterly appalling. We can "sustain" a significant, global increase in fossil fuel consumption over the next 50 or so years (especially oil), but an increase in consumption *will* cause the fossil fuels to run out quicker than would otherwise be the case. The point is that we cannot *afford* to increase our consumption of fossil fuels-yet we are. Nations like the US can-& should-do more to reduce their consumption of fossil fuels-through energy efficiency & renewable energy measures. We should also be doing our level best to help the developing nations to do the same. This is a point which you *still* seem utterly unable to grasp.
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  50. I see the "FF running out soon" issue again.

    Oil should run out soon (decades). There is about 6+ times more carbon in the form of coal, though.
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