Thursday, September 27, 2007

Ontario Green Party Still Best for Environment Overall?

In my last blog post, I said that I supported many parts of the Green Party of Ontario platform, but I was critical of one of their central themes, shifting taxes from income to carbon. Today, a coalition of major environmental groups has, in effect, given the Green Party the highest overall score on a large number of environmental issues. The NDP were very close behind, though. And the Liberals were a close third -- but the Tories (er, Progressive, ahem, Conservatives) were so far behind that they barely even registered (Toronto Star story -- original coalition report).

The coalition unfortunately did not seem to ask about many economic policies that relate to environmental issues. What about pollution taxes, cap-and-trade, road subsidies and support for car-makers? Among other things, the report did nothing to reduce my unease with the Green Party's carbon tax plan.

Still, it's great to see that three out of the four parties are moving so close to the green side of many issues. The Green Party can probably take credit for keeping the topic on the agenda and goading other parties along. But this means that Ontario voters who care about the environment can now put more weight on other factors. I would still suggest looking at the parties' general social and economic policies.

[UPDATE September 28, 2007: speaking of social policies, I agree with Michelle Mann's view that on the issue of school funding,
"...the only party that has it right is the Greens, whose leader, Frank de Jong, supports moving to one publicly-funded school system."
Mann says that this would be constitutional, as proven by Manitoba, Newfoundland and Quebec. (See the above link for the legal mechanism.)

Sure fixing the general school funding formula is important, as the NDP's Howard Hampton keeps saying, but why waste any of of the added funds on duplication of services? Mann suggests that removing the duplication would save a lot of money that
"...could be directed to funding for autistic students, accessible post-secondary education and revitalizing a flailing public education system."
I would add that there could also be more funds for environmental education and energy-efficiency school retrofits.

Deciding which party to support is not easy, given the sheer number of issues and policy options on offer. That's another reason why I would love to have MMP. With two votes, one for local/party candidate, and one for party list, I could express my wishes views more accurately. I could in effect support two parties if both of them have good ideas.]

Discuss this on your own Blogger blog! Click on the post's title for a permalink in the Address Bar > highlight any text for quoting > click BlogThis!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

First, they tax your carbon, and then they tax your shirt? -- The Trouble with the Green Party of Ontario's "Tax Shifting" Proposal

I've blogged (here and here) that the Green Party of Ontario (GPO) should be in the Legislature, to help keep Climate Change on the agenda. I agree with many points in their 2007 Platform, and I still think that they should have a voice in the Legislature (and I still support MMP). Having said this, I have problems with the GPO's proposal to shift revenues from the income tax to a carbon tax ("pay for what you burn, not for what you earn"). Better alternatives exist, including direct regulation and cap-and-trade.

The GPO wants to tax carbon and to cut carbon emissions to zero. In fact, they want a 100% renewable energy system (including a nuclear power phase-out). I support this goal, but I question the GPO's proposed way of getting there. There is a conflict of interest between relying on carbon revenues and eliminating the revenue source (remember Tobacco Taxes and Lotteries?..).

I raised this concern, among others, directly with GPO Leader Frank de Jong on a CBC radio phone-in on September 20, 2007*. Unfortunately, his answers made me even more wary. He said that once carbon is phased out, the GPO would make up the revenues by raising taxes on things like food, clothing and shelter:

“Your point about you know, let’s say if we continue to raise the tax on cigarettes, and sooner or later everyone will stop smoking, and then up -- uh, your revenue stream will dry up. But I think we will always need products, we’ll always need resources, we'll always need, you know, clothing, and food, and stuff to build houses with, so there will always be something to collect as much General Revenue as you need. And it will be a a continuous virtual spiral toward sustainability. It’s a long process but we got to get started at it” [my transcript of Frank de Jong's remarks; my bolding].
Hear for yourself: on the ODEO player below, click Play, wait for the player to buffer the whole file, and drag the slider to around 00:04:19.

powered by ODEO

The phone-in show cut me off before I could retort, to the tune of ‘First, we take Manhattan’:
First, they’ll tax your carbon, and then they’ll tax your shirt!
(With apologies to Leonard Cohen :-)

Some "spiral toward sustainability"!

Sure, taxing carbon instead of income today would mean "taxing bad instead of good". But taxing food, shelter and clothing instead of income would mean "taxing good instead of good". Worse yet, consumption taxes are notoriously more regressive than income taxes. Consumption taxes do not take into account ability to pay. The GPO leader seemed to have no problem with that. I do.


I had actually started debating carbon taxes with one of the candidates for the federal Green Party of Canada (GPC), Glenn Hubbers, Newmarket-Aurora, on his blog (here and here -- see my Comments). The GPC also supports carbon taxes, e.g. "$50/tonne".

Then the GPO announced that a carbon tax would be an even bigger part of their 2007 Platform. Frank de Jong, Leader of the Green Party of Ontario (CBC profile), was on the CBC Radio Ontario Noon Phone-In show on September 20, 2007. I managed to get through and challenge him on-air to justify his Party's carbon tax plan. In particular, I asked:

  • What is the price-elasticity of carbon emissions, i.e. how much would their tax really reduce emissions? Where is the economic modelling?
  • The GPO Platform calls for a transition to a 100% renewable energy system—what would happen to the revenue from the carbon tax then?
  • There is a conflict of interest between wanting more revenue and less carbon emissions. This would weaken incentive for Government to drive emissions to zero—think of the Tobacco Tax & Lotteries.
  • A carbon tax is regressive, like any consumption tax. Income tax relief may help some of the poor, but not all. Increased Northern/Rural subsidies may help others, but at cost of encouraging further inefficient development (e.g. the proposed Green Party subsidies to airports, even if they would be in the North?..)
  • They also want to phase out nuclear power, but they are not proposing a tax on Uranium. Apparently, nuclear power would be phased out entirely by regulation, not taxation. Why not use regulation instead of taxes for carbon as well?
  • Why not expand the carbon cap-and-trade system that GPO also proposes? (See more below.)

Unfortunately, I don't think that he answered most of my questions, though in fairness the phone-in format makes it difficult to conduct an in-depth debate. Further comments from GPO supporters (and opponents) are very welcome.

You can listen to the part of the show that contained my questions and Frank de Jong’s response using the ODEO player below, or you can download the MP3 from (4.3 MB).

powered by ODEO

[UPDATE, September 26, 2007: After posting this blog entry, I discovered that Marc Lee, a Senior Economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, had made many similar points about carbon taxes in the Progressive Economics Forum here and here. He also agreed somewhat reluctantly in a Comment to a post that putting carbon tax moneys into an arms-length fund might be better than putting them into General Revenue. I prefer cap-and-trade, which sounds simpler and more direct to me -- see below.]

More on cap-and-trade:

One advantage of cap-and-trade is that it does not make governments dependent on carbon revenues. The money from high emitters goes to low emitters through a private (regulated) carbon market. The incentives to reduce emissions are very clear, with no conflicts of interest. Prices on carbon-heavy products go up, but prices on carbon-light products come down, which eases the effect on consumers. Progressive income taxes and redistribution can help take care of the rest in the usual way.

* You can hear the entire September 20, 2007 phone-in on the CBC Ontario Today archive site (in Real Audio format - direct link). Unfortunately, they only keep these free links for 30 days, after which you have to pay some other company for a recording or transcript.

Discuss this on your own Blogger blog! Click on this post's title for a permalink in the Address Bar > highlight any text for quoting > click BlogThis!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

"Eat less meat, reduce global heat" -- But Why Stop at 10% ?

Reducing meat consumption is a great way to reduce carbon emissions, according to an article in the respected scientific journal, The Lancet (CBC News Report). While the scientific article itself is not openly accessible, here's what the Summary of the article on the Lancet's web site says:
"Worldwide average meat consumption could be realistically reduced by 10% to reduce the already substantial impact of livestock production on greenhouse gas emissions. This would also reduce health risks associated with very high consumption of red meat. The fifth paper in the series entitled "Food, livestock production, energy, climate change, and health." comments that the Global average meat consumption is currently 100g per person per day, with about a ten-fold variation between high-consuming and low-consuming populations. 90g per day is proposed as a working global target, shared more evenly, and with not more than 50g per day coming from red meat from ruminants (i.e., cattle, sheep, goats, and other digrastic grazers)."
But as I've said before, who needs meat anyway? Tasty vegetarian food can easily give you all the proteins you need, and could even make you healthier. Good for you, good for the planet and tastes great -- the time is now!


On CBC Radio News, a representative of the Canadian cattle industry has claimed that they could actually benefit from the Lancet report. He argued that Canadian cattle spend more of their time in open pastures than on feedlots than in other countries, and manure dropped on pastures actually returns carbon to the soil. He even predicted a rise in Canadian beef exports as other countries realize the benefits of Canada's "green" beef.

What a load of B.S., almost literally! Canadian cattle cannot possibly spend all their time outside -- at least until Global Warming wipes out the little thing that dumps snow all over the ground and makes the air too cold for cattle to be outside for months on end... What's it called? Oh, yeah, Canadian Winter! The carbon in cattle manure on the ground has to come from plants and soil in the first place -- why not leave most of it there instead of cycling it through cattle? As I've mentioned, we could feed many more people on the same amount of land (or use less land for the same population) if we didn't run the nutrients through the wasteful animal cycle, but fed the crops directly to people. Finally, the methane that cattle belch out or fart just goes into the atmosphere a little bit faster if the cows are outside.

In any event, meat exports mean refrigerated/freezer containers being shipped to other countries -- more carbon emissions from an already cruel and polluting industry.

(Hmm... why do I feel hungry for a good vegetarian meal all of a sudden?.. The black beans, spices, veggies, pressure cooker and cast-iron skillet beckon... :-)

Discuss this on your own Blogger blog! Click the post title for a permalink in the Address Bar > highlight any text for quoting > click BlogThis!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Ontario - A Vote for MMP is a Vote Against CO2

I've argued in this blog that voting for MMP in the October 10 Referendum would be good for the environment and climate change policy. Cameron Smith obviously agrees, for reasons that are complementary to mine. He writes in the Toronto Star that
"Right now, the most important environmental issue facing Ontario is whether proportional representation will be adopted. Voters in the Oct. 10 election will make the decision.

"The current system of voting delivers unequal representation, which inevitably distorts the wishes of the public. How else to explain why the government at Queen's Park has kept a weak minister in the environment portfolio while the public has made it clear that environmental deterioration is a top-of-the-mind concern?"

He says that this happens because
"The current [Ontario electoral] system breeds instability. It's a blood sport, where opposition parties focus more on gaining power than on good government, largely because they have little hand in creating policies and have no commitment to them.

"As a result, government policies often have a short life span. In the face of global warming, short-term, ever-changing policies are a recipe for disaster."

He argues among other things that
"...proportional representation will result in more minority governments and coalitions, which means responsibility for government policies would lie with more than one party." [Bolding added throughout.]
According to Arend Lijphart
Lijphartconclusions on environmental policies? Consensus democracies have lower carbon dioxide emissions, fertilizer consumption, deforestation and higher energy efficiency" [bolding added].
I take it that "consensus democracy" means that more than one party has to agree on policy, because governments are formed by coalition. That's more frequent under forms of Proportional Representation (like MMP) than under our current "first-past-the-post" or "winner take all" system. I would have to read the book to find out more.

General theories aside, as I've argued, MMP would probably mean Green Party members in the Legislature by 2011. No MMP would likely mean this Party being shut out again. The same applies to the federal Parliament and many other provincial Legislatures. This hard reality makes it critical for the the MMP side in Ontario to win -- and for similar reforms to prevail Canada-wide in the coming years.

Discuss this on your own Blogger blog! Click here for a permalink in the Address Bar > highlight any text for quoting > click BlogThis!