British Columbia has an effective and politically popular carbon tax

In October 2013 the Los Angeles Times announced that the climate change debate was over and they will no longer be publishing letters from climate deniers. Great news.

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We live in a convenient spot for family travellers so have had a lot of visitors. Between visitors I have been thinking and reading on the politics of climate change. I noticed that since I started on twitter I have gradually become more and more interested in the topic. The typhoon in the Philippines this year made us all sit up and refocus our efforts to ensure there is a liveable planet for our descendants.

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We live in New Zealand and have watched Australian politics closely. It is been blindingly obvious that a carbon tax can be a recipe for animosity and political suicide both within and between parties. But the bitterness and vindictiveness can all be avoided.

So I was very excited when I read about what had happened over the last five years in British Columbia. They have had a carbon tax since July 2008, starting at the rate of $10 a tonne and increasing every year till this year it was $30 a tonne. In contrast to Australia, the carbon tax has been remarkably successful, both from the point of view of reducing emissions and keeping the economy healthy. Strangely enough it has also kept the government in power.

Why is this? Because they have wisely made it revenue neutral. The Minister of Revenue is obliged by law to look at the tax take from carbon tax and reduce other taxes by at least as much. So it isn’t a tax grab. It is a tax shift away from taxing things you want to encourage such as work, to taxing things you want to discourage such as pollution.

Energy policy activist Charles Komanoff in 2007 co-founded the Carbon Tax Center, website http://carbontax.org. On it Komanoff has written a summary of carbon taxes in various countries and starts with British Columbia. Komanoff believes that support for a carbon tax is growing steadily among public officials, economists, scientists, policy experts, business, religious, environmental leaders and ordinary citizens.

Komanoff is an advocate of revenue neutral carbon taxes. The state does not gain tax revenue from it. James Hansen, an American adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University and author of The Storms of My Grandchildren also recommends a fee and dividend system where all the carbon taxes collected are returned to the people.

But what is the best method of distributing the carbon tax money to citizens? I think it is the one used by Alaska which has the Alaska Permanent Fund which pays a yearly dividend to all residents who have lived there more than a year. This system is the closest thing to a basic income guarantee that exists in the world today. It is a small, yearly dividend, financed indirectly from oil revenues, paid by the state government to every citizen who lives in Alaska — including all children.

British Columbia has implemented a carbon tax which is revenue neutral, but they would have been better to use the Alaskan method of fair distribution. We can learn from both, and bring the best of each together.

What astonishes me most about the British Columbia carbon tax is the politics. Five years ago it was implemented in 2008 by the the BC Liberal Party, the party further to the right with the most free market policies. The left leaning BC New Democratic Party wanted to repeal the carbon tax but the BC Liberal Party was re-elected in 2009 and then again in 2013. Income taxes are now down to 10% and the drop in fossil fuel use over the five years has been 17% per capita.

A carbon tax makes sense whether you are a conservative or a conservationist, Labour or National, a climate skeptic or a believer. Right and left must unite on this vital issue as the biosphere is no respecter of political views. As academic Guy McPherson says “Nature Bats Last”. It is time the left leaning parties started to understand that tax shifts are not only politically popular but essential if we are to curb climate change. Adam Smith’s invisible hand works well when people are handed a dividend. On the whole the people will spend it wisely.

Why Climate Change is such a Difficult Political Issue

TOPSHOTS-PHILIPPINES-WEATHER-TYPHOONIt has finally struck me, albeit in the middle of the night. I have been pondering why, in the face of all the evidence and despite a growing willingness on the part of all nations to address the issue, efforts to reverse climate change are so insipid. Climate change is still in the too-hard basket. Conference after annual conference never fails to disappoint us and Warsaw 2013 wasn’t much different. A Guardian commentator called Warsaw "more like a shuffling of feet".

OK what is this Road to Damascus discovery? It is to do with affordability. We are trying to add an extra tax, a carbon tax in a context of deflation, where the affordability of everything is declining. Prices are going up relative to disposable income. We are losing our purchasing power (well apart from the 1% I suppose). So it is no surprise the climate change issue is too hard for politicians. Given the choice of putting up petrol and electricity costs when their constituents are already suffering, politicians will kick for touch and argue they need a ‘balance’. Disappointment is inevitable.

Well then how do you solve this political problem? The answer is by addressing the affordability issue head on.

So let’s look at what is reducing the purchasing power of people on this planet? Why, it is the same old two culprits – the bank issued money system and the illogical tax system.

What do I mean? Well if money is issued as interest bearing debt, then interest is built into the price of all goods. How? Every car comes out of a factory whose owners borrowed money at interest from banks. Every piece of furniture, clothing and kitchen goods is manufactured where the owner borrowed money from a bank at interest to do so. Every potato, every steak, every drop of milk and every orange came from a farm whose owners were mired in debt to a bank. The cost of the bank interest is built into the price of all goods. So if we issue money without debt the price of goods relative to wages will drop. Purchasing power will increase. Affordability will improve.

Then there is the incredibly silly tax system. When we tax labour, every manufacturer or primary industry producer has to build the tax in to the price of their goods. Take off income tax and your purchasing power increases. It is the same as GST and company tax and a range of other illogical taxes.

So part of the price of all primary produce and manufactured good is the burdensome tax and the totally unnecessary interest charged when issuing money. Solve those two problems and our purchasing power rises.

Our solution of having a parallel national currency spent into existence without interest and unburdened by these deadweight taxes will dramatically give more purchasing power. Affordability will improve. See this slideshow or read this site for more on this.

So when we change the tax system away from taxing labour and sales and towards charging rents on the right to use the commons, including the biosphere, it will be politically more possible to do something significant about climate change. After all, in proposing a carbon tax, climate change activists are only asking for a regular rental on the right to use the biosphere to get rid of their greenhouse gases.

If a currency flows freely through the economy and only meets opposition when it comes up against the constraints of the commons, it will stimulate innovation in producing and manufacturing clean liquid fuels and give impetus to the whole post fossil fuel economy. The term "green growth" will transform from rhetoric to reality and innovation will thrive.

Tradeable Ration Coupons to Address Climate Change and Alleviate Poverty

On Sunday at 4pm I was lucky enough to hear a wonderful talk on sustainability and economic growth by economist Gareth Morgan on Radio New Zealand, followed by an interview with Kim Hill.

Gareth listed some horrifying facts about how badly New Zealand was doing in reducing its carbon emissions. He referred more than once to the importance of having tradeable rights for emissions. That reminded me of something I have been reading from an excellent little 1999 book called The Ecology of Money by the late Richard Douthwaite. Chapter 4, which is on the web, outlines his proposal for an international currency, the EBCU (environmentally backed currency unit) designed to reduce carbon emissions.

He says “We want to link our monetary unit to something that discourages fossil fuel use even when there is pressure for an expansion of the amount of money in circulation.”

He says set the global limits and share them out among the nations of the world on the basis of their population in a certain base year. Ration out the rights to all human beings on earth. “Some nations would find themselves consuming less than their allocation, and others more, so it is proposed that the under consumers should have the right to sell their surplus to more energy intensive lands.”

Like Gareth Morgan, Richard says make the rights tradeable, but in a suitably designed international currency. (if we use the existing currencies the poor countries will still be cheated by the rich ones and will end up no better off. He explains that most countries keep their US dollars and Euros for reserves so that wouldn't end up with the right effect) Then after they have all been traded in for emissions and cancelled, issue less the next year in the same way.

And the ration coupons are something called Special Emission Rights SER assigned by the IMF. It all gets a bit confusing and I struggle to understand it.

If you read Douthwaite’s chapter 4 it is clear that he has based it on the Contraction and Convergence model of the Global Commons Institute (GCI). He also talks about the work of an independent economist David Fleming. Fleming envisaged that perhaps 45% of each country's allocation would be shared out equally among its population in the form of 'domestic tradable quotas' (DTQs). These would have to be surrendered in addition to cash whenever people purchased electricity or fuel.  And if you want to find more a search will lead you to a paper by Molly Scott Cato and Tony Cooper of the GCI. This gives some figures.

In my efforts to understand it better, I emailed Molly but she hadn’t done any more work on it since she wrote it. It seems David Fleming died in 2010 and Richard died last year. So I am trying to track down Tony Cooper of the Global Commons Institute. Maybe someone else can help me understand it better?

So I was thinking about this in relation to our country’s carbon emissions. We could issue ration coupons to all New Zealanders, enough to allow for the current carbon emissions. Then we should allow people to sell their rights, but not in New Zealand dollars. They can be bought and sold only in our proposed domestic-only currency, the Zeal.

The effect would be that there would be a transfer of wealth from the high carbon emitters to the low carbon emitters.

We had ration coupons during the Second World War. I remember my mother taking her ration book to the shop to buy sugar, meat and clothing. You needed them as well as money. You couldn't trade them then. And of course petrol was rationed.

Wilberforce award of $1million for viable solution to economic growth

It is here. It has been two years now since Dick Smith offered this award but he has apparently not found anyone who meets his criteria. At the time he said "So today I am announcing Dick Smith’s Wilberforce Award – $1 million to go to a young person under 30 who can impress me by becoming famous through his or her ability to show leadership in communicating an alternative to our population and consumption growth-obsessed economy. I will be looking for candidates whose actions over the next year show that they have what it takes to be among the next generation of leaders our incredible planet so badly needs. Candidates will need to have a firm belief that we can have a viable and strong world economy that is no longer obsessed with growth for its own sake, but instead encourages both a stable population and sustainable consumption of energy and resources. They must be able to communicate that we cannot continue to squander the resources that will be needed by future generations, and they must also be able to communicate a plan that offers an alternative to our growth addiction." And five days ago he released it again in the NZ media, suggesting there might be a kiwi who was going to be showing up. There is also a youtube video of the original launch. It looks as though Dick Smith is coming to Queenstown on 14 Sept for Tomorrow's Business Forum. He says we are 'sleepwalking to catastrophe'.  Have we any young New Economics Party people who would like to show leadership? Our party is about exactly what Dick Smith is asking for, a viable economic solution to protect future generations. You can't apply for this prize, you have to demonstrate leadership.

What I learnt on twitter and in a websearch today

China's catastrophic deleveraging has begun. Jesse Colombo is a wonderful researcher of housing bubbles which always precede recessions, and his piece on housing in a range of countries is outstanding. Beijing housing prices are up 800% since 2003. There are bubbles in Hong Kong, Australia, South Korea, Finland etc etc. China. After Spain's housing bubble collapse their cement use dropped 60%. China's cement increase in one year was 25 times what America uses. This site is always being updated. Steve Keen is following the Canadian housing bubble and is closely watching house prices and unemployment in Australia. Also go to http://thebubblebubble.com. One quarter of homes  built in US last month were bigger than 3000 sq feet. Annette Sykes thinks John Key should either get a law degree or stay quiet about Maori water rights. Goldman Sachs executives in 2010 took away $15.3 billion in bonuses, enough to feed every hungry person on the planet. They are setting up office in Perth. The film by Renegade Economist's Ross Ashcroft, The Four Horsemen,won a prize for the best documentary at the Galway Film Festival. There are freak tornadoes in Poland, droughts in US, floods in the North Island. A record amount of Arctic Sea Ice was melted in June. There is a website called http://unlearningeonomics.wordpress.com. I guess there is a bit of unlearning to do! Various people are working out if Australia and NZ are being hit by the LIBOR scandal. Paula Bazarotti writes on the Democrats for Social Credit website that "Vast sums of money - up to $500 trillion are notionally attached to Libor. If the Libor rate is manipulated by just the tiniest amount - 0.0001 per cent - it can create a profit or loss of $50 billion."

Agrarian anarchist Professor Dr Guy McPherson speaks to Kim Hill

The promos for the Kim Hill interview announced that Guy McPherson's recipe for saving humanity is to help the global economic system collapse! Fly and help rise the price of oil, then it will collapse and we can save the planet. Take your money out of the big banks too. The Radio New Zealand podcast can be accessed here. This turns environmentalists' thinking on its head.

Guy lives on a rock in the middle of a desert in New Mexico with his small community. His visit to New Zealand has made a remarkable impact. I had never heard of him before three weeks ago and we were lucky enough to host him and his super wife Sheila last Monday and have him show his life changing slide show in our home.

And I have bought his book Walking away from Empire. It is the stimulation from people like Guy that challenges my beliefs. He says we are now at the stage with climate change where the positive feedbacks are kicking in and we are on target for a six degree warming by 2035. The International Energy Association forecast this if it is business as usual. Only if nations honour their promises will we get to 3.5 degrees by 2035 and they are not going to do this.

He told us that climate change activists are divided into those who want to save industrial civilisation and those who don't. Seems an awful choice to most of us. But logically he is right. Those who love the planet and want it to survive should hope for economic collapse. So next time I am faced with the option of flying I will do so.

Last night I followed the story on the standoff in the Straits of Hormuz, the 30 mile wide stretch of water near Iran which carries 14 oil tankers every day. One commentator was saying that it the tension between US, Europe and Iran is going to escalate over the next weeks and months. Iran is already drawing up legislation to block oil tankers there. I recommend following developments here, because the rising tensions may trigger a spike in the price of oil and a global economic collapse. All economic recessions have been preceded by a spike in the price of oil.

 

I met a climatologist yesterday

I was delighted at the local council display to meet a real dinkum climatologist from NIWA. He lives in our district. I talked to him about the fact that we have a few people who are still not convinced on climate change and asked him what the best websites are for climate skeptics. Here is his answer, with my comments in brackets: http://royalsociety.org/policy/publications/2010/climate-change-summary-science/ (good stuff from the Royal Society) http://grist.org/series/skeptics/ (The heading is How to talk to a Climate Skeptic and it gives a very comprehensive list of questions and how to answer them) http://www.youtube.com/user/potholer54 (this may appeal to you if you have a certain sense of humor) http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLA4F0994AFB057BB8 /Very good http://www.realclimate.org/ Fine. And one we talked about which is excellent too http://skepticalscience.com. That was the one that convinced my son after months of searching and asking questions. We are a party which bases its policy on evidence. Hope this is useful.