Cutting greenhouse-gas emissions by 50 percent is achievable by mid century with only a small cost, says Mark Jaccard. The SFU economist, writing in a new book, says that to cut emissions we must put a price on the atmosphere. The best way, he says, is with a carbon tax.
Through computer-assisted modelling, Jaccard demonstrates that Canada cannot meet its Kyoto Protocol commitments, no matter what Opposition politicians claim, but it can still become a world leader in cutting emissions.
Jaccard's book, Hot Air: Meeting Canada's Climate Change Challenge (McClelland & Stewart, $29.99) is cowritten with Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson and one of Jaccard's PhD students, Nic Rivers.
It lambastes environmentalists who paint rosy pictures about reducing emissions, as well as naysayers and deniers who trumpet stories of economic doom and gloom. There is a cost, he says, but it's relatively small.
"They say the price of energy will be 50 percent higher and people are like, 'Whoa!' But really, in the next 50 years it will go up only one percent a year," Jaccard told the Georgia Straight in an interview. "Energy might end up being, 40 years from now, instead of six percent of our budget it might be eight percent of our budget, and so you have to ask yourself, 'Am I willing to spend a little bit more of my annual budget on energy so that the climate-change risk, at least the human-caused one, will be down to almost zero?'"
The first section of the book covers the past 20 years of "hot air": how federal political rhetoric surrounding climate change has not been backed up by policies that would cut emissions.
Billions have been spent and Canada's emissions are 36 percent above Kyoto obligations, which called for totals six percent below 1990 levels.
The Hot Air authors point out that Canada's red-hot economy, growing population, and booming energy-intensive oil sands are up against policies based primarily on volunteerism, government subsidies, and education that haven't worked, and never will.
Subsidies, the cornerstone of all of the energy programs, plans, and projects from Brian Mulroney to Stephen Harper, don't get the job done; they're inefficient, Jaccard said. In economic study after study, subsidies have been shown to be ineffective because with or without the subsidy, the item would have been bought anyway–it's just a free ride.
"I have had to brief caucuses, federally and provincially, and cabinet ministers. I will say to them, 'Actually, giving a subsidy to someone has a 50 percent chance or greater of having no effect,' and they will say to me, 'You're nuts'," Jaccard said. "I feel like Galileo–not that I am Galileo; that makes me sound like a megalomaniac–but Galileo is sitting there saying to people that the earth is rotating around the sun, and they are sitting there like, 'Are you kidding?'"
No matter how many times Jaccard consulted with politicians, he said he would watch with "horrible frustration" as they announced lofty goals and then balked at any real action. In response, he decided to write a book to educate the public in a way "the average Canadian could gobble up pretty quick," so they could, in turn, "put enough pressure on politicians so that we get the right policies".
There are ways besides a carbon tax that can reduce emissions or could work in concert with a carbon tax to reduce emissions, Jaccard said. In a cap-and-trade market, emissions per industry are capped at a certain number and individual firms receive permits to trade. If they produce too much pollution, they can buy permits from firms that have extra to sell.
"You can easily design a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system that does not lead to an outflow of Alberta," Jaccard said. "The Norwegians have had a carbon tax for 16 years, and their oil-and-gas sector has expanded at the same rate as ours, their economy has grown at a faster rate, and their per capita GDP has grown at a faster rate."
The book predicts that with a tax, Alberta's oil sands will sequester production emissions and shift from producing carbon petroleum products to carbon-free electricity and hydrogen. There would be a slight slowing of oil-sands development, while Alberta's GDP would almost be a business-as-usual scenario.