Thursday, May 15, 2008

Carbon Taxes

There's a lot in the Canadian media these days about the rising cost of energy. Everybody seems to be blaming the oil companies (who certainly are culpable, but a broader look reveals that every company is in business to make money, so you can't really fault a company for making money; the system requires a much broader overhaul and more stringent controls), the Canadian government (who taxes the hell out of gasoline, in order to pay for an automobile infrastructure, in theory), and those damn Arabs.

The fact is that WE are to blame. All of us. We've been sucking on that big black tit for a long time, and we've become dependent. The fact that OPEC and oil companies have developed nations by the short hairs is OUR fault, was our lack of foresight, and is ultimately beside the point.

What is fundamental to this discussion is that oil is a finite resource, is becoming increasingly scarce, and will eventually run out. In fact, high oil costs will actually buy us some time, as we search for an alternative.

It's no secret that this will cause great hardship for the West's most vulnerable (though in Canada, we're not particularly concerned about starvation, apparently). And something needs to be done about that. But reducing the cost of fuel is a short-term solution that makes the problem worse in the long run: we will become even more dependent on cheap petroleum if it remains cheap. It's time to wean ourselves off, and we can't ask oil companies to do it for us. In fact, there's never been a better time to be in the oil business (Mission Accomplished, Mssrs. Cheney & Bush).

The government can help by reducing subsidies to oil companies (it blows my mind that oil companies get tax rebates and government subsidies, and then all levels of government ding the consumer with gas taxes; if they taxed the oil companies, and stopped taxing consumers, the cost of fuel would likely go up slightly, but we'd have smaller and more manageable oil companies, in my opinion), and with carbon taxes, but ulimately the choice is ours, and we have to make it. Unfortunately, using less oil means doing more work: walking, biking, taking transit, buying local, cooking for yourself, growing your own food, and putting on a goddamn sweater.

We also need to stop thinking only in terms of dollars and cents. There are costs to petroleum that we don't measure, including environmental costs (tar sands), human costs (Iraq), and energy costs (in a caloric sense).

Ontario is a special case, too. Our economy is oil-dependent on several levels. Not only do we rely on oil, we rely on the automobile industry, as well, and it's not working out for us so much. The problem is that we've put all our eggs in one basket, and to horribly mutilate my metaphor, that basket isn't sustainable. Image if 120 years ago, any jurisdiction had banked it's economic growth on buggywhips. It's what Ontario's done, and we continue to throw good money after bad.

The whole media shitstorm annoys me for several reasons:
  1. Canadian Green Parties have been addressing these issues and offering real solutions for a long time, and we're never mentioned, even when other parties poach our policies.
  2. When newsmedia talk about rising fuel costs, scarcity is never mentioned.
  3. The focus of the media is that the government is to blame (not oil companies, our economy, the scarcity of the resource, the conflict in oil-rich regions, increasing demand, or the capitalist model).
  4. The news treats rising fuel costs as if it's a new phenomenon, and the cost of everything hasn't been rising steadily simply as a function of inflation.

I don't think we're deliberately being misled. I'm not that paranoid. But I do know that we need to pay much closer attention to what's going on around us.

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