Why the carbon tax is inevitable… unless

It’s been fascinating watching the debate in Alberta between those who are pro-carbon tax (and usually anti-pipeline) and those who resist it. Opponents say the tax is a “cash grab” that will hinder the economy and sacrifice jobs. Doom, gloom, end of the economic world type stuff.

But these arguments, even if they are accurate, all utterly miss the elephant in the room. If the environmentalists are right about the catastrophe that awaits humanity because of the burning of fossil fuels, then any policy that alleges to be pro-environment must win. On what possible grounds can one argue for reducing the economic impact of a pro-environment fiscal policy if the very survival of our species – even our planet – is at stake?

In light of the environmental doom that we are told is inevitable given our current environmental trajectory, any effort to preserve our economy while our planet is destroyed is rather like struggling to keep the rear view mirror in our car smudge-free while the transmission falls out the bottom and the engine seizes. Seriously, let’s get our priorities straight here; even if we completely destroy our economy in order to preserve our planet so that we (and future generations) have the means to survive, I would argue that’s a price well worth paying.

Better to live in the stone age than die behind the wheel of an SUV, right? If this environmental threat is real, then we must tax carbon. We must prevent pipelines from transporting these fossil fuels across the globe to be burned up. We must cease and desist any removal of those chemicals from the earth; leave them where they are. We must stop burning this stuff if it truly is sealing our fate; condemning us to extinction or something similar.

A recent MacLean’s article put this into sharp focus. During discussions on the routing of the TransCanada pipeline the grand chief of the Montreal-area reserve of Kanesatake began investigating the bigger picture.

Then he began to read: about the process of extracting Alberta bitumen, about climate change, about alternative energy sources both practical and fantastical. He stopped worrying about the route of TransCanada’s proposed pipeline, and started questioning its very legitimacy.

And what a fair question to ask!

If it truly is the case that use of fossil fuels is so disastrous to our planet – and so threatening to our very existence – that the only way we can possibly survive as a species is by eliminating the use of these energy resources, then I’ll be the loudest and proudest supporter of whatever gets us off of fossil fuels. If it’s one or the other, I choose life over profit margins and even employment.

If fossil fuels are truly that bad…

If.

That’s a big if.

And the only way to successfully turn the conversation around is to directly confront the elephant in the room.

Are fossil fuels destroying the planet and threatening human life?

That is the one and only question that matters.

If the answer is “yes” then there can be no moral basis upon which to continue using fossils fuels. Not one drop of them.

If, on the other hand, the answer to that question is “no” – if fossil fuel use is not having a disastrous impact on our planet – then our moral obligation must be to end every such carbon tax that we can find. Every cap-and-trade system. If this is the case, then taxing “carbon” makes about as much sense as taxing “walking with shoes on.” You’ll make a lot of money, yes, but for no justifiable reason.

If you want to successfully stop the carbon tax then the only way to do so is to answer “no” to that most fundamental question, and show the basis for your answer. The only way to end the gradual draining of the economic vitality of civilization is to confront the anti-fossil-fuel movement head-on and show that they are factually wrong in their assertions about the disastrous effects fossil fuels will have on our planet.

After all, doom-and-gloom economic predictions can’t shake a stick at doom-and-gloom environmental predictions. Even I don’t care about keeping my job if I cannot keep my life. The only way to really change the conversation is to refute the doom-and-gloom of the environmentalists, if it can be refuted.

And if they are factually wrong – if the burning of fossil fuels is not actually destroying the earth – then the economic consequences of these misguided policies will be for absolutely nothing. Taxing carbon makes sense if carbon is bad for the environment, but if it is not bad – or (crazy thought) if it might actually be having a positive impact – then carbon taxes and pipeline protests are the great evil of our time.

The one position I find absolutely mind-baffling are those who “affirm climate change” (usually meaning “bad change” combined with “it’s all because of us”) on the one hand, but resist carbon taxes and support building pipelines on the other hand. That just makes no sense to me. That’s like affirming that cigarettes cause lung cancer, but opposing various initiatives to reduce cigarette distribution and sales because of the negative economic impact. Or affirming that slavery is morally evil, but supporting the slave trade because of the devastating economic impact that shutting it down would have.

If you oppose carbon taxes then please be philosophically consistent and do the hard work of tackling the “fossil fuels = evil” theory head-on. Because if the carbon-tax folks are right about the impact fossil fuels are going to have, then any morally sane and rational human being will support them.

So, if you oppose carbon taxes then crack open the science textbooks, the climate data, the relevant research and get to work. Here’s one place to start.

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