We all love the environment, right? We mostly like to do our parts to recycle, use less water and compost when we can, correct? What about when being good to the environment requires more of a financial commitment? Are we willing to use our precious hard-earned paycheques to help keep the planet green? That question is a little harder, isn’t it?
There are a number of reasons why gas prices are projected to be astronomically high this summer. There’s the standard summer spike designed to prey on all those road-trippers, cottage weekenders and watercraft owners who will need more fuel during the summer season. There’s the fact that the loonie is pretty low right now and the price of oil is determined in American dollars. There’s also the great uncertainty surrounding the Trans Mountain Pipeline and Alberta’s threat to cut off B.C.’s supply of oil if the government doesn’t get on board with the expansion. One of the most significant factors in the current gas price spike, however, is something a lot of Canadians support, but few of us have seen in reality until now.
Several provinces are in the process of introducing carbon taxes over the coming months and years and Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has promised a federal climate plan that would include a country-wide carbon tax. The confusing part of a carbon tax is that governments always frame the idea in a business context – “We’re going to impose carbon taxes so big companies are forced to reduce their carbon footprints” – but it’s really about us, the consumers.
The logic behind a carbon tax is not that companies think twice about their emissions because of a rise in business costs; it’s about supply and demand at the consumer level. Basically: the government adds a carbon tax to oil, gas prices go up, people choose to drive less to use less gas and then there are fewer cars on the road spewing gas into the atmosphere. People are forced to alter their behaviours and lifestyles in response to prohibitive pricing.
A recent survey found that while most Canadians have heard of carbon taxation – or “carbon pricing” – many don’t actually grasp how it directly effects them. About a half the Canadian population thinks carbon pricing is an effective way to combat climate change, but those who report being aware of how it actually works are more polarized on the issue. That’s because it’s all about making things that are sometimes crucial for life in Canada unaffordable for a lot of people.
If you live in a major city, you probably have a plethora of transportation options available to you for getting to work. Many people can take several different types public transport, bike or walk to their jobs. If that is true for you, driving to work is a choice and higher gas prices might make you think twice about it. However, people in rural areas don’t have the same options open to them, yet they still have to pay those lofty gas prices that are supposed to be incentive to change behaviour. What if the infrastructure doesn’t exist for you to make more eco-friendly choices?
It’s not just the price of gas that’s going to go up either. Anything that requires transportation to get to consumers is also going to get more expensive. That could encourage companies to look at greener methods of shipping products, or they could just jack up the prices of those products without concerns about market competition because every company is dealing with the same higher costs of production. See how the consumer keeps getting the short end of the stick?
Carbon taxation is appealing in theory because it looks like a potentially effective part of a comprehensive climate change plan. Theoretically, we all stop buying gas and the market is forced to innovate green alternatives, lower the cost of electric vehicles and make choosing the green option easier and cheaper. The reality is that those changes won’t happen overnight and there are people whose lifestyles won’t allow them to stop buying gasoline.
Carbon pricing doesn’t seem so great now, does it? But at the same time, what is the alternative? To markedly curb climate change, we need to change public behaviour somehow to reduce carbon emissions. Is going after the public’s pocketbook the way to do that?