A carbon tax is just one way of addressing concerns about climate change. The subject has come up in the 2008 federal election campaign, through the Liberal proposal for a carbon tax, which the party says will be "revenue neutral." Environmental scientist David Suzuki supports a carbon tax. CBCNews.ca asked him what he sees in it.
Why a carbon tax?
I'm not an economist but economists like Marc Jaccard of Simon Fraser University say that a carbon tax is the most effective way of influencing behaviour and believe me, having spent over 40 years trying to influence people's behaviour, I can tell you that is very hard to do.
What are the potential downsides?
Of course one does not want to penalize those on low or fixed incomes but they will be less likely to be affected because they won't own cars. Those who live in rural areas who may need trucks or travel longer distances or have no access to public transit will feel the carbon tax more.
Isn't there the danger of harming industries, or making Canada less competitive?
If that is the case, why is it that countries like Germany and Sweden, which are not Third World countries, have a carbon tax and are quite competitive globally? What a carbon tax does is to put a price on atmospheric pollution. We don't hesitate to pay $90 a tonne to put garbage into landfills yet we seem to think putting pollution in the air should be free. Governments don't have many tools to influence behaviour but one is regulation and the other is taxation. We need both.
Does it make sense to return the money to consumers in another form? Will it really modify behaviour?
A carbon tax does not have to be a government tax grab. I think it was a mistake for B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell to give all British Columbians $100 when he instituted a tiny carbon tax. It was his attempt to be revenue neutral, that is, the government would not have a bonanza of money to use as it wished. I think the revenue from carbon taxes should be used to subsidize homeowners to make their homes more energy efficient, to expand public transit, to subsidize energy efficient appliances, etc. Of course, there is a huge potential windfall for government if we stopped subsidizing the fossil fuel industry that is making windfall profits because they don't pay to use the air to dump their carbon.
Should a tax be applied only to corporations or consumers, too?
We're all part of the problem and no doubt the increased taxes on industries will be passed on to the consumer. That's how we can make choices that help reduce emissions by favouring energy efficient products that should be cheaper.
Are there other measures that should be introduced at the same time to make it more effective?
I think governments should use every means possible.
Cap and trade?
Sure, that will set hard targets for emission reduction that have to be met.