Saturday, September 22, 2012

Six degrees of separation

I caught the last bit of B.C.'s "Carbon Talks" the other day and was quite surprised at the response to what I deem to be a very important question.
"If a carbon tax simply raises the cost of carbon here at home, causing business to move their business to countries with cheaper carbon laws: how is any emission reduction actually being accomplished?"
The answer given by the panel was basically "we didn't think about that and we're just starting to now". This idea of "pollution jurisdiction" tends to be a sticking point in climate policy talk with no easy solution. My issue with the concepts of cap-and-trade or a carbon tax go far beyond this idea though that responsibility ends at the border.

Affordability. That really is the key for successful transitions. I understand that the idea behind the carbon tax is that it can help fund cleaner energy solutions, but just as B.C. has not thought about whether companies will just start importing their materials, it seems they haven't thought about how an increased carbon price is going to affect the price of clean energy development.

Does climate change need to be addressed? Yes. Can it be addressed by artificially putting further strain on the economy? probably not. Let's look at this from a practical example.

Desalination no panacea for Calif. water woes
In the Central California coastal town of Marina, a $7 million desalination plant that can turn salty ocean waves into fresh drinking water sits idle behind rusty, locked doors, shuttered by water officials because rising energy costs made the plant too expensive.
Energy sources work in synergy, and we need all of them - yes even the polluting ones. Environmental ethics won't be developed with a new market to be rigged or a new tax to be squandered as red tape in one area simply causes business to look elsewhere. The reality is that we need the cheap(er) energy to develop the more expensive one. Making the cheaper more expensive simply increases the costs on the infrastructure required to develop the cleaner alternatives.

From a personal perspective, you might say something like this "Is it more or less affordable to make severe and expensive changes in your environment when energy is cheap? or energy is expensive?". It might be more motivating when energy is expensive, but hindsight is 20/20, it is easier to accomplish when energy is cheaper. Foresight, preparation. The world's problem is it's looking at the energy predicament and climate crisis in the rear view mirror and it's closer than it appears.

Current climate policy will never work, because this policy doesn't blame us and our actions, instead it blames market fundamentals and then attempts to adjust them. No where is the moral question examined in current policy. Yes, we can, but that doesn't answer if 'we should'. Current policy declares not only that we can, but we must and only artificial market manipulation can convince us of that. I'm not so convinced.

We need to get our priorities straight. We can't solve the problems at the expense of people's livelihoods. We need to address the motivation behind wasteful consumption. The tools aren't the problem, our actions are the problem and artificial cost can inhibit the development of better and necessary tools should the motivation exist.

China envoy warns Canada against politicizing Nexen deal
China's ambassador to Canada warned in remarks published on Saturday against allowing domestic politics to drive the Canadian government's decision on whether to approve Chinese state-owned oil company CNOOC Ltd's proposed $15.1 billion takeover of Canadian oil producer Nexen Inc.
As anticipated, China is already strong-arming Canada. Now that we have let them in and are aligning more and more with them their influence over us is going to increase. I've said it before, and I'll say it again - dealing with a Chinese "company" is no different than dealing directly with the government of China. Saying no to a powerful trade partner can be a lot more difficult than denying a corporation.

In the flurry of globalization it's easy to look at China and say well I guess business is business and the six degrees of separation between Chinese companies and the country itself may draw your focus. It's easy to write off the six degrees of separation between where carbon is produced and where it is used, and it's easy to write off the synergy of energy and pretend the production of massive wind farms, drinking water, or any other number of complex industrial scale process can all be produced and used independent of each other. It's easy to see the separations, a hell of a lot harder to actually separate them. Progress on these issues will only come when we start using our heads to prioritize our needs instead of believing the market can do it for us. The market is there to facilitate our needs, we decide what those are - not the market.

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Richard Fantin is a self-taught software developer who has mostly throughout his career focused on financial applications and high frequency trading. He currently works for CenturyLink

Nazayh Zanidean is a Project Coordinator for a mid-sized construction contractor in Calgary, Alberta. He enjoys writing as a hobby on topics that include foreign policy, international human rights, security and systemic media bias.

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