If there’s one kind of tax I like, it’s the kind that I don’t have to pay.
In principle, the carbon tax seems to fit that bill. I could drive my 1991 Jetta that gets 40 miles a gallon and be laughing all the way to the bank. Better yet, I could ride my bicycle, and avoid the tax completely.
But it turns out I can’t.
As hard as I pedal through sleet and snow, by the time I load up the paniers with my groceries, the government has already got its hand in my wallet.
The carbon tax is not really one of those taxes we can avoid, even if we choose not to idle our monster trucks in the Superstore parking lot for twenty minutes in the middle of summer.
We are paying for it in our food.
And as long as food is being shipped around the world and we only have three slaughterhouses in the country doing 90 percent of the beef processing and we’ve destroyed our local food economies, the carbon tax will indeed cause food inflation.
The problem isn’t the principle of it. “Polluter pays” is a good basis for any tax. But only if the pollution can be realistically minimized or avoided.
The problem with the carbon tax is that it won’t address the structural economic realities that lock us into wasteful emissions.
What’s the point of taxing the transportation of our food when government regulations shut down or prohibit local abattoirs, egg farms and dairy processors, concentrating production in a few distant facilities? How much fuel does that waste, just so that the megacorps can reduce their labour costs? Why are the big grocery stores stocking Chinese garlic when we have local garlic being grown in BC? Why are we trucking in California produce that we can grow locally?
Unless we enforce antitrust laws, legalize more local processing, and look at import tariffs, the carbon tax won’t reduce agricultural emissions. It just makes us mad.
We are trapped elsewhere.
The carbon tax is supposed to encourage us to drive less but meanwhile city councils across the continent let rich developers expand urban sprawl outwards, causing massive increases in consumption and emissions, while downtowns wither away.
Would the carbon tax influence how our cities are built?
The carbon tax isn’t going to reduce emissions as long as the existing economic model remains calcified by 20th century paradigms and insurmountable corporate power.
To address what is increasingly looking like an existential threat will require not just massive investments in clean energy and efficient infrastructure, which, by the way, the carbon tax revenue is not being used for. It will require governments re-localize our economies and forge a new relationship with capital. And that requires, among other things, standing up to the powerful empire of multinational corporations, billionaires, and global trade and investment laws.
Do you think our governments have the guts or skills to do that? Or would they rather just go after you and me with an ineffective and unavoidable carbon tax, just so they can pretend they cared?
James Steidle is a Prince George writer.