November 29, 2015
Since 20 years that the world talk about reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, they still continue to rise. Reflection on political tools to reduce our emissions should be the major political subject in the beginning of the 21st century. This reflection is still very poor.
This article briefly explains why we must massively refocus taxes on carbon and natural resources, rather than on the work of humans. I believe this is the only way to save this planet. It offers also a few original ideas. And it also shows that, regardless of its necessity, this ambitious economic metamorphosis would make our life better for all of us!
As it has been repeatedly explained (1), the subsidy to exemplary actions does not work in our market economies: 2 examples: In France, the better insulation of the houses didn’t change anything to the global houses-heating consumption of french houses, because at the same time, the surface of house per person increased by 50% over the past decades. Cars, trains and even planes, are more efficient than before in energy, but there are always more goods and people that travel… And about ‘rules and regulations’, they have the same above problem as subsidies, they can accompany a growing tax on carbon, but alone, they will not reduce enough our emissions. Moreover, with rules/regulations, only the government ‘think’ about the way to reduce emissions. While with a carbon tax, everyone can think about the best way for himself to reduce this or that given emission!
On the other hand, education of citizens to exemplary behaviours cannot not work either: When we buy a product, it is impossible to know how much greenhouse gas (GHG) was emitted, and how much energy has been used, during its production. For each of the products we buy, we should spend 3 hours on the Internet, and go have an eye in the factory, to have this information.
Chocolate paste more expensive than caviar
If we would account, to a fair amount, the CO2 emissions from forest fires in Indonesia (those forest are peatlands, meaning non-decomposed organic soils which burn for months…) that are taking place this year , in the import of palm-oil price, we would have surprises. (and why not also count the loss of biodiversity) Legally or illegally, the forest is burned at an astronomical speed to become in plantations of palm-oil trees. (2) (3) (4) (5) (6) (7) Mostly consisting of palm oil, the famous Nutella paste sold in 2015 would become very very very expensive… Would it become more expensive than caviar? Given the enormity of the fires in 2015, it is likely. (8) (9)
WHAT IS IT?
The carbon tax would be somehow the ‘ENERGY GLASSES’ to see the carbon content of products. (Or at least to feel it in the prices.) (10)
It would be a tax which would gradually replace the other types of taxes, that, in general, pressure on the people’s work… Why did we tax the work? Because this was the simplest way: We simply placed taxes at the points of money-transfers: When someone receives a salary, or when we sell a product (which is another way of taxing labour, somehow) From all points of view, a tax on natural resources would be a much better thing than the taxes on the work. (see below: Accessory positive effets of the carbon tax)
It would be a tax on GHG emissions (and eventually other environmental treats, see bellow), with a very strong but very progressive rate, applied on all of the consumer goods and services of all types, without exception. Because the exceptions always have perverse effects (11). This would be much more efficient and easier to implement than the carbon markets / quotas, which do not really work… (disadvantages of the carbon markets: Note (12) )
Different countries, including France, have already settled a carbon tax, but at ridiculously low levels in regard to the objective to be achieved, and they apply to very partial areas of the economy. It is difficult to imagine a real efficiency of the tax to decarbonize our economy below SEVERAL HUNDREDS OF EUROS FOR A TON OF CO2. (or equivalent for other greenhouse gases) but obviously this rate should be very gradual and increasing year by year over 30 years. (A big unknown remains: How much should actually be the level of this tax to divide by 6 by 2050 our greenhouse gas emissions?) (13)
« What? Several hundred euros per tonne of CO2? While I can pay 1 euro more to ‘neutralise’/’compensate’ my emissions from a flight or train-trip? (by checking the appropriate box when booking the ticket online) » These emissions offsets are grossly misleading, and should be banned. (See chapter “Prohibit the Carbon Compensation” in the article on education) Question: How many meter-cube of CO2 equivalent are emitted into the atmosphere for a round trip Europe / South America? Answer: 4 Olympic swimming pools of CO2… by passenger. Yes, this means 1600 Olympic pools of CO2 for a 400 passenger flight. (Incredible? Calculation in the note: (14) )
« But the Renewable Energies ? »
Because of the very strong ‘intermittency’ of renewable energies, and their extremely diffuse distribution while the hydrocarbon is a highly concentrated energy, it is not sure that the replacement of fossil fuels with renewable can constitute a major part of the GHG reduction worldwide. It is much more likely that the reduction will be made by energy savings rather than energy replacements. In fact, if we look closely, the same Euro used in energy savings avoids at least 10 times more CO2 than the one invested in renewable energies. Anyway, this is not the most important topic: Who cares if at the end the success of the GHG reduction was made rather thanks to energy savings or renewable energies? Thanks to taxes on GHG, every citizen, every business, will be able to think on its own level, to the best way to change its habits: Less consumption of energy in such case, or either a less CO2 emitting energy in the other case.
What Natural Resources ?
In the case of greenhouse gas, the natural resource to preserve is the atmosphere that is warming. But the fossil carbon that we extract from the ground is also a precious natural resource that we shouldn’t waste too quickly: A single litre of gasoline, it is the same mechanical energy than a slave who would energetically bicycle during 10 days. (15) And many people speak of a carbon tax as a ‘systemic’ approach to the problem of energy and climate. But in a really systemic approach, we should also consider to integrate into this tax system ALL the natural resources, whatever they are. Because greenhouse gases cuts shouldn’t turn into increased pollution in other areas: For example: The manufacture of gigantic metal magnets for wind turbines, requires a phenomenal amount of “rare-earths metals”, with at the end an horrible chemical pollution in certain mines in China, comparable to Chernobyl pollution (Source: (16). We must integrate other environmental pollutions in these «taxes on resources», at the international level. On a planet so largely dominated and transformed by the men, the management of externalities should start to be automated: This should no longer be the judge to charge a polluter for his pollution. This should be the state-official who should estimate the impact of an activity on natural resources, and tax this activity accordingly, when this activity starts.
Injustice, and Possible Solutions: A zero VAT Tax on Food, etc.
Studies (source: Note (17) show that more modest social-classes spend a greater proportion of their income in good that are rich in energy and in petroleum products (18). (Higher classes are more likely to live downtown close to their work, and use proportionately more services, that are a less intense in GHG than basic needs.) So the increase in the cost of energy tends to affect more the poor than the rich.
To counteract this, some have proposed that the national product (in the case of a nation) of this carbon tax, rather than to be offset by the decrease of other taxes, should rather be donated to each citizen in the form of an identical amount of money redistributed to everyone. In the case of a strong carbon tax, this would be in fact almost the same thing as a ‘Universal income’ or ‘Basic Income’ idea, an idea to fashion nowadays since Finland is experimenting it. In an infinite world, and philosophically, it’s a beautiful idea. But in our limited planet, and where the energy will start to miss (80% of our energy is fossil), is it wise to encourage citizens to do nothing, or to make children if it don’t know how to meet their needs later?
Here may be a better idea to offset the disadvantage for the modest social-classes about a strong carbon tax: Progressively lower VAT tax on products of first necessity. For example to lower the VAT tax on food (Note: This will not lower the price of meat! (19) And actually, because methane emitted by cows, at the same time of having an extreme greenhouse effet, stays only 12 years in the atmosphere, then the first easiest tax to lower temperature is the one on beef.)
The VAT tax on food you pay at the supermarket is for example, already low in Europe, with a rate of 5-7%. Then, over the years, as we would increase on the one hand the carbon tax, and reduce on the other hand the taxes on income and at the same time this VAT tax on food (and other basic things), at a fair rate, then probably, rather quickly, we can imagine that this VAT tax on food become null.
(making it negative would likely produce perverse effects). After this point, we could then drop other taxes or health insurances that modest social-classes still pay, or increase some ’employment tax credits’ to support modest workers.
Those mesures would permit to offset more fairly the cost of the carbon tax for modest households.
Carbon Tax Impossible at the International Level ? A Solution:
If the countries of the world apply different rates of carbon taxes – it is difficult to imagine that they would apply all the same – then the country applying a high carbon tax would tend to deal with a lot of offshoring/relocations of their high GHG emitting activities in countries that have lower carbon taxes. If they decide to apply the same tax at the border on imported goods, other countries will strongly disagree… In fact, It is not fair that the importing country keep for itself the revenue of this tax. This may seem surprising, but it is more logical to refund it to the Government of the exporting country! Explanation: Fair Solution for an International Carbon Tax: REFUND IT TO CHINA.
ACCESSORY POSITIVE EFFECTS OF THE ‘TAX ON NATURAL RESOURCES…
A large part of the taxes weight, directly or indirectly, on the work. There is a better way to organize the taxes on human activities. Until today, to increase the production of a product or service, it is cheaper to always minimize men’s work (because this is what has been increasingly taxed), and maximize consumption or destruction of natural resources, since they are, up to now, still very few taxed. Not only the metamorphosis of the tax would solve the unbearable pressure on resources, but it would also produce a certain number of positive effects on our life every day.
Let’s look at some examples:
This is as simple as this: If men’s work is comparatively less taxed than resources and machines, it will be encouraged.
Vacuum cleaner manufactured or repaired?
When one of our device fails, it is today very rare that we seek to repair it: Nothing encourages us to do so: It is much cheaper to buy a new vacuum cleaner! Find a repairman to repair would be much more expensive! Because human labour of the repairer taking special care of one vacuum cleaner is heavily taxed. While the energy of the fast machines which manufactures (and transports over long distances) quantities of new vacuum cleaners is not. Metamorphosing the economy to tax the resources rather than the work, we will do what common sense dictates: Bring to the repairman at the corner our everyday objects instead of all the time buying new objects that we are forced to throw away all the time.
Drill bought or rented?
In the same way, rather than buying a drill because I need to make a hole in a wall, instead of accumulating possessions, full of objects that I only use 3 times a year, I could rent it to a rental place or neighborhood cooperative who would rents these objects. Because, in the same way, the work of the rental guy, and even, why not, of the one who would comes to bring the objects to people’s places, will become cheaper compared to the manufacture of 100 times more objects for each citizen who use them only 3 times a year. Obviously if I borrow the object to my neighbor it’s still better, and if the work of software developers as becomes cheaper that the purchase of new objects, then there is more chance than an effective ‘smart app’ get invented to list and exchange objects between neighbors. And then I could also more easily try and use objects that I would never have thought to buy. Possessing many personal things that I have no time to use, is it really a human progress?
Untasty and Contaminated Agriculture, or Nutritive one?
Hyper-industrial agriculture, which destroys the soils, consumes a lot of energy, produce many greenhouse gases, poisons our food and biodiversity by its automated approach of treatment against insects with mass spraying of hundred of insecticides, will be disadvantaged by taxes on the GHG emissions and the destruction of natural resources. Agricultures that are on human scale, asking for a little more labour to observe and gradually treat the agro-ecosystem, take care of the living-being that this system is, and producing food of far better nutritional quality, will be then encouraged in comparison. Also thanks to a decrease in taxes on labour. Compared to industrial agriculture, the new agricultures of permaculture type and so, are more intelligent and advanced scientifically in the study of agro-ecosystems. And if one takes into account all nutritional, health and environmental factors, industrial agriculture is actually not cheaper than the bio. (20) (21) And the amount of meat we eat in the developed countries, in addition of being responsible for one-quarter of our GHG emissions, is unsustainable and harmful at all levels. (22)
Relocation, human scale economy:
If you count what costs in GHG emissions the transport of goods over very long distances, we will have a more local and human economy, less quantitative, and more qualitative. With at all levels encouraged human exchanges, because of the work less taxed in comparison. Entertainment or the local show would be also benefit in concurrence to industrial tourist trips by flight travel.
CONCLUSION: BURST OR DISASTER
It must be understood what this metamorphosis means: This cannot be to live ‘as now’ with clean energies that would replace the fossils at the same level of consumption. We need to divide by 6 our personal greenhouse gas emissions in 30 years, and this will gradually change many things in our everyday life: Less long-distance travels of all kinds (and much less flights), much less meat, much smaller cars, less fast obsolete technology, and many other things. The effort is very important…
… It’s a transformation of our daily lives during the next 30 years much more important than during the past 30 years.
Apart from a climate catastrophe, we have no other choices. Unfortunately, in our world that have grow a little too fast, the citizens of the world are not yet prepared for thoses choices and what it imply. Unfortunately, politicians will not reach tomorrow morning to settle the necessary laws to reverse the curve of global emissions of GHG from January 2016… But they can immediately settle the most urgent measures, key to the others: Political Measures for the Education to Energy and Climate. (Detailed article)
Alexandre Barthélémy – November 2015