Carbon Taxes Done Right

I was thinking the other day of the Charles W. Morgan, one of the last whaling ships built. It was a magnificent sight, 113 feet long, with 13,000 square feet of sail. It would have drawn ohhs and ahhs from those assembled on the shore as she slipped down the greased rails of the drydock out into salt chuck. She was of course, doomed, and you can only imagine that Jethro and Zachariah Hillman knew that when they laid her keel in 1841 in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Even her inaugural voyage was a harbinger of the world to come as the whales she was designed to hunt and process into whale oil were already in steep decline, and the first flickers of kerosene lamps were just around the corner.

It’s not often I think about large obsolete whaling ships, but I couldn’t help myself given the house that is going up at the end of my street. It is a leviathan, a 3,400 square foot, three car garage throw back to an age when we didn’t care about carbon foot prints or expensive oil.

I’m amazed that houses with three car garages still make it through the approval process. It’s like there is a left brain/right brain disconnection. Municipalities talk about greening and conservation, and then planning departments allow energy sucking behemoths through to construction stage.

Another example of a government that hasn’t figured out how to promote conservation is the provincial government with their spoon-full-of-sugar approach to the carbon tax for vehicles. Instead of giving every single person in B.C. a check for $100.00, followed in quick succession with a smart rap on back of the head by the extra taxation cudgel they should have talked to me first.

My scheme, promotes conservation, allows appropriate individuals choices, rewards those that deserve it, and most importantly doesn’t penalize the financially disadvantaged.

In an ideal community, you could live close enough to work that you could walk, and although that’s a great goal, we haven’t, for the most part been smart enough to build our communities that way. So let’s take a baby step and recognize how people live, and try and affect behaviours of dinosaur thinking..

The first step is to issue every vehicle a provincial gas usage card. It would work like your gas loyalty card, and you would swipe it after you swiped your credit card at the pump. The first 500 liters of gasoline that you purchased using the card would lower your cost per liter of gas to 50 cents per liter. After you’ve used up those first five hundred liters, then the next 500 liters would be sold at the current market price, which today is $1.50. The next 500 liters would be sold at the current market price plus 50 cents per liter. The next 500 liters would be sold at current market price plus $1.00, and so on. The scheme is called Balanced Zero Sum Motivated Carbon Based Cost Adjusted Subsidization (BZSMCBCAS). It’s a great acronym, but I don’t think it’s pronounceable.

Why 500 liters? It sounds like an arbitrary number doesn’t it. Actually it’s the result of a careful calculation. The average person in BC drives an average of 1000 km per month. Let’s imagine you drive the Smart Car. That works out to 40 liters of gas per month, or 480 liters per year. By simply using the most fuel efficient car on the market we can establish a baseline in the calculations.

As people went about their year the first months they would be saving a lot of money. As the 500 liter mark approached the bill from the gas pump would say things like “You only paid $25.00 to fill up! Soon that will cost you $75.00! Time to dump that gas guzzler!” Or something similarly subtle.

This system would be self supporting because most people don’t drive a Smart Car. People who drive too far in vehicles with bad gas mileage would subsidize people that don’t drive that far, or drive the average distance in cars with great gas mileage.

The BZSMCBCAS method could be used for any carbon-based fuel source. In housing the government could determine the average size house, calculate how much electricity and natural gas that size house would use if it were built to L.E.E.D (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards and then use that figure as the baseline to establish the discount. The same discount price /regular price/ penalty price scheme could be easily applied and home owners would soon realize that insulation, double glazing and lower thermostats would be investments, rather than costs.

They would also realize that building houses with 3,400 square feet and a three car garage have as much relevance in this modern carbon sensitive world as building the Charles W. Morgan.