Pembina Institute

Beyond Carbon Tax

Creating a Sustainable Vision for a Greener World

Josha MacNab

Published in The Tyee (July 23, 2008), Caribou Press (July 30, 2008)*

By Josha MacNab, Regional Director, British Columbia

British Columbia's carbon tax holds the potential to inspire a new vision: to transform the economy from the brown, carbon-based solutions of the past to the clean, green sustainable solutions of the future.

The citizens of British Columbia understand how crucial this transformation is. Poll after poll confirms that British Columbians and Canadians are worried about global warming and want action to reduce greenhouse gas pollution. British Columbians want to change; they just need some leadership.

British Columbia has already taken large strides towards a North American leadership position by setting clear targets for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. The province's target is 33 per cent reductions by 2020. Its plan to make progress towards this target includes a carbon tax and the elimination of old-style coal-fired power plants.

What's missing is a clear vision of British Columbia's new green economy.

A vision that outlines a progressive and bright future where British Columbians are part of the solution, where they are selling their solutions to others and leading the world.

Emission reduction targets, carbon taxes and cap and trade systems are essential ingredients, but they are not a vision. A vision is something that inspires people to change the way they live, play and do business. A clearly articulated vision for a healthy and vibrant future would be something British Columbians could rally behind and would help the government avoid serious contradictions, such as subsides to the oil and gas industry.

In the absence of a compelling vision, the discussion about British Columbia's carbon tax is digressing into political posturing. A new vision will lead to better, more consistent decisions about British Columbia's future. The rapid expansion of oil and gas development and the twinning of the Port Mann Bridge are just two examples of projects that seem to stand in stark contradiction to a greener future.

What's inspiring is that the vision we need does exist. It's alive and well in the hearts of the citizens of this province who plant their own gardens, carpool their kids to school and install solar hot water heaters on their homes. If the dozens and dozens of action-oriented postings at the Green Your Campbell Cash website are any indication, British Columbians are already responding to climate change with inspiration and vision.

Consider King George Secondary School in Vancouver, which has solar panels on its roof and a grade 8 and 9 science curriculum that focuses on solar energy thanks to the Sustainable Schools program. Or consider the PEDAL Free Bike Program, which recycles old bicycles and makes them available to people who need them.

Ideas and examples of larger-scale change abound around the world. Spain is already getting 10 per cent of its electricity from wind power and now has the third largest wind capacity in the world. While Germany, the world leader in both wind and solar power, employs over 225,000 people in the renewable energy sector.

These examples are just a few of the ideas that not only will help fight global warming, but have the potential to help us avoid paying the carbon tax. After all, the less we emit, the less carbon tax we will pay. With a carbon tax, success means paying lower taxes.

Let's be clear, however: changing light bulbs is a good thing, but by itself it will not help us avoid dangerous global warming.

Strong political leadership is required to regulate industry and make tough policy choices that put a price on emissions from all sectors of the economy. We need regulations that allow creative global warming solutions to flourish, while ensuring that we enhance quality of life and equity in our communities.

Real change will only happen when these policies are driven by a vision that takes us to a future where business thrives in a post-global warming world, where sustainable forms of energy are the norm and where all of our communities are healthy and safe.

The British Columbia government has taken a significant leadership role on global warming, but it has yet to put its plan in the context of a vision of a truly sustainable future.

Josha MacNab is a policy analyst with the Pembina Institute. Pembina's report, Mind the Gap, an assessment of British Columbia's plans to reduce global warming emissions, is available free from www.pembina.org/bc/climate-change

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