Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach [See also the follow-on post entitled “Why Revenue Neutral Isn’t”
I was pointed by a commenter on another blog to the Canadian Province of British Columbia, where they put a carbon-based energy tax scheme into effect in 2008. Before looking at either the costs or the actual results of the scheme, let me start by looking at the possible benefits of the scheme. I mean, on my planet if there are no benefits the costs are kinda beside the point. The BC carbon-based energy tax was sold on the basis that it would help in the fight against the theorized CO2-caused global warming. So how much will the actions of our northern cousins affect the world temperature?
Well, that’s hard to answer, but we could set an upper bound on the possible cooling by a thought experiment. According to the current climate paradigm, CO2 rules the global temperature, and the change in temperature is about 3°C for each doubling of CO2. That means if we know the emissions, we can calculate the resultant temperature change.
So here’s the thought experiment. Suppose British Columbia had been founded in 1850 as a separate country with the high ethical aim of achieving freedom from evil carbon based fuels. And instead of calling it “British Columbia”, the early colonists decided to call it “British Utopia”, because they were going to make the ultimate sacrifice in the fight against evil carbon dioxide. They weren’t going to use any fossil fuels ever, their country would be a true utopia. So they built a wall around British Utopia and didn’t trade with anyone, to keep out nasty carbon from trade. To avoid CO2 emissions they didn’t use any oil, either their own or from elsewhere. They didn’t make any cement, or import any, too much CO2 released in the manufacture. The Utopians didn’t use coal for heat or transportation or making steel, just wonderful organic renewable wood. Since the carbon in wood was recently taken from the atmosphere, burning it doesn’t add CO2 to the atmosphere, it just replaces what the tree removed from the atmosphere. And suppose further that they had kept true to that until today …
To me that sounds like they’d lead short lives under brutal conditions, breathing a hazy brown atmosphere from all the wood smoke. And if you run your country on wood you might well end up looking like Haiti … but we’ll let all that go for the moment and ask the important question:
If the British Utopians had made that noble sacrifice for humanity in 1850 and foresworn fossil fuels … how much cooler would the world be today?
Fortunately, given the assumptions made by the IPCC under the current paradigm, we can calculate how much cooler it would be if the British Utopians had given up emitting CO2. The CDIAC has data for both Canada and the World ms showing CO2 emissions since 1750. And since for a given country the CO2 emissions are a function of population, and we know the historical BC population as a fraction of the total, we can figure the total BC emissions, and thus, the amount of Utopian cooling. So here’s the true Canadian hockeystick, showing how much cooler, year by year, the world would be from the British Utopians’ self-sacrifice:
Figure 1. How much cooler the world would be if the British Utopians had abjured the evil carbon habit in 1850.
Now, the blue line in Figure 1. shows how much the virtuous actions of the British Utopians have cooled the planet over the last century and a half. If they had “Just Said No” to fossil fuels, the blue line shows how much cooler we’d be today. That would be about five thousandths of one degree … man, those Utopians really know how to get the most bang for their buck, huh? Give up all the modern comforts for a century and a half, live in the dark ages for decade after decade while everyone else is partying down, and what do they have to show for a hundred and fifty years of self-deprivation?
Five thousandths of a degree of cooling.
But wait, it gets worse … think of the grandchildren!
Over on the right hand side of the graph I’ve shown another fifty years of projected emissions. For a young couple just starting a family today, in fifty years their grandchildren will be in their thirties. So what might the BC carbon-based energy tax achieve for these grandchildren?
I’ve shown two possible futures. One is fifty years of the “Business As Usual” scenario in red. This continues the post-1970 trend, which has been an average of about a 1.5% annual increase in British Columbia emissions. That’s what we might pessimistically expect if there were no carbon-based energy tax of any kind. That’s worst-case.
And in green, I’ve shown what would be the absolute best-case result from the carbon-based energy tax. This is the total fantasy outcome, where the BC emissions remain at their 2008 value (the date of the BC tax), and they don’t increase at all for fifty years. Of course atmospheric CO2 levels would continue to rise because of the constant annual addition of the same amount of CO2 emitted in 2008, but not so much as in the “Business As Usual” scenario.
Now, the difference between those two possible scenarios, the worst-case and best-case scenarios, is the theoretical maximum possible cooling that might result from the carbon-based energy tax. That is shown by the black line in the lower right corner … and that cooling is three thousandths of a degree.
So there you have it. All of the pain that the folks of BC are going through, all of the miles of paperwork, all of the sacrifice, all of the damage done to the poor, all the taxes collected and bureaucrats coddled, for all of that, what the good Canadian folks have achieved for their grandchildren is three thousandths of a degree of cooling.
About all I can say is, I certainly hope than the grandchildren show a proper appreciation for that fantastic inter-generational gift, and that they send the old geezers a nice thank-you card like Miss Manners recommends. After all, it’s the thought that counts, and it’s not often you get a present that’s that significant …
Seriously, folks, the anti-carbon zealots must have hypnotized the masses. I know no other way to explain such idiocy. Here’s the thing:
Suppose someone came up to you and said “I can guarantee you that I can cool the planet by three thousandths of a degree over the next fifty years.” And suppose you checked them out, and found that they were telling the truth, in fact they could guarantee the three thousandths of a degree of cooling in fifty years.
How much would you personally pay for that?
Would you pay a thousand dollars to be guaranteed that amount of cooling, 0.003°C, and not today but in fifty years?
I wouldn’t. Not worth it. Too much money for too little benefit.
But the collective madness of the BC citizens has reached the point where they’re willing to establish an economy-slowing tax accompanied by a whole bureaucracy, with enforcement officers and piles of paperwork, and spend millions and millions of dollars in the mad pursuit of a best-case benefit of three thousandths of a degree cooling, not now, but in fifty years.
All I can do is shake my head in astonishment, and wonder at the madness of crowds. A plan is proposed, someone does a cost-benefit analysis, the benefits are too small to have a hope of being measured and don’t occur for decades … and in response people say “Great plan, let’s implement it immediately”???
Ah, well … I’m an optimist, I figure at some point our Canadian neighbors will wake up and go “Wha?” …
Best to all,
PS—As I mentioned above, I wanted to take a look at the benefits, the costs, and the effects of the BC carbon-based energy tax. I’ve only discussed the (lack of) benefits in this post, so as you might expect, there will be a couple of additional posts to cover the effects and the costs. In fact they’re mostly written, because this started as one post and got unbearably long … so I’ll cover the costs and the effects of the BC tax in future posts.
PPS—Please don’t tell me that this is just the first step. The BC taxpayers have already spent half a billion dollars on this farce and that’s not the half of it. If your wonderful first step costs a billion dollars for a cooling of 0.003°C, I am not interested in your second step whatever it may be.
NOTE: This is one of a four-part series on the BC carbon-based energy tax. The parts are: