Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
Supporters of the British Columbia (Canada) carbon-based energy tax that I discussed in my last post have made claims that the data shows this tax was a success … so being a suspicious-type fellow, I thought I’d take a look at the data myself. I didn’t figure the tax was having much effect, but I was prepared to find anything. Reality’s funny that way, I like not knowing which bush hides the rabbit … anyhow, here’s a typical claim:
MOTOR GASOLINE (DRIVING)
The above figures show changes in overall use of all petroleum fuel products (subject to the carbon tax). To gain some insights specifically into how the carbon tax has affected the behaviour of drivers, one can examine just the changes in motor gasoline consumption (one component of the overall fuel use numbers). Since 2008, per capita gasoline use in BC has declined by 7.3% more than in the rest of Canada (Table 4) – a substantial difference. Gasoline use in BC was already declining faster than in the rest of Canada from 2000-2007 (see Figure 4).
The tax covers all carbon-based fuels, heating fuel, jet fuel, kerosene, natural gas, all of them. Data is unavailable for some of them, so I have looked at the consumption of the highway fuels, gasoline and diesel, to see if the tax has any effect on how people are driving up in the frozen North.
Statistics Canada has an excellent website, from which I got most of my data about the fuel use. First, here are the raw changes in per capita diesel and gasoline use (combined) by Province for the years 1993-2011. This analysis is only the gasoline and diesel used on the roads, not the use of those fuel for off-road vehicles and farm tractors and the like. (Note that off-road and farming fuel, and indeed fuels for all purposes and users, are all subject to the BC carbon-based energy tax.)
Figure 1. Per capita Canadian diesel plus gasoline use by Province. Only fuels used on the highway are counted. Thick red and black lines show British Columbia and Canadian average per capita fuel use. Nunavut and Northwest Territories are not included due to lack of data for the earlier years, before Nunavut was created. DATA SOURCE
Now that’s interesting, but it doesn’t really allow us to look at the subtle year-to-year changes. For that we need to look at the percentage changes in emissions by province, to see who is going up and who is going down.
In looking at a percentage change in anything, the first question of interest is, percentage change from what starting point? Because the tax was instituted in 2008, I looked at the percentage change from that time. Figure 2 shows that result, and given the claims of the proponents of the tax, it’s quite funny … well, it’s funny except if you live in BC, I guess when the joke’s on you it kind of loses its humor. Anyhow, here’s the percentage change in per capita use of highway fuels by province:
Figure 2. Percentage change in fuel use, with the year 2008 used as the base from which the percentages are calculated. Blue line shows the corresponding percentage change in the real (inflation-adjusted) Canadian GDP. 2011 is the most recent year for which StatCan has data.
The first thing that stands out is what I found in my analysis of the US driving habits—Americans drive more miles in good economic times, and cut back on the driving in tough economic times. Similarly, the highway fuel used in both British Columbia and also the rest of Canada has moved roughly in parallel with the national economic situation.
The next thing I noticed was that from 1993 to 2008, BC had the slowest growth in highway fuel use of all of the Provinces.
Next, the changes in highway fuel use after the imposition of the tax are interesting. Figure 3 shows a closeup of Figure 2, highlighting the recent period from 2004 to 2011.
So … just like the rest of Canada (thick black line), BC road fuel use dropped from 2004 to 2008, when the BC tax was instituted … except it was dropping faster than the national average.
Again just like the rest of Canada, the BC road fuel use bottomed out in 2009, the year following the imposition of the carbon based energy tax. I can only assume that this is related to the blue line, showing the real GDP for Canada.
And just like the rest of Canada, since then British Columbia road fuel use has risen to the end of the record … except it’s risen faster than the national average.
Now here’s the funny part. From 2004 to the tax year of 2008, BC road fuel use was showing nearly the fastest decrease in fuel use in the country. Fuel use dropped about three times as much as the rest of Canada during that period. That was before the tax.
After the tax, BC road fuel use dropped, but for only one year. So did the rest of Canada, and the US, showing that the drop was at least in part due to the global financial meltdown.
And since 2009, BC is tied with the Yukon territory and Newfoundland/Labrador for the fastest increase in fuel use in the country. Highway fuel use rose five times faster in BC than in the rest of Canada since 2009.
Finally, since 2008 when the carbon-based energy tax was imposed, energy use on the road has risen in BC, not fallen. And not only has it risen, since the tax took effect BC has risen faster than all but three of the other provinces.
Can we say that the carbon-based energy tax hasn’t changed fuel use in BC? Nope, all I’ve looked at is road fuel … but fuel use on the highways of BC sure hasn’t changed. Well, that’s not exactly true.
Before the tax, per capita road fuel use in BC was dropping faster than almost all the provinces.
After the tax, per capita road fuel use in BC is increasing faster than almost all the provinces.
So actually, yes, I’d say I was wrong, the tax has had an effect on BC road fuel use … but likely not the one expected by the promoters.
PS—you may recall that up top, the promoters extolled the drop in gasoline used for road fuel in British Columbia … why didn’t I find that result? Why do I show an increase?
Well, it’s because I show all the highway fuel used, not just gasoline. And although there was a small decrease in gasoline use in BC, there was a larger increase in diesel use. And as a result, total BC road fuel use is not 7.3% less than the rest of Canada as they would lead you to believe by omitting the diesel figures—BC road fuel use has increased by 4.2% more than the rest of Canada. Like I say, it pays to be really suspicious with statements from folks like that, single issue fanatics.
PPS—In my previous post on the BC carbon-based energy tax, I said I wanted to discuss the (lack of) benefits, the costs, and the results of the tax. That post showed that the maximum possible benefit of the BC tax is a cooling of three thousandths of a degree (0.003°C) after fifty years. This post is about a curious result of the tax, the fact that BC highway fuel use (gas plus diesel) was dropping before the tax, and has increased since then by much more than the rest of Canada. The next post will discuss the costs of the tax, and why “revenue neutral” isn’t.
NOTE: This is one of a four-part series on the BC carbon-based energy tax. The parts are: