Thursday, February 21, 2008

Ecoshock 080222 Drying of the West & More

This is Radio Ecoshock. I'm your host, Alex Smith.

Our audio show begins with a 21 minute interview with Robert Kunzig, author of "The Drying of the West" in the February issue of National Geographic. A great science writer and researcher, Robert Kunzig has discovered a wealth of science showing the American South West is entering into a period of prolonged drought.

The whole Colorado River system, and the massive population who depend upon it (from Denver to Los Angeles) are imperiled. The rains of the past will seldom come, and the water table, with its river systems are drying out.

The vegetation of the Rockies is already changing with the 8 year long drought, especially the trees. The human impact is only now beginning to emerge. Will some cities become endangered? Listen to the interview.



One way to curb consumption of fossil fuels, in the hope of controlling climate change, is a tax on carbon. The first carbon tax in North America has appeared in the Canadian province of British Columbia, on the wild west Coast.

This really matters. It sets and example, and may start a series of similar measures in the most progressive American States. Changing our tax structures can, as the Friends of Earth say, "de-carbonize the tax code."

Governments can encourage some behaviors, and discourage others, through the tax system. For the past many decades, governments have been handing out subsidies to the oil and gas industry, to encourage energy development. Even though we know fossil fuels are wrecking the environment, and people's lives, both the Canadian and the American government continue to give huge tax breaks - billions of dollars a year - to the most profitable companies in the world, like ExxonMobil, which made $39 billion profits just last year. That tax system encourages the end of the climate as we know it.

But what if governments could penalize carbon production, and encourage conservation and alternative energy, through the tax system?

Like Schwartzenegger in California, the Premier of British Columbia has sworn to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Since B.C. gets most of its power from hydro-electricity, the largest single source of greenhouse gases is the transportation system - mainly trucks and cars.

Isn't that just another big government tax grab? Carole Taylor, the finance minister for British Columbia, says no. They have announced a "revenue neutral" plan. While the price of carbon goes up, due to the added tax, the income tax rate will go down. And B.C. will mail a check for $100 to every resident, helping the poorest, who don't pay taxes. In balance, the government won't make a dime out of the new taxes, and theoretically, it won't cost consumers any more either - providing they continue to seek out better energy solutions, like buying a more fuel-efficient car.

The tax covers all the fossil fuels at the consumer level. Including home heating oil. But it doesn't apply to the gas and oil producers themselves, which is a big loop-hole. The cement companies also get out scot-free.

The legislation isn't perfect, but it is still an important milestone. A group of 70 economists in the Province called for this revenue-neutral carbon tax. It was backed by the largest environmental groups, and even the Chamber of Commerce, the voice of business, backed the plan. Business will also get a reduced tax rate, to offset their higher carbon costs.

Let's listen to B.C. Finance Minister Carole Taylor announce the first Carbon Tax in North America, in the legislature. One note for listeners: the "PST" she refers to is the B.C. Provincial Sales Tax, which will be reduced or removed for some green alternatives.

[Carole Taylor in the Legislature 4:54]

To give you a quick snapshot of the carbon tax in other countries, I'm going to quote directly from the Wikipedia entry:

"On January 1, 1991, Sweden enacted a carbon tax, placing a tax of .25 SEK/kg ($100 per ton) on the use of oil, coal, natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas, petrol, and aviation fuel used in domestic travel. Industrial users paid half the rate (between 1993 and 1997, 25% of the rate), and certain high-energy industries such as commercial horticulture, mining, manufacturing and the pulp and paper industry were fully exempted from these new taxes. In 1997 the rate was raised to .365 SEK/kg ($150 per ton) of CO2 released. In 2007, Sweden will raise taxes on carbon emissions.[15]

Finland, the Netherlands, and Norway also introduced carbon taxes in the 1990s.

The United Kingdom Treasury imposed the Fuel Price Escalator, an incrementally-increasing pollution tax, on retail petroleum products from 1993. The increases stopped after politically-damaging Fuel protests in 1999, at which time tax and duty represented more than 75% of the total pump price. Tax now represents about 2/3rd of the pump price[16]

In 2005 New Zealand proposed a carbon tax, setting an emissions price of NZ$15 per tonne of CO2-equivalent. The planned tax was scheduled to take effect from April 2007, and applied across most economic sectors though with an exemption for methane emissions from farming and provisions for special exemptions from carbon intensive businesses if they adopted world's-best-practice standards of emissions. After the 2005 election, the minor parties supporting the Government opposed the proposed tax, and it was abandoned in December 2005.

In 1993, President of the United States, Bill Clinton proposed a BTU tax that was never adopted. His Vice President, Al Gore, had strongly backed a carbon tax in his book, Earth in the Balance, but this became a political liability after the Republicans attacked him as a "dangerous fanatic". In 2000, when Gore ran for President, one commentator labeled Gore's carbon tax proposal a "central planning solution" harking back to "the New Deal politics of his father."[2] In April 2005, Paul Anderson, CEO and Chairman of Duke Energy, called for the introduction of a carbon tax.[16] In January 2007, economist Charles Komanoff and attorney Dan Rosenblum launched a Carbon Tax Center[17] to give voice to Americans who believe that taxing carbon emissions is imperative to reduce global warming."

That brief history of the carbon tax comes from Wikipedia. You can find out more about the American situation at

Of course, in September of 2007, Michigan Rep. John Dingell proposed what he called a "hybrid carbon tax." The bill had some really appealing ideas. In addition to a carbon tax, which included things like jet fuel, Dingell's bill called for an end to tax subsidies for monster houses over 4200 square feet.

But the major Green groups couldn't support any climate change initiative coming from the dark representative of Detroit. Mr. Dingell had led the charge, year after year, to prevent any meaningful fuel-efficiency regulations for American car producers. Greenpeace descended on the parking lot of Dingell's district office, transforming into a car dealership for gas-guzzlers. After years of betrayal on CAFE fuel efficiency standards, where America has dragged behind Europe for decades, Dingell's bill seemed too much like Dick Cheney selling face protection armour - for hunters.

Meanwhile America has been more focussed on the alternative carbon-reduction plan called "cap and trade." This works more with original big polluters, rather than consumers. For example, a giant coal-fired electricity plant in Ohio could pay for better coal burning equipment in China, or even re-planting some rain forest, rather than cut back their own emissions.

The cap and trade system did work in the United States to help bring down the sulfur emissions that were killing off lakes and forests with acid rain. But the international situation with greenhouse gases is much more complex. Cap and trade is open to wild abuse and corruption, which we have already seen. I've found reports of one Chines company which made $800 million by not opening a polluting plant. Meanwhile, the original polluter kept on pouring out the greenhouse gases.

All the super-capitalists on Wall Street back the cap and trade option. They are already testing out futures markets, to make money out of climate change. These are the same people who just brought us the sub-prime and Collateralized debt fiasco, which may bring down the whole ecomony.

Frankly, cap and trade stinks. The carbon tax option is much more honest, and likely to work, in my opinion. Oh by the way, Al Gore happens to have my opinion as well.

We may eventually have some combination of efforts. Certainly, the British Columbia plan isn't strong enough really protect the climate. The Province intends to keep on making money selling off oil and gas rights, and taxing production - it is in the oil and gas business itself. Maybe that is why the original producers got off with no taxes. Surprise, surprise.

But climate active scientists like Andrew Weaver, a lead IPCC author, and Mark Jaccard, an expert in government carbon control, have backed the British Columbia carbon tax as an excellent start in a long process. Ian Bruce, climate campaigner for the David Suzuki Foundation said: "It's a landmark decision in North America as far as governments taking strong action on climate change."

You can find out more about the B.C. Carbon Tax from the best online source, the Tyee magazine at the t y e e dot ca, thats

To wrap things up, here is an economist from the University of British Columbia, David Green. He was one of the 70 economists pushing for this legislation, and a member of VTACC, Voters Taking Action on Climate Change. This clip comes from the Canadian TV broadcast, the CBC:

[short clip of David Green]

Check out our website at - and let's a hear bit from Andy Sloan, as Hummerman.

[Hummerman clip]


Just as U.S. President George Bush hit a record low approval rating of 19 percent - the Conservative Canadian government steps in to copy another lame duch move. Like Bush, Canada will now muzzle it's climate scientists.

All calls from the press must go to the communications officers in the capital, who will answer with "approved lines." Environment Canada staff were advised to follow the policy of "one department, one voice". The department wants no surprises for the Minister, John Baird.

Several Canadians were lead authors on the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They are in demand as experts in everything from Arctic Ice to global weather impacts. Now, like NASA scientist James Hansen, the country's scientists are being told to follow the political line. It is anti-scientific, and a recipe for further disaster.

Luckily, I happened to record one top Canadian Scientist, just a week before this edict was sent out. You can download the whole 28 minute speech by Dr. John Fyfe, of Environment Canada, from our website. Just look on the Climate Change page of Here is the introduction, and the last part of that speech, by Dr. John Fyfe.

[Fyfe Excerpt]

The whole idea that our climate will change radically, within our lifetimes, is so difficult to grasp, personally. Every time I listen to a climate expert, explaining our real situation, something new seems to sink in.

Although I had read the IPCC Summary Report, plowed through many news articles, and hours of audio - Dr. Fyfe emphasized something I failed to digest. All the projected scenarios of our future, made by the best expertise and super-computers of the Earth, suggest that we are "doomed" to suffer climate change, in the next few decades, no matter what we do.

That is sobering. We will cut down on fossil fuels somehow. Many of us will choose less convenience, fewer products, smaller cars and houses, rather than continue to wreck the atmosphere. Our economies may founder, in the attempt to save ourselves. And still, despite our sacrifices, the world as a whole will get hotter, the seas will rise, species will disappear - it will happen.

The short-sighted public will surely get tired of the new rules, taxes, and limits to their former consumption. Why bother giving up carbon, when Mother Nature is punishing us anyway, they will say. The environmentalists have failed us, our leaders mislead.

But.... and this is huge, a real reduction in greenhouse gases, starting as soon as possible, will determine whether the world is really livable by 2100. For the first time in European-based civilization, there must be a willing reduction, something that does not benefit us - but acts to preserve our grandchildren. We are called to save the stability of the planet's climate, for all coming generations.

Surely, this will inspire us, in new ways. We have a goal that is greater than ourselves, a gift to pass down in time.

And I am not alone in this desperate hope that humans can, and really will, turn this around. Just this week, I heard that optimism in an interview with Simon Fraser University Professor Bruce Alexander. The topic was the globalization of addiction - not just drugs, but all our addictions from gambling to our fake second lives on television, games, and the Net.

Here is that clip, from the penetrating weekly program called "Redeye" from CFRO, Co-op Radio in Vancouver.

[Bruce Alexander - stumbling toward hope]

Find all the Redeye interviews at

And that's it for Radio Ecoshock this week. Grab all our features, and a lot of good green audio, free, from our website at That's e c o shock like an electric shock dot org.

I'm Alex Smith, finally with a happier ending, and a hope that change is growing out of the dark. I've just come from a good place, where the Latin music pours out into the hot Havana night.

Just for something different, we'll go out with a group you won't find anywhere on the Net, or hear anywhere else. This is the homemade album for El Groupo Santiago y Habana, from the club Monserate, en Viejo Habana.

Adios, muchachos.


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