The Wrong Tool for the Job

Yeah, the Pacific Carbon Trust is crap.

It is a poorly conceived and brutally executed waste of taxpayers’ money, invented and mismanaged by a government that is either willfully corrupt or stunningly incompetent. But that doesn’t mean Anthropogenic Global Warming caused by the burning of carbon at a rate that the planet’s biosphere cannot buffer is not an issue that Governments need to take immediate measures to address.

I was amongst those whinging about the Pacific Carbon Trust years ago, and I was frankly shocked to see how close the Auditor General report paralleled my criticism of the program. The gist, repeated ad nauseum by my strange political bedfellow at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, is that cash-strapped cities and school districts are forced to pay money to Encana and other multi-national corporations to do things they would have done anyway, to create the illusion that Government operations were “carbon neutral”.

There was some flawed thinking from the onset, even if there were good intentions. Creating incentives to reduce the carbon impact of government operations was a good idea. Putting a price on carbon use is also a good idea. Causing government operations that cannot meet “zero carbon” goals to invest in offsetting activities may also a good idea, if well executed. Forcing every government entity to buy their carbon offsets from the same “Crown Corporation” run by entrenched kleptocrats was a terrible idea.

Giving these government entities access to a within-the-Province, one-stop-shop offset isn’t in itself a bad idea, but forcing them to purchase their offsets from that singular entity changes the game. The entity no longer has to compete on the burgeoning global carbon market. It knows it has buyers (actually, the more Government policy discouraged other carbon reductions, the more customers it will have!), it’s only problem is finding sufficient sellers to fill the need. That is not a healthy way to run any market. This is the same flawed market that makes it a bad idea to allow “free enterprise” to run a health care system: when your customer can’t say no, why provide a quality product or price your product fairly?

Well, I guess it works for the Mafia. but who wants to be their customer?

Worse, Municipalities that had their own internal carbon-reduction projects could not use their own carbon-offset money to fund them. For example, let’s imagine the New Westminster School Board decides to build one of their schools (stick with me here!) to be truly carbon neutral – ground-source geothermal with ATES, solar thermal water heating, and non-fossil electricity. That will cost more (up front, anyway) than running a gas boiler, but will result in real greenhouse gas reductions. At the same time, they are still burning carbon for their vehicle fleet and in their older buildings, so they need to buy offset credits. The School Board are not permitted, by law, to apply the cost of implementing those carbon savings from their new school to offset the carbon produced by their own legacy systems. They must instead buy those credits from the Pacific Carbon Trust.

That’s asinine.

This is nothing new, this has been going on for quite a while, and people much smarter than me have been saying for quite some time that the Pacific Carbon Trust is a piss-poor way to manage government carbon offsetting. Only now, when there is a hugely unpopular government heading for a wood-chipper election and the Auditor General report on the Pacific Carbon Trust Comes out, does the media pay any attention to the fiasco.

Unfortunately, much of this criticism from “conservative” parts of the conversation suggests that this is an example of how the entire idea of pricing carbon, from carbon taxes to offsetting schemes to the very idea of reducing emissions is a waste of time and “hard earned” taxpayers money.
Nothing could be further from the truth.

Some go so far to point out that “prominent environmentalists” like Dr. Mark Jaccard are highly critical of the Pacific Carbon Trust, without making clear that Dr. Jaccard argues vehemently that we need to be doing more, not less, to deal with our greenhouse gas output, and the Pacific Carbon trust is not a failure primarily because it cost the taxpayers money, but because it failed miserably to do the thing we were paying for it to do.

(side point – calling Dr. Jaccard a “prominent environmentalist” is about as ignorant as calling Albert Einstein a “noted physics advocate” or Rene Leveques a “well-known Nordiques Fan”. Dr. Jaccard is a highly respected Nobel Prize winning scientist whose research has global impact and whose area of study is the one topic the Canadian Taxpayers Federation is most ignorant of- Economics.)

So let’s make things clear: anthropogenic global warming is still happening. Actually, it is happening faster than we in the scientific community expected. The IPCC worst-case scenario projections for atmospheric carbon, surface temperatures, ice loss, ocean temperature and pH changes, and sea level rise have all been exceeded in the last 5 years. the economic and societal costs of this are going to be monumental unless we do something really soon to manage the issue.

The Pacific Carbon Trust may be the wrong tool for the job, but this doesn’t mean the job no longer needs to be done!

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