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My reading of the current science is that we're ultimately facing a cut in emissions of C02 and other greenhouse gases of about 90 per cent, and would have to do it well before we get a doubling of pre industrial levels of greenhouse gases.
That economy is going to driven, or powered by a combination of high renewable usage, some nuclear, and high levels of CO2 capture and storage. Whenever humans have switched from one type of fuel to another, it has been associated with economic growth, and I don't think this switch to a lower carbon future will be any different.
Gail Cooper from Toronto writes: Hello Martin. Some people are calling for a carbon tax to reduce our demand for fossil fuels. This would unfairly affect the poor, as the rich could carry on with their extravagant lives as usual. Others such as George Monbiot, author of Heat: How to Keep the Planet from Burning, propose a rationing system, whereby everyone would be allocated the same carbon copnsumption quota a year, much like the rationing measures imposed during the Second World War. What is your view of such a proposal? Is this the solution to global warming? Kind regards, Gail
Martin Mittelstaedt: I would accept either proposal because I think they're both good.
The hit on poor people by a carbon tax could be offset through income taxes, by giving low earners rebates. What is good about carbon taxes is that they force people to figure out the best way to reduce emissions, rather than having the reductions dictated by government.
But I also like the egalitarian aspects of giving everyone a CO2 limit. The idea that we're all in this together and the idea of social solidarity would outweigh the negatives -- that there would have to be more planning and administration than through a carbon tax.
I think both of the proposals are among the solutions to global warming. But I think there will have to be more. If people are limited in the amount of carbon they can emit, for instance, they'll need access to better public transit. That is something that will need political action.
As well, only about 25 per cent of emissions come from individuals. The rest are from industries. So there will have to be measures to reduce these emissions.
Victor Chwieros from Calgary writes: When ever the government tries to "fix" things, it often fails, and in some situations makes the problem worse. How can the free markets be used to resolve our environmental problems?
Martin Mittelstaedt: Victor, the way that free markets could be harnessed to deal with climate change would be to have the full environmental cost of using fossil fuels embedded in the price of the fuel or in activities, such as deforestation, that release global warming gases. Currently, these costs are socialized, or deferred to future generations.
I know that setting the price of an environmental harm is a difficult task. How do you price, for example, reduced polar bear numbers due to global warming? How do you price today the effect of rising sea levels a few decades from now when we do not know for sure how much seas will rise?
But I think rough estimations of the harmful impacts are possible, and therefore rough estimates of the new fuel prices needed to mitigate them. The good thing about having environmental costs included in prices is that users would have accurate prices for the first time. Because prices would be higher, they'd have far more incentive to conserve. It wouldn't be government telling them how to conserve. People are very resourceful and would figure out ways to economize.
Paul Nichols from Arnprior, Canada writes: Regarding Edward Greenspon's article, "The environment will be the single most important issue of 2007" -- about time, some might say. Too late, say others. In Europe, however, action has been underway re climate change for some time now and while there have been mistakes made by the EU they are at least making an effort, achieving small reductions. By contrast our emissions continue to climb. How have the Europeans managed to maintain sufficient long-term support for reduction efforts when Canada cannot even get started?