Showing posts with label NYT. Show all posts
Showing posts with label NYT. Show all posts

Friday, July 6, 2012

Topsy Turvey Taxland

In Topsy Turvy Taxland, the government runs a tax system that encourages bad behaviour and then complains that people and corporations are behaving badly. This is a tax system run by Jabba the Hutt – dysfunctional, dictatorial and counter-productive.

It's a tax system that punishes work, encourages wasteful spending, and is too lazy to bother discouraging bad behaviour like smoking, gambling and polluting.

In contrast, my ideal tax man is Cary Grant – energetic, practical, flexible and intelligent.

Tax reform gives Jabba the Hutt a makeover so he is more like Cary Grant. As you can see from the picture, it's a monumental task that is best achieved in small steps.

Australia's latest tax reform, the Clean Energy Legislation, continues a trend to move taxes away from those that penalise work towards taxes on expenditure. This is Cary Grant's way of encouraging citizens to work hard, save their money and spend wisely.

The previous tax reform in 2000 gave us the Goods and Services Tax (GST) which is a value-added tax of 10% on expenditure. In July this year the Clean Energy Legislation includes a tax of $23 tonne on major greenhouse gases. In 2015, this tax will change into a price that is integrated with world carbon markets.

This structural shift away from taxing income towards taxing expenditure is highly praised.

The Economist says,
Other governments would do well to emulate and improve upon Australia’s efforts to shift the tax burden from hard-earned wages and profits to unearned rents and uncompensated harms.
This New York Times article praises British Columbia's carbon tax.
On Sunday, the best climate policy in the world got even better: British Columbia’s carbon tax — a tax on the carbon content of all fossil fuels burned in the province — increased from $25 to $30 per metric ton of carbon dioxide, making it more expensive to pollute.
Yoram Bauman and Shi-Ling Hsu

The authors ask, "Why tax good things when you can tax bad things, like emissions?" and they note that this principle is supported by  economists across the political spectrum, from Arthur B. Laffer and N. Gregory Mankiw on the right to Peter Orszag and Joseph E. Stiglitz on the left.

Economic theory suggests that putting a price on pollution reduces emissions more affordably and more effectively than any other measure. It is good policy.

In Topsy Turvey Taxland,Tony Abbott, our Leader of the Opposition, is promising to undo Australia's Clean Energy Legislation and remove the price on greenhouse gases when he gets into power. He'll have to increase income taxes so the government doesn't lose revenue, though of course he's staying mum about that part of his plan.

This will take us back to square one, to Jabba the Hutt as tax man supervising a system that lazes around, doing none of the heavy lifting required to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

Mainstream climate scientists say that global warming is an urgent problem that should be tackled head on with gusto. "With gusto" means that our tax system can't be lazy. It has to pull its weight.

We need Cary Grant on the job, not Jabba the Hutt lazing around.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Angry Birds is a game. Climate change isn't.

Like half the planet, I love Angry Birds. Apart from the intricate challenges of figuring out trajectories and new strategies, the game taps into a brutal and primal delight in the fierce battle for survival. Playing it on the train without the sound effects almost misses the point.

The battle between the birds and pigs fits one of the great archetypes of human experience. The birds face a life-or-death challenge to save future generations by reclaiming the eggs stolen by the pigs. It tells the same survival story as Homer's Odyssey,  the Mahabharata, and the legends of King Arthur.

In the past year, climate change advocates have become less like ivory tower academics and more like Angry Birds. More than anyone else, they know that the battle for minds over climate change is a battle for the future of human society. 

After decades of political shilly-shallying, climate change advocates are getting impatient and angry. They're dropping the political niceties and calling it like they see it.

James Hansen wrote recently in the New York Times,
Global warming isn’t a prediction. It is happening. That is why I was so troubled to read a recent interview with President Obama in Rolling Stone in which he said that Canada would exploit the oil in its vast tar sands reserves “regardless of what we do.”

If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.

KC Golden takes him to task for the sporting metaphor "game over" and  comments on the seriousness of climate disruption as the great survival story of the generation, and possibly of the species.
It’s no game, and it is never over.  Whatever you do now to improve the situation is crap I don’t have to shovel later.  So quit crying in your beer and DO STUFF.

Get in the game Dadddyyy, ’cause when it’s “over” for you, it’s on for me.
Hansen and Golden are not disagreeing with each other. They're both getting angry and calling it like it is.

Nothing but relentless, dogged and unforgiving persistence will get us through this one. The kind of persistence the Angry Birds show. The kind of persistence parodied in this Israeli comic skit.

Are you up for it? Check out my 'Take Action' page and practice some dogged persistence!

Image source: Cakes by Becky.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Not my grandmother's weather

Grandma Blanche

When my Grandma Blanche was 70 years old, she came to visit me in North Queensland. She lived all her life in the coal mining villages and towns of Country Durham in the north of England. She was entirely used to the grey skies and bleak streetscapes of mining villages pictured in films like Billy Elliot and Brassed Off.


You can probably tell from her piled-up blonde hair and magenta lace dress that Grandma Blanche was not your usual storybook grandma. She had an appetite for life.

As you'd expect for somone who was a teenager in England in WWI, Grandma found North Queensland wonderfully strange and exotic. 

Ingham is in the tropics at latitude 18 S which is about the same distance from the equator as Jamaica. It sits in the fertile Herbert River valley where sugar cane is the main crop. We showed her around the local sights – the cane fields, the river and the cemetery, famous for its elaborate Italian family graves.

Ingham cemetery

My friend Ann and I took her along with us when the young men from the Sugar Mill invited us to a Champagne and Chicken Breakfast.  (It *was* the 1970s!).  After making merry on champagne and chicken and being very rude about one young man's brand new Holden Monaro, we drove home through the strange green light thrown by towering tropical storm clouds.

Just as we got home, large splats of rain started to pelt down, as big as eggs. We ran for the house – laughing, wet and a bit tipsy.

Then the heavens opened in a mighty downpour. Thunder crashed overhead and lightning zagged everywhere. We were glad to be indoors, safe from the deafening sound-and-light show. Grandma was a bit quiet.

Like most tropical thunderstorms, this one soon passed and sunlight sparkled on a wet world.

Then Grandma asked questions, and we realised that in all her seventy years she had never seen anything like it. We tried to get our heads around the different world she lived in. A world without thunder storms. She knew the quiet mystery of English snowstorms but she only knew of thunder storms from books and movies.

I think of my grandmother when I read scientists' predictions for future climate.
If we were to ... continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction. Civilization would be at risk.

Just as I had to work to get my head around the idea that someone could live their whole life without experiencing thunderstorms, so I also have to work to envision the inevitable climate change future. It's not a theory, it is a direct consequence of burning fossil fuels.

The coal mines of Country Durham fueled the Industrial Revolution. My Grandma lived opposite the first-ever passenger railway station. My ancestors dug that coal and worked on the world's first railroads.

Durham's coal mines are closed now because the coal has been used up. We are staring at a situation where working coalmines all over the world will need to close in order to reduce carbon emissions.

It is 25 years since Grandma Blanche died, and already world weather is not the weather she grew up with. If we don't reduce carbon emissions, Grandma Blanche's descendents in County Durham won't have to travel half-way around the world to experience tropical thunderstorms. They'll get them at home, and the tropics will be uninhabitable.

As James Hansen says,
The cost of acting goes far higher the longer we wait — we can’t wait any longer to avoid the worst and be judged immoral by coming generations.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Safe driving

It is difficult to know whether the car in front of you is going to slam on its brakes. Once it does, you are in crisis mode and your options are limited.

It is far better to practise safe driving and pay attention to what's up ahead. That way you can take evasive action in time to avoid it altogether, or to minimise the damage.

All the best scientists agree that there is a big problem ahead – the planet is warming and the consequences will be catastrophic for human society.

James Hansen, NASA climatologist, warns us, here,  of the dangers of exploiting Canada's tar sands.
Canada’s tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history. If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now.

Matthew Huber, a Purdue climatologist, says that a 10°C temperature rise is definitely too hot for humans. He also thinks that 2°C  is a lost cause.

What happens if we ignore the problem that lies ahead and we're forced to cope in crisis mode? How can humans and animals adapt to catastrophic high temperatures? 
Burrow. Be active at night. Stay near bodies of water. Reduce activities to a minimum. Lower birth weight.
 Matthew Huber

Matthew Huber used this analogy in this interview.
Image is of a Volvo XC60 with sensor system to prevent rear impact collisions at city speeds.