If you pollute, you should pay

Greg Galitzine : Green Blog
Greg Galitzine
| Helping environmentally-conscientious business leaders choose environmentally-friendly solutions.

If you pollute, you should pay

The carbon tax brought in by the Canadian province of British Columbia that came into effect on Canada Day, July 1, and which is being advocated at the federal level by the Liberal Party of Canada led by former environment minister Stephane Dion, recognizes if you want people, and organizations, to curb their pollution then they should pay for polluting. If they, and we, want to pay less then they, and we can pollute less. It's that simple. 

The hard fact is that pollution costs all of us. The environment is not a "free lunch".

For example, a study by the Ontario Medical Association, The Illness Cost of Air Pollution, estimates that in the province of Ontario in 2005 "overall economic losses associated with air pollution exposure are expected to be in the order of $7.8 billion. This total is expected to increase to over $12.9 billion by 2026."

Such losses are borne by all taxpayers. By shifting the cost burdens to those who create them at the sources will reduce taxes, healthcare costs, and increase productivity. 

Carbon taxes help place the burden of responsibility for the environment on where it should lie, on each one of us.  It gives us clear choices: pay more or use and/or encourage employees to use mass transit, initiate a telework program, use conferencing rather than travel to meetings, retrofit a building to curb energy demand. It is up to us to make the right decisions.

Carbon taxes should not be tax grabs. Instead the money should go to strategies to lower emissions, such as investments in mass transit, developing alternative energy sources and promoting conservation, in encouraging and incentivizing telecommuting programs, and to enable residents and organizations to make purchases that will cut pollution. 

Both the British Columbia program and the federal Liberal proposals provide either for tax credits or reductions that give money back to help make the changes. 

The province is also investing heavily in mass transit in the Metro Vancouver area, smaller cities, and in rural areas. While more can be done, and some of its highway expansion plans are a little shaky environment-wise (there are many studies that show that new highway capacity fills up in a few years because it encourages pollution-spawning sprawl), the province's plan is one of the most dynamic and gutsy approaches ever made by any North American government on this issue. It is matched only the no-freeways stance in Portland, Oregon in the 1970s that initiated that city's mass transit and carbon-minimizing smart growth renaissance.

With alternatives to emitting large amounts of carbon in place, there should be no reason to pay large amounts of tax. That's a win-win for all of us.

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