OPINION: Why is environmental policy debate stuck on the carbon tax?

It’s frustrating how environmental policy in this country is really become a battle between having a carbon tax and not having a carbon tax.

The idea behind the carbon tax is to use the power of the market to encourage polluters to reduce what they emit.

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There’s always been a cost to pollution – diminished natural environments, harms to human health – but it’s been easy for the polluters to avoid it because those harmful effects can take place far away from where the polluter is located. By adding a monetary cost to pollution, all of a sudden the effects of it are no longer far away and the polluter is encouraged to emit less.

The problem with a carbon tax is by putting a cost on pollution, all those that pollute have to pay. That’s all well and good if you’re a large company with access to lots of money to make improvements to reduce pollution, but if you’re an individual that doesn’t have a lot of money to make those improvements, all of a sudden you’re just out some extra dollars.

Most governments that charge a carbon tax have come up with a solution for this: give rebates to those individuals. The problem with that is then there’s no incentive for those individuals to reduce their pollution.

In this case, the solution can’t be found in a carbon tax. Instead, there needs to be a programs that helps individuals that don’t have a lot of money to make the improvements needed to reduce pollution.

We need to be looking at rebate programs to encourage homeowner to make renovations that make their homes more energy efficient or that allows them to tap into alternatives like geothermal energy to reduce their burden on the grid.

It’s so easy to throw up our hands and say that a carbon tax is ineffective. What needs to happen instead is to come up with an effective alternative that will allow us to reduce pollution. There’s plenty of choices to attack the problem: market-based system, incentives or just plan old regulation, but let’s do something.

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