Ed Wiebe

at the UVic Climate Lab

Tom Fletcher is Still, Still Wrong About Climate Change Thrice

written by me, twitter-->@edwiebe, 2016-06-04

Tom Fletcher, a writer in Victoria, British Columbia, claims wrongly that B.C. has a "bold plan to control Earth's weather with taxes". B.C. has no such plan. What B.C. has is a plan, along with other political jurisdictions, large and small around the world, to change the climate. How effective this plan is and will be is worth discussing, but it's not a plan to control the weather. And further, this whole point about weather differing from but being dependent on climate is actually quite important.

My main Tom Fletcher is wrong about climate change index page.

My main Tom Fletcher is wrong about climate change page.

First of all, the kind of weather events we might experience are dependent on the climate of the place being examined (lived in). Different weather phenomena can occur with a very wide range of possble realisations but are limited by the climate. This is subtle and complex. Depending on the variable you are considering you will see different kinds of variability over time and space. For example, temperature and precipitation are related but vary in different ways over time. We may see a dry winter here in Victoria but the climate limits how dry it can get. Or, we may see a cold summer but the climate limits how cold it can be. The combinations of wet or dry, warm or cold are not simply related.

The distinction between weather events and climate is not something someone who writes about climate change can ignore, gloss over, or just get wrong as Fletcher so often does. Purposefully, through ignorance, or stubborn stupidity, climate change science deniers get this wrong all of the time. It's one of the most common tropes of the denier canon.

However, Fletcher is correct when he writes the following sentence.

Fletcher: The pending LNG industry is just one problem for this reality-challenged scheme to maintain B.C.'s self-declared global climate leadership.

Unfortunately the present B.C. government seems to think they can have their climate change plan, and the miracle of LNG exports too. Feltcher's opinions continue.

Fletcher: [The Climate Leadership Team] concluded that B.C. isn't going to reach its 2020 emissions reduction target, even if the government implements the team's recommendation to resume steep increases in the carbon tax starting in 2018.

The facts here are more complex than Fletcher allows, as is often the case. The problems with B.C.'s climate change plan are not simply limited to whether or not the carbon tax is increased in the future.

In a recent letter to the Premier Several members of the Climate Leadership Team wrote "We advised your government to commit to the package of recommendations this year so that British Columbians and B.C. businesses have time to plan". The Climate Leadership Team's 32 recommendations are available online. These recommendations include number 5,

Increase the carbon tax by $10/yr commencing in July 2018 and, also supported by incremental carbon tax revenue, concurrently:

  • a) Maintain those current tax reductions achieved through the existing carbon tax that are broad based, provide support to vulnerable populations, or promote GHG reductions;
  • b) Adjust the current low income and rural and northern tax credits to ensure the most vulnerable individuals and families are not adversely impacted; and
  • c) Establish targeted and transparent mechanisms for emission-intensive, trade-exposed sectors that mitigate the competitiveness issues created for those sectors if B.C.'s carbon pricing is materially greater than jurisdictions with which they compete, provided that such mechanisms are structured in a manner that does not adversely impact the price signal to reduce emissions. These adjustments should remain in place until such time that carbon pricing and regulatory policy equivalency with other jurisdictions is achieved.

and number 6,

Expand coverage of the current carbon tax to apply to all greenhouse gas emission sources in B.C. after five years, starting with measurable GHG emissions covered by the current reporting regulation.

Do read the other recommendations, they are, unsurprisingly, more thoughtful than Fletcher would have you believe.

Fletcher: B.C.'s carbon tax and its questionable carbon-neutral government program have not reduced the province's greenhouse-gas emissions in recent years.

In spite of what Fletcher believes, there is evidence that the carbon tax has been effective in this province, at least until the tax was frozen. You can read one study on the subject called "British Columbia's Revenue-Neutral Carbon Tax: A Review of the Latest 'Grand Experiment' in Environmental Policy".

Empirical and simulation models suggest that the tax has reduced emissions in the province by 5-15%.

Continuing on ...

Fletcher: Then Saudi Arabia decided to depress the world price of oil, cancelling any carbon tax effect for people driving up to the pumps in B.C. and stimulating fuel demand around the world.

This is meaningless conjecture and opinion. As a side note, it's amusing to ponder the idea that someone who often seems so keen on capitalism could also be, apparently, so opposed to capitalism. Can Fletcher have it both ways? Perhaps that' a philosphical exercise best left to the reader.

Fletcher: Now our population and economic growth are rising again, along with carbon emissions. And LNG production and export can only add to that increase.

We just saw a study that does show that economic growth and carbon emissions have been (at least partly) decoupled in B.C. Fletcher is right about LNG production. Exploiting that resource won't help decrease this province's carbon emissions.

If we look at the bigger picture energy economics gets even more interesting. The International Energy Agency, surely not a flaky political organisation, presented an analysis this past March called, "Decoupling of global emissions and economic growth confirmed", which summarizes the energy situation here on Earth.

IEA analysis shows energy-related emissions of CO2 stalled for the second year in a row as renewable energy surged.

They further note that

The new figures confirm last year's surprising but welcome news: we now have seen two straight years of greenhouse gas emissions decoupling from economic growth.

From this point on Fletcher moves on to political commentary. There are some interesting points though.

Fletcher: Don't take my word for it. Nicholas Rivers, Canada Research Chair in Climate and Energy Policy at the University of Ottawa, wrote last week of the Paris deal: "These targets essentially require that developed countries such as Canada completely eliminate greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050 or shortly after."

"Completely eliminate."

Not only does that mean an end to the oil and gas industry, it means no more air travel, unless somebody comes up with a battery-powered airliner pretty soon.

This is correct. Even better, it's what climate scientists have been saying in one form or another for 25 years.

Fletcher: Alberta has moved ahead with its own carbon tax, loaded onto the energy industry in the midst of a collapse. Its main effect will likely be to send the Alberta NDP back to the opposition benches.

Alberta has developed a plan (finally!) to reduce carbon emissions in that province. Like B.C.'s plan, this plan was developed with the help of a panel of experts. It's like there are adults in charge of that province who understand the value of looking at evidence.

Fletcher: Ontario is considering a ban on coal for power and natural gas for home heating, plus huge subsidies for electric cars.

Ontario actually banned coal for power late last year. The new plan that has so far only been leaked (so far as I know) also includes a ban on using natural gas for home heating and a plan to help transition Ontario drivers to electric vehicles.

[Edit 2016-06-08] Ontario is not banning natural gas for home heating.

This sort of thing is, as in British Columbia and Alberta as well, precisely within the authority and responsibility of provincial governments in Canada. Perhaps Fletcher does not think that adults in modern society should take responsibility for the harm they are causing. I can't possibly know if that's how he feels but it is a conclusion one could draw after reading his opinions in local free newspapers.

Fletcher: Here in pre-election B.C., take everything you hear about healing the planet with a grain of salt.

Fletcher and I, and many, many others, agree on this final point. When politics are involved every decision ought to be considered in the light of evidence (IPCC). Unfortunately, they often aren't.

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