It was up until very recently I was a supporter of a broad based carbon tax but I think peak oil has risen the price of fuel far more than any government would have dared to accomplishing the same thing. With projections of $200 barrel oil in the near future I don’t think we need the government to add to the price. What we need the government to do is start building infrastructure that reduces our need for oil. We can drop gasoline taxes which will only boost consumption and move us further away from the real solution. We have to use less oil rather and anything that entices us to use more of it moves us in the wrong direction.
Do we need a carbon tax on natural gas? Probably not in North America. The spot price for natural gas has doubled from its most recent low last fall. This winter could be a nasty one for home heating bills. The same kind of scarcity that is tightening up the oil market is about to hit North American natural gas.
There is one source of energy that we could tax. Coal is dirty, nasty and very cheap. We have to move away from it. The question is do we really want to pay more for electricity when our transportation and heating costs have skyrocketed? Probably not but conservation is much cheaper to our economy than building new sources of power. The only way to move us towards conservation is to kick up the price.
I already pay something of a carbon tax on my electricity. We pay an extra 25% on the electricity portion of our power bill for "green" power. If we boosted the price of electricity 20 or 30 percent and used all that money to get us off of coal it could make a real difference.
In Saskatchewan we are debating whether we should go nuclear. I agree whole heartedly with my friends in the Green Party that we should invest in as much renewable power as possible. The one downside to renewable power is that aside from geothermal it isn’t something you can turn off and on. Solar panels create power when there is sun and wind turbines when there is wind. Conservation is great but it means everyone has to do it and some people can’t and some people won’t. I believe a nuclear power plant would allow us to turn off all coal fired generation and that would be a huge step towards reducing carbon emissions. It has risks and some serious downsides but it is probably the most feasible solution politically. It takes a long time to build a nuke plant and one could argue that the 10 year window to get a plant up is too little too late. However how long would it take to convince people global warming is a real threat? Most people believe that we are causing global warming but the same people believe someone else should be doing something about it. There is still the belief that somebody must be extreme if they actually sacrifice some elements of their lifestyle for the sake of the environment.
All in all a nuke plant is a better option than the half-hearted progress we’ve made so far. I’m not sure we are going to get much more out of the current provincial government.