Keith McNeill is editor of the Clearwater Times newspaper.

Keith McNeill is editor of the Clearwater Times newspaper.

The pipeline and the water-bed

Kinder Morgan’s decision, even if it stands, will not have a meaningful effect of climate change

Many people were surprised last weekend by Kinder Morgan’s decision not to invest more money in its Trans Mountain twinning project until the political situation clarifies.

READ MORE: B.C., Alberta clash as Kinder Morgan suspends work (Apr. 8, 2018)

Unfortunately, that decision likely will mean an increase in trainloads of dilbit (bitumen from the oil-sands diluted with solvents) being shipped through the North Thompson Valley.

That is because whether the pipeline is twinned or not will have no meaningful impact on the worldwide consumption of fossil fuels.

Only global carbon fee-and-dividend will do that.

The amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere continues to increase at an increasing pace, despite decades of conferences and piecemeal actions by individual nations. Why is that?

The most reasonable explanation is because fossil fuel use is like a water-bed. Push it down here and it goes up over there.

North America and Europe, for example, have pretty much de-industrialised. Higher wages plus stricter environmental controls and fees drove much of their manufacturing output to China. Now China seeks to cut back on the pollution it produces, which is driving manufacturing to India. Soon Africa, with its 1.2 billion people, will be industrializing by burning fossil fuels to catch up.

Most economists agree that the best way to reduce fossil fuel use is through putting a price on carbon – charging a fee or levy on fossil fuel use, as in a carbon tax.

What possible incentive would motivate the people of India and Africa to put a price on the fossil fuels that would otherwise lift them out of poverty?

The answer is there must be a global price on carbon and all or nearly all of the money collected must be returned to the people of planet Earth as equal and repeating dividends.

A global carbon fee set at the same level as B.C.’s carbon tax of $30 per tonne would generate close to $1 trillion per year – enough to give every adult human being about $200 per year in dividends. That would effectively double the incomes of hundreds of millions of people in the world’s poorest countries – lifting them out of poverty and at the same time reducing fossil fuel use.

Taxation at the global level would also require political representation at the global level – a United Nations Parliamentary Assembly.

READ MORE: Global warming requires a global solution (Nov. 24, 2015)

Getting there and staying there for the centuries that we would need for it to work would require a global consensus, which would be best obtained through a worldwide referendum on carbon fee-and-dividend.

Global carbon fee-and-dividend isn’t a “wouldn’t it be nice if we could do it” kind of thing. It is not optional. It is what we need to do in order to give the world’s children, grandchildren and great grandchildren a reasonable chance of avoiding mass death if not extinction.

It also would not be the only solution. We have delayed so long on taking meaningful action to control climate change that we almost certainly will need to undertake some geo-engineering to keep planet Earth habitable.

All the geo-engineerion options have risks and costs. The big questions are who will decide and how will they be paid for.

However, if your kitchen sink is overflowing, first you turn off the tap. Only then do you mop the floor.

That means that geo-engineering will will not work unless we first control the amount of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere, and only global carbon fee-and-dividend can do that.

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Most major political parties have an international arm. The greens have the Global Greens, the conservatives have the International Democratic Union, the liberals have the Liberal Inernational, the socialists have the Socialist International, and so on.

The first political international that brings in carbon fee-and-dividend at the global level will control the United Nations Parliamentary Assembly, when it is formed, for many years into the future.


A graph of carbon dioxide readings from the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii shows an increasing curve since measurements began in the late 1950s.

A graph of carbon dioxide readings from the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii shows an increasing curve since measurements began in the late 1950s.