A Carbon Tax Won’t Stop Wildfires

To address real issues, we must move beyond magical thinking.

Here’s how the Encyclopedia Britannica describes “Magical Thinking”:

“the belief that one’s ideas, thoughts, actions, words, or use of symbols can influence the course of events in the material world. Magical thinking presumes a causal link between one’s inner, personal experience and the external physical world. Examples include beliefs that the movement of the Sun, Moon, and wind or the occurrence of rain can be influenced by one’s thoughts or by the manipulation of some type of symbolic representation of these physical phenomena.”

Technological and economic progress largely depends on moving beyond magical thinking.

It’s no coincidence that capitalist societies are both the most advanced, most free, and most rational societies. Letting each individual transact in the market and pursue the truth independently, rather than having market outcomes and the ‘truth’ be determined by the state, is what has enables innovation and wealth creation in the long-run.

Thus, it’s also no coincidence that – when push comes to shove – authoritarian leaders like Xi Jinping will prioritize mysticism rather than material progress:

“Chinese leader Xi Jinping has called for patience in a speech released as the ruling Communist Party tries to reverse a deepening economic slump and said Western countries are “increasingly in trouble” because of their materialism and “spiritual poverty.””

Communism & Fascism – both of which rejected the ideas of democracy and capitalism – found themselves unable to generate the innovation and wealth necessary to compete with democratic capitalist societies.

The rise of magical thinking in the West

Unfortunately, we are seeing a return to magical thinking in the Western world, and this poses a real threat to our way of life.

Consider the following posts by Catherine McKenna and Steven Guilbeault:

“Conservative politicians want to fight about a price on carbon pollution? You want to make it free to pollute while Canadians pay with their lives threatened, homes destroyed and their communities obliterated? So what are you going to do? You are the arsonists.”

“Thinking of the people in #NWT as they face the devastating wildfires. Federal assistance is providing support on the ground to keep people safe.

The scale of these extreme weather events are unknown to our country. It is an urgent signals that we must act on the climate crisis.”

Now, McKenna’s post is obviously the more egregious of the two.

However, both represent magical thinking.

When the Liberals say “act on the climate crisis,” they mean continuing to increase the carbon tax.

Why is this a form of magical thinking?

Because there is no logical connection between imposing a carbon tax on Canadians and reducing wildfires.

First of all, B.C. has had a carbon tax since 2008. Obviously, the carbon tax has not stopped wildfires.

Second, Canada has had a carbon tax since 2018. It has gone up year after year since 2020. This carbon tax has not stopped wildfires.

Third, Canada’s emissions reductions have been almost identical under both the Liberals and the Conservatives:

“The Conservatives took power in early 2006, so we will start there. In 2006, Canada’s per capita emissions were 17.47 tons. In 2015, their final year in office, Canada’s emissions per capita had fallen to 16.32 tons, a 1.15 ton per person decline.

Since the 2015 election occurred with just 2 months left in the year, we will start in 2016 when looking at the numbers under the Liberals.

In 2016, Canada’s per capita emissions were 16.13 tons per person. By 2021 (the last year for which full data is available) Canada’s per capita emissions had fallen to 14.86 tons. That’s a 1.27 ton decline per person.

Again, remember that the Liberal number is still skewed by what happened in 2020. Canada’s per capita emissions dropped from 16.32 tons per person in 2019, to 14.59 tons in 2020, as much of the global economy was shut down. As economic activity began to recover in 2021, the number crept back up, but it is almost certain that the 2022 number will show an increase that will wipe out the very narrow Liberal emission reduction advantage when compared to the Harper era.”

The Conservatives accomplished those reductions without imposing a federal carbon tax.

Fourth, emissions fell under both the Conservatives & the Liberals because of a broader process witnessed across the Western world. Technological advancement has enabled more wealth to be generated with less intense emissions. Both overall emissions and per capita emissions have been in decline across the West for decades.

Fifth, Canada represents about 1.5% of global emissions. Since the impact of emissions is global (the impact of China’s increased use of coal is not limited to China), imposing a carbon tax on Canadians simply won’t have any impact on the risk of wildfires.

Sixth, the logical approach to wildfires would be to focus on what we can control, including better forest management, and increased procurement of water bombers.

Enough pandering

Oftentimes, we make concessions to magical thinking out of the assumption that people are being emotional and should thus get a free pass on ignoring reality. But we won’t be able to solve any real problems that way.

Guilbeault and McKenna represent a type of thinking that we must move beyond. Instead, Canada needs leaders who prioritize logic – and by extension – defend individual freedom and economic liberty.


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