Monday, 31 March 2008

Green is the colour

Carbon offsetting cartoon
What is the purpose of green taxation? I’m not arguing the importance of preserving the environment; I’ll take that as read. What I’d like to know is how a green tax helps in this respect? This sounds like a pointless question until you look at those taxes implemented to date and ask whether they’ve done anything to improve the situation.

Has the energy tax on power generating companies changed people’s habits?

Has a huge level of tax on petrol stopped people from using their cars?

Will a tax on air travel stop people from taking holidays abroad and is it fair?

The problem with many environmental taxes is two-fold. The first is that unless there is a way to avoid paying the charge whilst still obtaining the goal, they don’t actually achieve anything. I need energy to keep me warm in winter; an energy tax only hurts the poor and elderly. I travel to work by car every day not because I want to, but because there’s no viable alternative. Whilst an air tax might feasibly make travel abroad too expensive for some, in reality all that’s been achieved is to make such holidays elitist; leaving them firmly in the grasp of the middle classes who will appease their guilt over the next skiing trip by buying into some carbon-offsetting nonsense.

The second problem with environmental taxes is psychological; a lot of people seem to like paying them. It’s the equivalent of confessional time at the Church, you pay your tax and all is forgiven. It may make us feel better but it doesn’t actually do the environment any good. It hasn’t stopped me from driving to work, because I have to drive to work; I haven’t been provided with a choice.

Whilst the government may applaud people’s willingness to be fleeced of their money, this kind of taxation is dangerous as it encourages the public to continue with their non-ecological lifestyles, it might even make some feel better in the mistaken belief that their money is being put to good use. Green taxes have resulted in many environmental groups taking their eye off the ball and consequently the pressure off the authorities.

The real issue, as it always has been, is the requirement for integrated policy from central government. But an integrated transport policy, for example, would require a consistency of thought that doesn’t give itself easily to sound-bites and, judging from the mad re-positioning of the main political parties, doesn’t win votes. The real problem, as it always has been, is us.


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