Sunday, December 09, 2007

Tim Harford's Cappuccino

I think Tim Harford has it dead right in this column about how we might end up controlling our behaviours.

Or we could put Gordon Brown and David Cameron in charge of telling us what light bulbs we can use, how many flights we can take, or whether our cappuccinos should be made with UHT milk. That bureaucratic approach is not appealing when you add up all the flights and light bulbs and cappuccinos in the country, reflect on the intricacies of their production and the subtle trade-offs that inform our choices to do this or buy that. Gordon Brown and David Cameron just don’t have the information to make our choices for us.

Or the government could set a price for carbon – using taxes or a workable permit trading scheme – and see what happens. The carbon price would influence every decision we make, nudging us towards consuming less and consuming in less carbon-intensive ways. That seems to be the only sensible way to ask the astonishing sophistication of the market to work around the environmental challenge we appear to be facing today. If society must change, so must the cappuccino.

Of course in Canada it is not Gordon Brown or David Cameron. Sadder, nor is it Stephane Dion nor Jack Layton, who surely think of themselves as great leadres on the environmental front. Is there one with the courage to agree to a carbon tax of some significant force? I'll bet not, and in my province the discourse is still ridiculously how the problem with energy prices is that they might rise; it is pretty clear that the problem is that they are not rising fast enough today.


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