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McEwen School of Architecture Students are Thinking Hard About Sudbury’s Downtown

Students in each year at the McEwen School of Architecture take on a project. This year the Third Year Studio is about designing an Event Center for downtown Sudbury. Saturday morning the class presented preliminary research and started in on the design process for three sites.

In the process of collecting facts about the downtown, the students ran into a surprising barrier: The City of Greater Sudbury. Apparently the City of Greater Sudbury charges anyone – including students — for any data it provides. It is hard to imagine a dumber policy for a city that hopes to attract people and grow. Council is charging students who want to provide free design services to the City.

The City’s practice is the opposite of open government. Democracy depends on public access to information. Good government depends on an informed people, and when data is freely available, the people get involved in solving problems for the City. Instead of attending the event and learning about the downtown, council members, whether they know it or not, are collaborating in hiding the truth from the citizens of the region. The truth may be utterly boring, but charging for data this way is a guarantee of poor government and could be a way to hide serious mistakes or even crimes. The City is out of date and out of touch about making data available.

One of the details that the students did turn up is that 40% of the downtown is covered by roads and an additional 23% is used for parking. This is far more than comparable cities, apparently. Not surprisingly, the City also spends a larger share of its budget on roads than comparable cities.

It isn’t surprising that the department with the most money runs the city, and that goes a long way to explaining how Council got conned into wasting $150 million on the Maley Drive Extension.

But getting back to the weekend event, in the afternoon the students started to work up three different downtown sites. For each site about 20 students will work up designs as their term proceeds. To start, each group gathered around a big table with a huge map of the downtown core. Ironically, the only building missing from the map provided by the City was the new School of Architecture itself.

The studio instructors led brainstorming sessions about the features of the site and the way the site relates to the downtown and the requirements of an Event Center. A number of locals threw in history and raised issues about the three. Watching students taking on the problem, asking questions, throwing out suggestions, making notes — deeply engaged and thinking hard — it was clear we were seeing a crash course in how to make Sudbury better.

The sites they have decided to look were the current Arena site, the parking lot across the tracks at the west end of Larch and the Rainbow Center. We won’t see the result of their work for a while, but there is no question that the best thinking going on about Sudbury’s downtown is happening in the McEwen School of Architecture right now. It really is a shame that Council members are not participating in the process.


When Winter Comes Can Spring be Far Behind?

If you are thinking about American President Donald Trump, consider the following two pieces. The first is Lewis Carroll’s prophetic poem, the Walrus and the Carpenter. It starts quite nicely:

“O Oysters, come and walk with us!’

The Walrus did beseech. “

You notice the language of a political campaign in these lines.

“A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach: :

the Walrus promised, but it all ends on a sour note:

O Oysters,’ said the Carpenter,
You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’

But answer came there none —
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten every one.”walruscarpenter

The second piece I think you will like is a bit more cheerful. “Why Millennials Will Reject Trump”…/america-generational-di….

Economist Jeffry Sachs, Professor of Sustainable Development at Columbia University, explains why he thinks the Age of Trump is already on the way out. “There are at least three big differences in the politics of the young and old,” he says. First, the young are more socially liberal than the older generations. Second, the young are facing the unprecedented economic challenges of the information revolution. Third, compared to their parents and grandparents, the young are much more aware of climate change and its threats.

Sachs provides some evidence for each of the points. I want to repeat these facts, because they bear on Canadian policy:

“In a June 2015 survey, 60% of 18-29 year-olds said that human activity was causing global warming, compared with just 31% of those 65 and older. A survey released in January found that 38% of American survey respondents 65 and older favored fossil-fuel expansion over renewable energy, compared with only 19% of those 18-29”.

I find these numbers encouraging. There are Canadians who think that Trump’s win has turned the tide against carbon pricing. The the evidence seems to show is that Trump’s regime is just a storm surge, and not the tide of history. As Sachs puts it, “Trump’s political success is a blip, not a turning point.”

And that reminds me of another encouraging piece: in Ode to the West Wind, Percy Bysshe Shelley asks, “If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”

When Will They Ever Learn?

Oscar Wilde remarked that “To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.” I wonder what he would say about breaking the record for annual temperature three years in a row.

Wilde was joking about the misuse of evidence, of course. I am joking about the failure to use evidence at all. Many of us are worried about the new American regime which appears to consist of an amazingly high percentage of climate warming deniers. There is a song with a chorus about them that most of us know, and it captures some of the frustration of living in a world with the willfully ignorant at the wheel.

Pete Seeger wrote “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” in 1955. At the time he was having trouble finding singing gigs because of a wild America swing to the right. McCarthyism was at its insane height at the time.

Seeger built his song on lines from a traditional Cossack folk song “Koloda-Duda.” Interestingly, the version most of us know is an expanded version with verses by a singer- songwriter I had never herd of, Joe Hickerson.

The chorus line I am talking about is, of course, “When will they ever learn?”

The real news is that some have learned. Our own Prime Minister has understood the problem and promised a carbon fee. The majority of Canadians are already living in province committed to taxing carbon fuels. (I don’t think the leaders in Canada really understand the economics of HOW to fight warming yet, but that is another issue).

The leaders of the most populous country in the world have also learned. Xi Jinping’s administration adopted “ecological civilization” as its slogan. At the Davos conference, China took the lead in calling for climate action. “If the U.S. does step back from leadership in the climate process then China will step forward, not least for pure realpolitik reasons,” according to Michael Liebreich, founder of Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

And maybe even the slowest are learning as well. China’s special representative for climate change, Xie Zhenhua, has said publicly that the incoming US president had “softened his tone on whether climate change is real” following his election in November.


Poor Vic Fedeli

I love Vic Fedeli – he is a nice guy and he is deeply committed to Northern Ontario. He is also deeply confused about climate change and what to do about it.vic-fideli

Vic is a conservative. That means he likes the price system and dislikes taxes. That puts him in a bind when the price system fails – for example when the environmental costs of burning fossil fuels don’t get added into the price that consumers pay.

The result is that consumers burn too much fossil fuels and cause too much global warming. Prices only do a good job of allocating goods when the prices are right. Science and economics tell us that gasoline prices are at least 25 cents a litre too low. Consumers are subsidizing their driving by dumping CO2 into the atmosphere.

Conservatives generally believe that people should pay for what they get. They don’t like free riders. By this measure, Vic should want to charge Ontario drivers quite a bit more for gasoline.

But Vic also dislikes taxes, so he doesn’t like the idea of a corrective tax on fossil fuels. A corrective tax is just a tax that makes consumers pay the full cost of the fuel they use. Poor Vic. This is a deep philosophical dilemma for him and for many conservatives.

As a Conservative, Vic should support a carbon tax to make the price system efficient. Then, as a conservative he should support giving all the tax revenue back to people as a per-capita grant. He would fix the price system and he wouldn’t take money away from people.

Instead Vic finds himself railing against the extra cost of a carbon tax: “The price of fuel is going to go up and everything that is delivered will also increase in cost,” said Vic.

So poor Vic is fighting against fixing the price system. He is fighting against individual responsibility. He is fighting against protecting the natural world he loves. He is fighting for policies that will increase global warming.

And he is doing this because he wants to win votes. He is taking a populist but very wrong position on the provincial cap and trade system.

He should instead be calling for a Conservative cap and trade policy: put a CAP on Glen Murray’s bureaucratic system and TRADE it in for a simple and effective Fee and Dividend system like the Greens, the Citizen’s Climate Lobby and his favorite economist (me) all suggest.

Glen’s $8 Billion Boondoggle

Between 2017 and 2020, the cap and trade system that Glen Murray loves will cost Ontarians — $8 Billion. That is about $600 per person.glen_murray_cropped

That’s great. That is about one tenth of the subsidy Ontarians get for burning fossil fuels. I am very much in favour of taking back the subsidy.

But what shall we do with the $8 Billion? Give it to companies? Let Glen spend it? Or give it back to Ontarians?

My view is that we give it back. The cap and trade system is just a tax on consumers. Consumers use the fuel, and no matter what anyone says, the fuel suppliers will pass the cost on to consumers. Any company that uses fuel will pass the cost on to consumers. You have to be a bit stupid to think otherwise.

So give the tax money back to consumers. The goal is not to make people poorer, the goal is to make them better off by reducing the very dangerous effects of climate change. The government does not need to keep that tax revenue to fight climate change. In fact the government gets a double impact by giving the money back to consumers.

Some people will definitely cut back on fuel use with the tax but they will also spend some of their $200 per year buying lower carbon goods. Low-carbon products will be cheaper than high carbon goods with the carbon tax on fuels.

Glen argues that he has to keep his carbon tax revenues because he needs to spend them on mitigation measures. It isn’t clear that Glen is actually better at mitigation than the rest of the population, but it is clear that he does not need to use carbon taxes for these programs.

Any program that cuts emissions efficiently actually has the potential to make money: home insulation pays for itself; solar panels will soon pay for themselves. Wind power turbines in remote communities will pay for themselves. Since these are good investments, all the government has to do is lend money to people who want to save money. Lending money is cheap and, at least for banks, very profitable.

To get businesses to cut their emission just tell them that the tax will be very high very soon. Don’t do what Glen has been doing, telling people that gas prices will not rise much. That is counter productive. Are you going to buy an economy car if the Minister of the Environment is promising to keep fuel prices low? People buy bigger vehicles when fuel prices are low. Glen is actually promising exactly the wrong thing. He is undermining the Provincial program!!

To get people to accept high enough fuel prices you just have to give them their money back.

The Ministry estimates that Ontario households are expected to incur additional costs for fuel, such as gasoline and natural gas, of $156 in 2017 and about $210 by 2019, and also additional yearly indirect costs on goods and services of $75 in 2019.

The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change has its Head in the Sand

The Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, Glen Murray, is living in a carbon bubble. Noise comes out, but information doesn’t go in. The Minister’s recent response to the Chamber of Commerce request shows how out of touch the Minister has become. The Chamber is asking for inaction on the provincial Cap and Trade policy. The Minister responded with a barrage of misinformation.glen_murray-1

For example, the minister claimed that “In joining North America’s largest carbon market, we are becoming partners in the most efficient and cost effective emissions reduction program there is.” This is simply false. There is wide agreement that the BC carbon tax is the “most efficient and cost effective emissions reduction program there is.”

I don’t think that the Minister is lying. He is carefully not listening to anyone that doesn’t agree with him. He has his own truth. Unfortunately, while the Minister is allowed to have his own opinion, he doesn’t get to have his own truth. Thinking about carbon pricing has moved on, and it is time he caught up. Cap and trade was the preferred option 15 years ago. Now its failures are just too big to ignore. Cap and trade is no longer the preferred option. It is the Zombie of climate change policy.

There are other blatant misrepresentations in the Ministry Press release. The Ministry claims that “Third-party economic experts have confirmed that our plan is both the most cost effective and best at reducing emissions compared to carbon pricing alternatives.” I suspect there is some truth in this – it is possible to find “third-part experts” who claim climate change” is not real too. What is not true is that there is lot of support among economists for a cap and trade system RELATIVE TO A CARBON TAX. The view of the majority of people who study the issue is that a carbon tax will work better, will cost less and will be more efficient.

The Minister also claims that Ontario’s business community has “shown support for our plan to fight climate change because directly compared to the alternatives, it is best suited spur economic growth and achieve real emissions reductions.” This is another statement with a smidgin of truth. SOME businesses like the scheme. The ones that like it most are the ones that stand to get exemptions under cap and trade and the people who stand to make money trading carbon permits. A large number of other businesses support a simple carbon tax. It is interesting to note that smaller businesses tend to oppose any carbon pricing, while bigger ones, with better research capacity, tend to support a carbon tax.

The Minister went on to demonstrate an astonishing ignorance of how to use evidence when he cited California. He said that its economy grew at a pace that exceeded the growth of the rest of the U.S. economy once it brought in cap and trade. He is right, but it is also true that California has grown at a pace that exceeded the growth of the rest of the U.S. economy for the last 50 years. He might as wells say that California hasn’t experienced a major earthquake since it brought in Cap and Trade. There is about as much connection between Cap and Trade and California growth as there is between Cap and trade and earthquake activity.

These inaccuracies show one of two things: either the Minister is ignorant, or the Minister will say anything to avoid facing the fact that he is in charge of a policy that will fail, and is depending on public ignorance to cover his mistakes.

Either way, it is time for Glen Murray to do some research.


Chamber of Commerce Confusion: Dither, Don’t Fix

It is hard to be so right and so wrong at the same time. Twenty of Ontario’s Chambers of Commerce have finally realized that the provincial Cap and Trade policy is a bundle of mistakes. Congratulations for noticing.carbondioxide

Unfortunately the best advice that the Chambers could come up with is for the province to do nothing until the province has a better version of Cap and trade. There is no better version. Cap and Trade will not work. It will also be expensive to implement and will hurt Ontario’s economy. It can’t be fixed.

The problems can be fixed, however, by converting the half-baked Cap and Trade system into a proper carbon tax. Instead of going backwards, the Chambers should do a little bit of studying and propose the only approach that will actually work.

There is no way that we can back away from pricing carbon. That would be a crime against humanity. We know that people are already dying from the effects of climate change and we know that we will not be able to prevent millions more from dying. The Chamber’s are right to point out the problems that the provincial plan will cause for some people in Ontario. They need to take seriously the cost of further delay and inaction for the rest of the world and for our own children.

What we want is a nearly painless way to price carbon, and we have one. It is called a Carbon Fee and Dividend.

Carbon Fee and Dividend is simple, cheap to implement, effective and it solves almost all the problems that the Chambers are complaining about.

The Chambers want the province to defer implementing Cap and Trade until they have more details worked out. I am calling on the Chambers to stop giving advice until they understand the alternatives.

It doesn’t take a genius to see that if you put a high tax on all hydrocarbon fuels you encourage people to shift to other sources. You also encourage the already blindingly fast technological innovation that is underway. I assume that the Chambers understand this much.

It also doesn’t take a genius to see that if you then gave the money collected back to consumers they would be able to buy just as much as they could before the tax. I am pretty sure the Chambers haven’t figured this step out. Economists have a name for this kind of restitution: it is called a ‘compensating variation.’ It compensates consumers for the loss of purchasing power brought on by the tax.

It is impossible to compensate perfectly, of course – If you simply give everyone the same sized dividend check each month, most poor people would end up with a bit more money than they paid in carbon taxes. Richer people would lose a bit. This is not a serious imperfection. Most of us approve of small transfers to the poor.

There is one big problem left, but it has an easy solution as well. If we put a tax on and Donald Trump doesn’t, that will hurt our industries. How can our exports compete? Won’t cheap imports destroy our domestic industry and steal our jobs?

It doesn’t take a genius to see that we need what are called “Border Tax Adjustments” or BTAs. When something comes into Canada from a country that does not have a carbon tax we just add the tax to the price. We level the playing field. When Alberta ships oil to the states, where they don’t have a carbon tax, we give the company back any tax we collected. We level the playing field with a BTA.

The principle is so simple. Canadian consumers pay a tax for any carbon emitted in producing what they consume, no matter where it comes from. They get the tax money back. We don’t tax the carbon content of what people consume in other countries.

A Carbon Fee and Dividend combined with BTAs is both effective and painless.

It did take a genius or two to figure out that BTAs are perfectly legal under our international trade agreements. We can go ahead and impose BTAs now if we want to. The only real condition is that everybody producing the same product in Canada has to face the same effective carbon tax rate. That’s what is so important about Trudeau’s commitment to have a minimum rate for the whole country.

So there is a better system that the Chamber does not seem to understand. Let’s hope they do their homework before they say any more. There is a real danger that they will delay action and delay will kill people.

The good news is that the province can convert its Cap and Trade system to a carbon tax fairly easily. The reason is that the most effective part of their system is already a carbon tax. When the Province sells permits to the gas distributors or fuel companies it is really just collecting a tax on consumers.

In fact 90 percent of the problems and 90 percent of the waste in a cap and trade system comes from the small part of the system that is set up so big emitters can trade permits. In fact the province only needs to back out of the trading system. It may have to buy back any permits it has sold, that that would not be a net cost. In fact the province might make money by backing out because the price of permits tends to fall.

So the Chambers were right to knock the provincial Cap and Trade scheme. They were wildly wrong to think it can be fixed. Since we have a better system available and it is actually easier to implement than any Cap and Trade scheme, the Chambers really need to finish doing their homework.

I am calling on the Chambers of Commerce of Ontario to propose a solution. Instead of calling for a step back, lets see the Chambers ask for a step forward. Call for an effective carbon tax, a 100% dividend for consumers, and BTAs. Don’t dither any longer: fix the problem.