Against the Wind: Carbon, Climate Change and Agriculture

If you’ve read this column over the last 30 years, you’ll remember that I used to quote Detroit Singer Bob Seger quite a bit. His song, “Against the Wind” was always kind of an anthem in southwestern Ontario symbolizing the fact that people always don’t go with the flow. Interestingly enough, the song was more about a love story, but I’ve always taken the title as a purpose for contrary thinking. Or maybe it’s my penchant for Detroit Pistons games and the eruption of the fandom every time Bob Seger gets played.

Sometimes I feel the same way about the issue of climate change. As many of you know, I’m a believer of global climate change, but not necessarily a believer of some of the tactics that are being taken in the name of climate change to cool our planet. It’s like I’m against the wind, I’m sure many of you find yourselves in the same position on that issue, although I find that most of my farming colleagues don’t seem to believe in climate change.

I simply look at the changes in the Canadian Arctic as well as my experience in Bangladesh as evidence that climate change is real. I also find it very difficult to argue with the scientists. Some of their evidence is very compelling, although there have been some very famous holes in the literature. Needless to say, in Canada we are going headlong into the fight against climate change.

What this means is that every province in Canada will be required to put a price on carbon by the end of 2018 and if they don’t the federal government will impose their own carbon price benchmark on the province. That federal benchmark will start at a minimum $10 per ton in 2018, rising by $10 each year to $50 per time in 2022. I don’t want to dazzle you with the details, because it’s very difficult to understand. Different provinces have different systems with British Columbia having a much higher carbon tax now, versus Ontario and Québec, which have a cap and trade system with California.

Of course, the hope is that if you put a price on carbon pollution the economic levers will take over and people will move toward reducing their carbon footprint. In a perfect world, maybe in 30 years, the world will cool down a couple degrees.

Like I said earlier, I find it difficult to argue with scientists. However, arguing with the politicians is another issue. As I have said in the past, taxing the polluters was always supposed to be an incentive for them to clean up. However, when that is mixed with some political chicanery, it often turns into just another tax. Governments and some politicians are addicted to taxes. That makes the climate change economy somewhat of a sordid tale.

Of course, the climate change debate on this continent changed completely with the election of Donald Trump and the subsequent American withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement. From an economic perspective, it is completely obvious that Canada will lose some economic competitiveness with our American neighbors, who just happen to be our largest trading partner. However, it would seem on this side of the border, regardless of which political party was elected, it’s just a new cost of doing business. It’s all in the rear view mirror now.

Of course, then there is the issue about farmers and carbon sequestration. Believe it or not, I wrote a column about this over 20 years ago and I actually pegged the price of carbon and $50/tonne. In 2018, even in this “climate change” era, I hear nothing of that from government. I hear lots of it from my fellow farmers. In some ways it must be a casualty of this over zealous move to simply tax carbon for the revenue burst.

So I am a bit “against the wind” on this issue, even though I believe in “climate change”. I have seen the evidence of sea levels rising in places like the Sundarban forest in Bangladesh, making the soil more saline. This has led the Royal Bengal Tigers to retreat up the rivers where people live causing all kinds of problems. It has also reduced agricultural production. Then of course, there is the issue of climate refugees who have to move because of it. The list just goes on and on.

I know this doesn’t help. I am a farmer too and I find the whole carbon tax issue thoroughly confusing. These cold Canadian winters just make it more so. You know what its like when you are “against the wind.”