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AcademicIAmA economist, Chris Ragan, of McGill University and chair of Ecofiscal, here with Dale Beugin, Ecofiscal’s Executive Director. Let’s talk about carbon pricing. AMA!

Apr 6th 2018 by chris_ragan • 9 Questions • 101 Points

I saw that one of our videos made it to the front page of Reddit and there were all kinds of questions. I'm an open book and have heard it all before. AMA.

For those unfamilar, the channel is based around the concept of providing an open platform for those with a disability to share their opinions and perspective.

Proof: https://twitter.com/chrisulmer/status/981599411410227200?s=19

Q:

According to Ecofiscal's survey, 11% of the public don't believe climate change is happening and an additional 27% think there is only some evidence.

What should be done about this? How much of a barrier is this to moving forward on climate change actions?

A:

Hello Chris! I enjoy watching your videos and find them wholesome and informative.

I'd like to ask you a question that you frequently ask your guests- what is one thing that you would like the world to know about you?

Keep up the great work!


Q:

Climate change and climate science is pretty tough stuff -- so we shouldn't be surprised if we learn that many Canadians haven't mastered it. But like many other complex policy issues, I think governments and groups like Ecofiscal need to do a better job at explaining why the environment matters, what costs we are now experiencing, and why price-based policies are such a good way to reduce the environmental damage.

A:

I'm awkward and hate being on camera! I've gotten better with time but you can really see in those beginning videos I am uncomfortable. Also, my favorite hobby is beach volleyball! I play every day when home.


Q:

What are your thoughts on the divestment and 'keep it in the ground' movements and their implications for Canada's carbon pricing and oilsands? If there is a global movement towards carbon pricing that can reduce demand for oil would it make current investments in oil production unprofitable?

A:

First of all, I can’t believe this thread isn’t more popular! As a special education teacher, I fell in love with your videos when I first saw them posted on Facebook (and have followed since). I’ve already wondered — where did you teach in Philly? I believe that’s where you said you’re from!


Q:

Carbon pricing, especially at higher prices and in many countries, will gradually reduce the global demand for oil. It will also enhance the development of cleaner technologies -- which will also provide substitutes that will reduce the demand for oil. So as carbon prices rise, more FF firms will naturally choose to "keep it in the ground" -- this will be a natural response to the changing economic environment. But other approaches to BLOCK the development of oil -- such as preventing pipelines -- will be HIGHER COST ways to reduce emissions. On this point, read this great article by U of Calgary's Trevor Tombe: http://www.macleans.ca/economy/economicanalysis/blocking-pipelines-is-a-costly-way-to-lower-emissions/

A:

I actually taught in NE Florida but was born and raised in NE Philly by the Roosevelt Mall.


Q:

What specific, known market failures cannot be effectively addressed with carbon pricing alone?

A:

Chris!! Long time viewer, first time question asker. :) One of your most recent interviewees, Betty absolutely made me bawl. Thank you for doing that interview! I’ve spent much of my life working with individuals with developmental disabilities, spanning to when I hung out with the Special Education class to play games and such on my snack break. Mostly because I was bullied and those kids never judged me and were always up for a game of UNO. I graduated a decade ago and have spent most of the time since working with these amazing individuals. Anyways, I digress. What has been your favorite interview to date? And, since I have the opportunity, you’re going to be in Fargo later this month and I didn’t learn that you’ll be here until it was too late and the tickets were sold out. Any chance you could sneak me in? I’d love to meet you in person! :) Cheers, Chris! Keep being awesome and bringing a voice to some of the most amazing people in our society!


Q:

Great question -- and pretty geeky. Our report on complementary policies discusses this. There are many market failures where some other policies can be used to enhance the effectiveness of the carbon price. Incomplete information about efficiency of appliances; principal-agent issues wrt building standards; uncertainty about performance for EVs. See more at: https://ecofiscal.ca/reports/supporting-carbon-pricing-complementary-policies/

A:

Haha send me an email at [email protected] and I'll see what I can do. Make the subject Fargo. It'll help me keep track. And I know it sounds like a cookie cutter answer but it's impossible to pick a favorite. Each person I've met brings something new to the table. I look at SBSK as many interviews that together send a measage. No one is greater than the whole. The first few interviews in my hometown will always hold a special place in my heart though.


Q:

Some seniors tell me that they cannot afford to pay more taxes, regardless of what benefit it may bring society. They perceive a carbon tax as an unfair burden on them when they have only 10-20 years left to live. What words do you have for them?

A:

I will send you an email shortly! I figured you couldn’t pick a favorite. So, do you still keep in contact with those kids you taught? Do you think you’ll ever go back to classroom teaching?


Q:

Great question. But the point of carbon pricing is NOT to reduce anyone's purchasing power -- young or old. The point is to change prices in such a way that people change their behaviour. So a great policy idea is to put a price on GHG emissions and then make cash rebates back to individuals. For example, with a $30 per tonne carbon price, we could have cash rebates of $450 back to two-person households. Alberta has done this-- see here: https://www.alberta.ca/climate-carbon-pricing.aspx

A:

Yup I do keep in contact. Some more than others. I have daydreams almost daily of being back in the classroom. I loved every moment of teaching and am open to one day doing it again.


Q:

How would you go about presenting an argument in favour of carbon pricing to someone who does not see the value in it without having to go into details about externalities, Pigovian taxation, and the like? Basically, what's you elevator pitch to convince anti-carbon pricers that it is indeed a good idea?

A:

I will send you an email shortly! I figured you couldn’t pick a favorite. So, do you still keep in contact with those kids you taught? Do you think you’ll ever go back to classroom teaching?


Q:

How tall is the building? Here's the pitch: 1. GHG emissions are costly. 2. People respond to prices every day. 3. So a tax on GHG emissions is a simple way to get households and businesses to modify the way they do things -- gradually in a way that leaves them lots of choice. 4. The alternative approach is to TELL people what they have to do -- intrusive regulations or expensive subsidies that have higher economic costs. 5. Final point as we get close to the top floor: We can use the revenue to reduce existing taxes -- so that our overall purchasing power is not altered. 6. Cleaner environment; lower income taxes. What's not to love?

A:

Live with *


Q:

Who decides whether an activity is "carbon emitting," or not?

Who should be deciding? There's a lot of complexities I don't understand:

Is methane production production from cattle something that should be taxed? Is logging a carbon-generating process or a carbon-sequestering process? If a well produces oil, should that be taxed, or should the consumer of the oil be taxed? Does the manufacture of plastic from oil qualify as a carbon-emitting activity?

Should carbon production from man-made features qualify as carbon emitting, such as new bodies of water created by hydrodams? What about new or growing natural features, such as swamps, that happen to be located in a country?

A:

Hey Chris what’s the most difficult video you had to do? in terms of “this just hurts my heart”

You’re videos really showed me happiness and opened my eyes to how ignorant I was. I just want to say you’re amazing and my partner says you really know how to make your eyes pop with your wardrobe choices lol


Q:

The science should be (is!) pretty clear about where emissions actually come from. But the practical difficulty for policy is to identify those emissions that can "easily" be priced, and those that can't. For the first group, design a broad-based carbon price. For the second group, design other policies that can do the work -- hopefully enhancing rather than undermining the carbon-pricing system. See our report on this: https://ecofiscal.ca/reports/supporting-carbon-pricing-complementary-policies/

A:

Toughest one was Kayne when he admitted he was aware that death was only a few weeks away. He told me his only wish is that he can watch his friends and family in the after life. His pic is on my fridge and I give him a pound every day.


Q:

Hi, I am wondering what your thoughts are on governments using carbon price revenues to safeguard the political acceptance of the policy, such as using revenues to lower income taxes?

Thanks

A:

Hey Chris! I'm a school psychologist and a huge fan! How do you find your interviewees? Do their families contact you, or do you find them and contact them?


Q:

Governments can use the revenues to reduce existing taxes, or to issue cash rebates to households. The first option is used by BC; the second option is used by Alberta. Both help to build the political durability of the policies -- and they are also good ECONOMIC ways to recycle carbon revenues.

A:

They reach out to us on our website.


Q:

Some economists think that B.C.'s carbon tax approach, which aims to be revenue neutral to government by cutting income and corporate taxes at a level commensurate with the revenues collected from the carbon tax, is a good idea. Andrew Coyne ran with that idea in his opinion piece this week in the G&M, for example. The rationale is that using government revenues to achieve carbon reductions, say through subsidizing the purchase of EVs, is not an efficient way of getting the result of reducing emissions. Realistically, what sort of base point reductions could be enacted on income tax and/or corporate tax if the revenues from carbon pricing are recycled based on a revenue neutral approach, and what would that mean for the average Canadian in terms of net income?

A:

I was binge watching your videos yesterday after I saw the one on /r/videos. I plan on watching your Google talk later (saved but no time to watch this week).

How do set up the meetings and interviews with the people in your videos? Do they reach out or do you reach out to them and ask? Were there any instances where you chose not to have an interview with someone for personal or safety (perhaps this person had a bad immune system)?

Quick edit: first two questions were answered here https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/89s8tx/i_run_the_youtube_channel_special_books_by/dwtyvj1


Q:

Revenue neutrality is one option for the design of a carbon price. There are certainly economic benefits that come from using the revenue to reduce income or sales taxes. So I think Andrew Coyne is right on the money. But there are also other options -- the revenues could be used for other economic priorities, such as infrastructure or financing research and development. Check out our report on recycling: https://ecofiscal.ca/reports/choose-wisely-options-trade-offs-recycling-carbon-pricing-revenues/

A:

Ive received over 10000 requests for interviews so I'm unable to accommodate every request. As I travel I reach out to people who have filled out our form that includes city/state. I try to interview people with as many diverse stories as possible.


Q:

I've read that report, I was wondering if you or anyone else has calculated what level of income and/or corporate tax cuts could be funded with carbon pricing revenue based on the proposed federal system? Either in $ or % for the average Canadian.

A:

Hi Chris,

I've watched a ton of your videos since the one you did with Liz was posted on reddit yesterday. I was incredulous at first but it just seems like you're a wonderful human being. Thank you so much for your hard work!

I find your videos fascinating. The more I watch the wider my range of normalcy becomes! I'm keen to understand more about the brain and how we communicate - could you recommend any decent books that give an insight into different neurodiverse conditions and /or communication?

Also, what position do you play in football? (Soccer)


Q:

Sorry, but we have not done this analysis. But someone should do this -- especially if they want to think seriously about having income-tax cuts.

A:

I would recommend Neurotribes. And I was a striker St a d3 school. I always say I got all of the glory but did none of the work.


Q:

Does this mean if I create blocks of solid carbon by sucking CO2 from the air I get a cut of the carbon tax?

A:

YES! If you create a technology that sucks carbon out of the air (or anything else) and then creates "carbon pucks", you deserve financial credit for your efforts. In a carbon-pricing system with a system of credits or offsets, your pucks would receive financial support. So if you create that technology, we'll advocate for the appropriate credit system.


Q:

Isn't"carbon pricing" just a tax against developed nations? And why make policy based on a myth?

A:

GHG emissions per dollar of GDP are actually higher in developing countries than in developed economies -- because of the size of the service sector in the latter. It IS true that most of the past GHG emissions have come from currently developed countries, but most of future emissions will come from the rapidly developing world.

What's the myth?