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Professor: BC's carbon tax lowered pollution

Warmer temps will create longer growing season, expanded forests, expert says

Posted: October 19, 2013 - 11:08pm

According to a University of Alaska Southeast professor, Juneau is heating up.

At a Friday forum about climate change in Southeast Alaska and Canada, Eran Hood, an associate professor of environmental science, showed a graph of Juneau’s average temperature from 1943 to present.

Winters are getting warmer and rainier, he said. Because Juneau’s average winter temperature hovers around freezing, a slight increase can change the weather patterns drastically from snowy to rainy, he said. The forum, featuring professors from Alaska and Canada, was part of the Juneau World Affairs Council’s Al-Can Summit at UAS.

Warmer temperatures are lending themselves to a longer growing season, leading to expanding forests and a shifting treeline, Hood said in his presentation. He showed photos taken in the same place on a Juneau mountain in 1949, 1989 and 2004. The treeline had dropped noticeably over the decades.

Brian Vander Naald, UAS assistant professor of economics, talked about the financial implications of climate change. He said in his presentation that Eaglecrest Ski Area’s business could be impacted if Juneau’s winter weather patterns shift too much. He suggested an emphasis on the business side of climate change could encourage the collective population to do something about it.

Stewart Elgie, University of Ottowa professor of environmental law and economics, presented a potential solution to Southeast’s climate change problems. It’s simple, he said: the more fuel costs, the less people use it. Less carbon emissions means less pollution and less climate change.

He made his case with data on British Columbia’s successful carbon tax, implemented six years ago. The province has seen a decrease in carbon use by 17 percent since the tax was put in place, Elgie said. 

British Columbia now enjoys the lowest income taxes in Canada because revenue from the carbon tax has been used to drive it down, Elgie said, adding that whatever you tax, you also discourage. British Columbia’s taxes now encourage employment and discourage pollution, he said.

“British Columbia has achieved a dramatic decline in decarbonizing their economy, and they’ve done it without hurting their economy,” Elgie said.

He said a carbon tax could work for Alaska, and that many places all around the world have enjoyed decreased pollution through similar taxation. Cap and trade, another common method for cutting carbon usage, works too but it’s not as easy to implement as a carbon tax, he said. British Columbia was able to scope out the breadth of its pollution problem, propose the tax and implement it within a year, he said.

Ultimately, Elgie said, change will only come if voters care about it and make it known to their elected representatives.

“Environmental issues rarely become ballot box issues — if you could get to a point that climate issues were pervasively important to people, things would change,” he said. “If you could vote someone out of office for having bad climate policy, changes would happen.”

• Contact reporter Katie Moritz at katherine.moritz@juneauempire.com or at (907)523-2294. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/katecmoritz.

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