Monday, October 08, 2018

We should be trying to raise petrol prices, not lower them

Today the IPCC released a devastating report showing that we have only a decade or less to deal with climate change, and that we need to cut emissions to zero by 2050 if we want to avoid catastrophe. Meanwhile, at the PM's post-cabinet press conference this afternoon, the focus was firmly on... petrol prices. Apparently they're too high, so our political establishment wants to lower them. Labour wants to take it out of the petrol companies' end, by cutting their margins. National meanwhile wants to take it out on us, by cutting fuel taxes (which means less money to pay for roads and crash victims. So National wants us either to not have those things, or they believe there is a magic money tree they can use to pay for them). But by focusing on cutting prices, both are effectively saying they want to increase the use of petrol, increase emissions, and increase global temperatures. Or to put it another way: both parties want to destroy the world.

From a climate change perspective, high petrol prices are good, insofar as they discourage inefficient transport use, push people to alternatives, and reduce emissions (and past evidence is that they do). So rather than trying to lower petrol prices, a government which actually cared about climate change would be welcome this - and be planning to make them higher. Obviously, this has social impacts, so they'd need policies to deal with that: cheaper and more efficient public transport, low-cost loans to get people into more efficient cars, subsidies for certain users utterly reliant on vehicles. Obviously, it would be better if they had planned to put those policies in place beforehand, rather than being hit by a sudden market shift. But in general, they should treat high prices as what they are: a market signal to burn less petrol, and stop destroying the world.