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The Great Carbon Tax Con-Job

It’s important to be relatively restrained in journalism, and not to call politicians con-artists unless there is very strong evidence for the statement. After all, most of them, even when we disagree with them, are sincerely trying to do things that are, if not good for the country, then at least likely to improve their chances of re-election. Since they only get re-elected if people vote for them, and, in theory, people only vote for them if they are happy with the job they have done, then we can usually conclude that they are trying to make things better for people.

Sometimes, though, they do just engage in con-artistry. Here’s a very good example of it, with the Tánaiste being the culprit. Though he’s by no means the only one, on this topic:

A package to be agreed by Cabinet on Wednesday will “more than offset” the cost of the increase in carbon tax that is due to kick in on May 1st, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said.

He said the package will be both universal and targeted so everyone will benefit, but those on lower incomes will benefit more. The planned increase in the tax, which is part of the Government strategy on climate change, will cost the average household between €1.50 and €3 a month, he said.

The Government intends to temporarily reduce the VAT rate on gas and electricity, but not on petrol, diesel or home heating oil, Mr Varadkar said. The different fuels are being treated differently because of the ways they are affected by the EU rules on VAT.

The Government knows that the carbon tax increase is unpopular, as, indeed, it should be: It will increase the price of energy permanently, costing the average household an extra few quid every month, and, of course, will do absolutely nothing to alter the trajectory of global emissions. The Government intends the increase to be permanent. Indeed, they intend to pile on more increases, in the years to come.

So, where’s the con-job? Well, it lies in the VAT reduction to off-set the increase in the carbon tax. That one, you’ll note, is temporary. So, they tell you, you’re breaking even. But, you’re not – you are getting a temporary reprieve from the impact of the Carbon Tax, to make you object to it less.

The overall trajectory remains the same: Higher taxes on energy, and transport, and almost anything connected with carbon. The Government is taking from you with one hand and giving you tuppence with the other. In the longer term, you’re worse off.

The most important point here, of course, is how pointless it all is: Not one Polar Bear will sit on an extra three feet of arctic ice this summer, or any other, because you paid an extra fiver for your tank of diesel. Not one Chinese or Brazilian or Russian or American politician will look at Ireland’s carbon tax and think “gee, it’s time we got our act together on the climate”. The whole thing is less about the environment, or biodiversity, or anything of significance than it is about making a certain kind of voter and politician feel worthwhile. It’s the national, adult, equivalent of having a collection of plastic bottles for recycling in a third class in a primary school somewhere: Everybody feels good and useful and green, but no real difference is made. In fact, that’s slightly unfair: The primary school might make its local area marginally cleaner. The carbon tax, by contrast, has no impact on the environment at all.

The significance of this particular con job is that it is necessary at all: Because it exposes the lie and the delusion that the carbon tax is popular, or has widespread support. If it did, and if there was great national buy in to the climate strategy it underpins, people would not be demanding aid to help pay it. The simple fact of the matter is that though we might vote for green manifestos, we have very little interest in forking over cash as a form of penance, which is what the carbon tax is.

But make no mistake: A con-job is what this is. It is being presented as relief. But it is more akin to an anasthetic. They’re still going to slice open your wallet. They’re just going to give you an injection, first, so you don’t feel it.

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