Friday, 15 December 2006

Green Taxes and Posturing Politicians

If there is one thing I hate in life it's tax. I don't like anything that hurts my pocket not when I don't have much in it to begin with. But I'm a bit of a hippy at times, in that I am environmentally aware and although I don't want to go out of my way to do something that involves a lot of work on my part I also don't want to do unnecessary damage to the environment in which I live.

However despite these beliefs I'm not one of these people who believes that Green taxes are a good idea. The first reason being that governments get too used to receiving tax and once they have it they don't want to give them up. My second reason for not believing in green taxes is down to the way they are currently being implimented and how some are proposing to use them in the future. They are completely flawed.

Last week the British Chancellor Gordon Brown had a budget where he increased two taxes for 'green ' reasons. Firstly he put the price of petrol and diesel up, yet again, and in the second tax he added a £10 charge for those flying within the UK and a £40 charge for longhaul flights.
At first glance the tax on flying seems like a good idea after all flying is the biggest contributer of CO2. If you genuinely want to save the planet by reducing CO2 emissions and slow down global warming then the best way to go about is to cut flying and with it the biggest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions. One way to go about that might be to add a tax to make it less appealing to travel by air. I would be all for this if the Chancellor had been serious about that goal but really all he did was use the pretense of concerns for the environment to get a cheap easy tax. The UK is a small country and just about every airport in the land is seeking planning permission to add an extra runway because the demand for flying has increased so dramatically in the past decade and is expected to continue to increase.

This new tax on flying isn't going to change that and the Chancellor had no intention of changing it despite the fact that we are flying more than we ever have before. The reason we doing just that is down to the fact that flights are so cheap. You can get a flight from Glasgow to London, a distance of about 544 milles, for about £25. Probably about 95% of the UK's 60 million population live within that distance of one another. When compared to Australia, Brazil, Canada, or the USA the UK is really quite small and its cities are fairly close together, really there is no need to fly from one UK city to another. And yet its actually cheaper to fly from Glasgow to London than it is to travel by train or by car and its quicker too, no wonder we fly more than ever. You might think adding a £10 charge would make it less attractive to fly but not when you consider it takes 8 hours to drive from Glasgow to London and about £40 - £50 in petrol (over half of which is tax btw). Adding £10 to the cost of flying doesn't make one person less likely to fly, well not if they are in any way financially intelligent. If I was the Chancellor and my goal was not just to raise taxes as a nice easy money earner that few were going to complain about but because I was truly concerned about the numbers of people flying then I would have reversed the £10 and £40 charges. I would have made those who wanted to fly to cities within the UK pay an extra £40 and then put a token charge on those who were flying longhaul. At a stroke that would have put off many people from flying in the UK because it would then be cheaper to drive. Anyone that was on a budget would have thought twice about flying whilst anyone who doesn't care about money would probably have flown anyway whether the charge was £40 or £100. Charging £40 for flying longhaul is a piece of nonsense because £40 is nothing compared to the overall price of the flight. I flew to New Zealand for £765 adding £40 wouldn't have stopped me. If I was really concerned about the £40 I could have saved the money by spending one night less in the land of the long white cloud and in the process saved myself £40 by not needing a bed for the night and breakfast the following morning. I flew economy class and my budget was extremely tight but if I could find a solution to still fly to the other side of the world then anyone who had the money to fly business or first class and consequently spent £1000s on a ticket would hardly have noticed a £40 tax. Somehow I doubt anyone would be put off flying longhaul so why bother taxing at all, when clearly its been designed in such a way that no-one will be put off from flying? The answer seems to simply be to raise money that we might complain about yet in the end we will all have to pay the penalty of increased taxation if we want to fly abroad for our holidays or travel quickly and cheaply within the UK.

The increased tax on petrol infuriated me as well even though I agree in the principle that polluters should pay for the damage that they do to the environment. So if I agree with the principle why would I be annoyed in having to pay a little bit extra? Well I pay on average 92 pence per litre for diesel about 51 pence of which is tax. Only about 5 pence of that 92 pence goes to the owner of the petrol forecourt, the rest of the money goes to Shell. Thats a fairly high sum of tax going to the government but in truth I would be quite happy for that to be the price if I was rewarded with lower taxation for finding an alternative means of travelling that was less damaging to the environment. I originally bought my diesel van with the intention of using biodiesel. The diesel engine was after all originally designed to run on peanut oil which is low polluting but of course the numbers of people who use diesel engines meant that was never going to be enough production of peanuts to cope with demand so diesel oil was instead seen as more practical. However in recent years oilseed rape has been converted into biodesel which produces about a 10th of the pollution than ordinary diesel, however because diesel currently has larger economies of scale it is still cheaper to produce ordinary diesel than biodiesel. of course this could be solved be reducing the taxation on biodiesel. If biodiesel only has 10% of the harmful emmissions then surely it could have 10% of the tax. Not according to the the UK government which puts on the full 51 pence a litre fuel tax on biodiesel. It would actually cost me about 95pence per litre to run my van in an environmentally sound way. The chancellor 'talks' green but really his green tax is nothing but a fraud.

I could still save some money on biodiesel by producing it myself. I could buy a machine for about £650 and go down to my local chipshop and strike a deal with the proprietor and acquire his used chip fat oil at the end of each day and then use the machine to convert the used oil into clean biodiesel, but I would still be expected to pay fuel tax on every litre of diesel I made. I would save money by not giving any money to Shell, but it would take about 30 minutes of my time working in the shed in the back garden each and every time I wanted to produce some diesel and the fuel would only be ready for use after 8 hours or so. Whereas it would take me just 5 minutes to go down to the local forecourt and get some out the pumps. So how many people are going to manually produce clean oil? Very few is my bet. Green taxes? Pfft! What a lot of nonsense.

Real green taxes wouldn't punish everyone who travelled just for the sake of travelling, we all travel from day to day. It's a necessity of modern living. I do so for work on a daily basis. I can't avoid it. I need my van to carry my tools without it I wouldn't make money. If the taxes were truly green they would be designed in such a way that they would be temporary tax until people changed their ways and there would be incentives for changing their ways with real alternatives that rewarded people for changing their behaviour.

The next proposed green tax in the UK is the introduction of a tax per road mile travelled, with one rate for urban driving and a lower rate for rural driving. Sounds good in principle but until there is a green alternative it will only become another tax that people cannot avoid. Which will only mean that the money earned will only become another tax that the government will get used to having and will be reluctant to give up.

If you read this far down I apologise but at least you now know I really do think too much.


Just a Girl said...

You may think too much but it's not like it's drivel.

Gov't types are all talk and minimal action. But we the people don't always show them that we want change because we too do the same things over and over.

I think our fuel taxes are about 40% of what we pay at the pump and, if the money at least went back to the municipalities, I could live a little easier with it. The money is supposed to pay for road repairs (better roads, less car problems, better running cars, less pollution...or something like that) but the gov't just seems to fritter it away.

It's like recycling. The city I live in make it quite easy; it gets picked up with the garbage and you do not need to sort it. We are one of the few that does it this way. Most have to separate paper, glass and tins and, for a lot of people, that's just too much work for their lazy butts. My friends with children are notorious for this. It drives me crazy and I am forever asking them if they have any interest in leaving an environmental legacy for said kids; they don't seem to.

See. Thinking. Babble. Oops.

Scotsman said...

I'm all for recycling but I have to admit that I do find the sorting a pain. Here we have to sort plastic, paper, tins and glass into separate tubs and then you have to remember which day or week they go out. I probably wouldn't mind that so much if the empty tubs would be there when I got back from work but in the past year i've had to phone for about 6 replacements. I'm sure more people would recycle if they had just one bin for all recyclable waste and if the refuse collectors had to get paid extra for the time spent sorting it so be it.

Just a Girl said...

The recycling depot here has regular staff and, as well, they also have an employment program for people with special needs.

Thinking about that I wonder if that is why my city doesn't use the bins...make work training project.