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Best tax ever!

Here’s why B.C.’s carbon tax is super popular — and effective

vancouver gas tax
Steven Godfrey

Suppose that you live in Vancouver and you drive a car to work. Naturally, you have to get gas regularly. When you stop at the pump, you may see a notice like the one above, explaining that part of the price you're paying is, in effect, due to the cost of carbon. That's because in 2008, the government of British Columbia decided to impose a tax on greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, enacting what has been called "the most significant carbon tax in the Western Hemisphere by far."

A carbon tax is just what it sounds like: The B.C. government levies a fee, currently 30 Canadian dollars, for every metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions resulting from the burning of various fuels, including gasoline, diesel, natural gas, and, of course, coal. That amount is then included in the price you pay at the pump -- for gasoline, it's 6.67 cents per liter (about 25 cents per gallon) -- or on your home heating bill, or wherever else the tax applies. (Most monetary amounts in this piece will be in Canadian dollars, which are currently worth about 89 American cents.)

If the goal was to reduce global warming pollution, then the B.C. carbon tax totally works. Since its passage, gasoline use in British Columbia has plummeted, declining seven times as much as might be expected from an equivalent rise in the market price of gas, according to a recent study by two researchers at the University of Ottawa. That's apparently because the tax hasn't just had an economic effect: It has also helped change the culture of energy use in B.C. "I think it really increased the awareness about climate change and the need for carbon reduction, just because it was a daily, weekly thing that you saw," says Merran Smith, the head of Clean Energy Canada. "It made climate action real to people."

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Special Event

Gov. Jay Inslee on climate solutions in the Pacific Northwest

jay inslee at the mic
Jay Inslee

Let's say you're tired of climate inaction. Let's say you want to see somewhere in the United States that is actually, you know, doing things.

If so, then your focus probably ought to be on the states of the Pacific Coast. Recently Washington state, Oregon, California, and the Canadian province of British Columbia reached an agreement to harmonize their climate and energy policies, a development that has the potential to not just accelerate greenhouse gas reductions, but also to catalyze a strong, clean, and resilient economy. That's a big deal for a region that is home to 53 million people, and whose GDP is $2.8 trillion.

But there are challenges as well: While California and British Columbia have set a price on carbon (through a cap-and-trade program and a carbon tax, respectively), thus far Oregon and Washington have not. Meanwhile, a new battle is brewing over coal exports, one that potentially pits the Obama administration itself against the states of Oregon and Washington.

To discuss the climate outlook for the region, please join Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and other distinguished speakers and panelists for a special installment of Climate Desk Live -- a partnership between the University of Washington's College of the Environment, Climate Access, and Climate Desk, sponsored by Bloomberg BNA. Hosted by award-winning journalist Chris Mooney, the discussion will cover a range of key climate policy issues from coal terminals, to fuel efficiency standards, to carbon pricing, with an eye toward innovation and new energy solutions. The event will follow a March 27 Climate Desk Live panel in Vancouver, which will focus on the lessons learned from the first five years of British Columbia's carbon tax.

The Seattle event will be Tuesday, April 1, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Pacific Time, at the University of Washington Tower Auditorium, 4333 Brooklyn Ave NE, Seattle, Wash., 98105. Advanced registration for this event is required. You can RSVP here, and join the event on Facebook here (but you will still need to RSVP). The event will be live-streamed at climatedesk.org. 

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Neil deGrasse Tyson on “Cosmos,” how science got cool, and why he doesn’t debate deniers

NCOS7200
Fox

This episode of Inquiring Mindsa podcast hosted by neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas and best-selling author Chris Mooney, also features a discussion of whether bringing extinct species back to life is a good idea, and of new research suggesting that climate change contributed to the rise of Genghis Khan. To catch future shows right when they are released, subscribe to Inquiring Minds via iTunes or RSS. We are also available on Stitcher and on Swell. You can follow the show on Twitter at @inquiringshow and like us on FacebookInquiring Minds was also recently singled out as one of the “Best of 2013" on iTunes -- you can learn more here.

Last Sunday's debut of Cosmos, the rebooted series from Fox and National Geographic, made television history. According to National Geographic, it was the largest global rollout of a TV series ever, appearing on 220 channels in 181 countries and 45 languages. And, yes, this is a science show we're talking about. You will have to actively resist the force of gravity in order to lift up your dropped jaw and restore a sense of calm to your stunned face.

At the center of the show is the "heir apparent" to legendary science popularizer and original Cosmos host Carl Sagan: the impassioned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who appeared on this week's episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast to talk about what it's like to fill Sagan's shoes (stream below). On the podcast, Tyson discussed topics ranging from what we know now about the cosmos that Sagan didn't (top three answers: dark matter and dark energy, the profusion of discovered exoplanets, and the concept of parallel universes, or the "multiverse") to why science seems to have gotten so supercool again. After all, not only has Cosmos garnered such a reach, but The Big Bang Theory is currently the No. 1 comedy on TV.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Here are 5 examples of facts making people dumber

facepalm statue
Alex E. Proimos

On Monday, I reported on the latest study to take a bite out of the idea of human rationality. In a paper just published in Pediatrics, Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth and his colleagues showed that presenting people with information confirming the safety of vaccines triggered a "backfire effect," in which people who already distrusted vaccines actually became less likely to say they would vaccinate their kids.

Unfortunately, this is hardly the only example of such a frustrating response being documented by researchers. Nyhan and his coauthor Jason Reifler of the University of Exeter have captured several others, as have other researchers. Here are some examples:

1. Tax cuts increase revenue? In a 2010 study, Nyhan and Reifler asked people to read a fake newspaper article containing a real quotation of George W. Bush, in which the former president asserted that his tax cuts "helped increase revenues to the Treasury." In some versions of the article, this false claim was then debunked by economic evidence: A correction appended to the end of the article stated that in fact, the Bush tax cuts "were followed by an unprecedented three-year decline in nominal tax revenues, from $2 trillion in 2000 to $1.8 trillion in 2003." The study found that conservatives who read the correction were twice as likely to believe Bush's claim was true as were conservatives who did not read the correction.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Is the Arctic really drunk, or does it just act like this sometimes?

The jet stream in a particularly wavy state.
NASA/GSFC
The jet stream in a particularly wavy state.

This episode of Inquiring Mindsa podcast hosted by neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas and best-selling author Chris Mooney, also features a discussion about Indre's new 24-lecture course, "12 Essential Scientific Concepts," which was just released by The Teaching Company as part of the "Great Courses" series.

To catch future shows right when they are released, subscribe to Inquiring Minds via iTunes or RSS. We are also available on Stitcher and on Swell. You can follow the show on Twitter at @inquiringshow and like us on Facebook. Inquiring Minds was also recently singled out as one of the "Best of 2013" on iTunes -- you can learn more here.

Just when weather weary Americans thought they'd found a reprieve, the latest forecasts suggest that the polar vortex will, again, descend into the heart of the country next week, bringing with it staggering cold. If so, it will be just the latest weather extreme in a winter that has seen so many of them. California has been extremely dry, while the flood-soaked U.K. has been extremely wet. Alaska has been extremely hot (as has Sochi), while the snow-pummeled U.S. East Coast has been extremely cold. They're all different, and yet on a deeper level, perhaps, they're all the same.

This weather now serves as the backdrop -- and perhaps, as the inspiration -- for an increasingly epic debate within the field of climate research. You see, one climate researcher, Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University, has advanced an influential theory suggesting that winters like this one may be growing more likely to occur. The hypothesis is that by rapidly melting the Arctic, global warming is slowing down the fast-moving river of air far above us known as the jet stream -- in turn causing weather patterns to get stuck in place for longer, and leading to more extremes of the sort that we've all been experiencing. "There is a lot of pretty tantalizing evidence that our hypothesis seems to be bearing some fruit," Francis explained on the latest installment of the Inquiring Minds podcast. The current winter is a "perfect example" of the kind of jet stream pattern that her research predicts, Francis added (although she emphasized that no one atmospheric event can be directly blamed on climate change).

Read more: Climate & Energy

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New study: Internet trolls are often Machiavellian sadists

hate-buttons
Shutterstock

Editor's note: Spending our time as we do up to our necks in climate muckrakery, we know a thing or 300 about squaring off with the trolls of the internet -- specifically with the hairy, spiky, climate-denying variety. Here, Chris Mooney uncovers what we've always suspected: They're verifiable sadists.

In the past few years, the science of internet trollology has made some strides. Last year, for instance, we learned that by hurling insults and inciting discord in online comment sections, so-called internet "trolls" (who are frequently anonymous) have a polarizing effect on audiences, leading to politicization, rather than deeper understanding of scientific topics.

That's bad, but it's nothing compared with what a new psychology paper has to say about the personalities of so-called trolls themselves. The research, conducted by Erin Buckels of the University of Manitoba and two colleagues, sought to directly investigate whether people who engage in trolling are characterized by personality traits that fall in the so-called "Dark Tetrad": Machiavellianism (willingness to manipulate and deceive others), narcissism (egotism and self-obsession), psychopathy (the lack of remorse and empathy), and sadism (pleasure in the suffering of others).

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Tinfoiled again: Why Donald Trump’s climate conspiracy theory doesn’t hold up

conspiracy boy in tinfoil hat
Shutterstock

When chilling cold first descended in early January, we had an occasion to correct Donald Trump on climate science. To do so, we simply explained that the widely recognized phenomenon known as winter doesn't refute global warming, especially since winter is inherently limited to one hemisphere. (In a widely lampooned tweet, Trump had cited "record low temps" in arguing that "this very expensive GLOBAL WARMING bullshit has got to stop.")

Alas, Trump has now dug himself deeper into the snow drift. Here are the latest tweets:

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/statuses/427556692109574146

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/statuses/427226424987385856

With this, Trump joins the grand tradition of climate science conspiracy theorizing, as epitomized by Sen. James Inhofe's (R-Okla.) 2012 book title: The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. By using the word "hoax," Inhofe and Trump are suggesting that there is a conscious attempt to mislead us with fake, trumped up science, in the service of political goals.

So how do you refute this global warming conspiracy theory? Simple: You merely have to explain what a real global warming conspiracy would actually entail, whereupon the utter implausibility of the scenario becomes obvious.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Want proof evolution is real? Just look at creationism

At the Creation Museum in Kentucky, a kid rides the triceratops statue. Just like our ancestors did, or something.
Wikimedia Commons
At the Creation Museum in Kentucky, a kid rides the triceratops statue. Just like our ancestors did, or something.

This episode of Inquiring Minds, a podcast hosted by best-selling author Chris Mooney and neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas, also features a discussion of science in President Obama's past (and future) State of the Union addresses, and the science of how short-term memory works. To catch future shows right when they are released, subscribe to Inquiring Minds via iTunes or RSS. We are also available on Stitcher and on Swell. You can follow the show on Twitter at @inquiringshow and like us on Facebook. Inquiring Minds was also recently singled out as one of the "Best of 2013" shows on iTunes -- you can learn more here.

Last week, we learned about the latest science education outrage. Writing at Slate, the pro-evolution activist Zach Kopplin highlighted the anti-science content that is apparently being taught in some state-funded Texas charter schools. That includes student biology workbooks that reportedly describe evolution as "dogma" and an "unproven theory."

It's just the latest of countless infringements upon accurate science education across the country in recent decades. The "war on science" in national politics has nothing on the war playing out every day in public schools, even if the latter is usually less visible. The attacks are diverse and ever-changing, showing a wide array of tactics and strategies. "If nothing else evolves," explains longtime evolution defender Eugenie Scott on the latest installment of the Inquiring Minds podcast, "religion does. Creationism does."

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Leaping blizzards: Global warming produces bigger snowfalls

Satellite image of the intense US blizzard of February 5-6, 2010. Click to embiggen.
NASA/Wikimedia Commons
Satellite image of the intense U.S. blizzard of February 5-6, 2010. Click to embiggen.

We all remember "Snowmageddon" in February of 2010. Even as Washington, D.C., saw 32 inches of snowfall for the month of February -- more than it has seen in any February since 1899 -- conservatives decided to use the weather to mock global warming. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and his family even built an igloo on Capitol Hill and called it "Al Gore's New Home." Har har.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Global warming denial hits a six-year high

Fox News on the morning of Sept. 27, 2013, covering the new IPPC report on climate change.
Media Matters/Fox News

The latest data is out on the prevalence of global warming denial among the U.S. public. And it isn't pretty.

The new study, from the Yale and George Mason University research teams on climate change communication, shows a 7-percentage-point increase in the proportion of Americans who say they do not believe that global warming is happening. And that's just since the spring of 2013. The number is now 23 percent; back at the start of last year, it was 16 percent:

Read more: Climate & Energy