Taxing Fire


By Carl Brehmer

“Evidence of widespread control of fire dates to approximately 125,000 years.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Control_of_fire_by_early_humans

Many people assert that environmental extremists want to take civilization back to a pre-industrial state some 150-200 years ago, but the achievement of a “carbon free economy” would take humanity back at least 125,000 years before the discovery and control of fire, because that is the source of the carbon dioxide emissions that have now been declared “pollution.” Even as the somewhat obscure term “cap-and-trade” is a little more clear when called a “carbon tax”, even more clarity would be achieved by calling it a tax on the use of fire, because that is what it is. In their role as fuels, all hydrocarbons are useless until they are burned, which produces the energy that has fuelled human progress and provided the following benefits, which even the environmental extremists and various “rent takers” take for granted:

1) Light; even kerosene lanterns burn fossil fuel and produce carbon dioxide.

2) Heat; ask the victims of hurricane Sandy or anybody who experiences a power outage about the value of heat. Even primitive people use fire for heat.

3) Communication; all modern forms of communication depend upon the power provided by the energy derived from fire.

4) Rapid travel; what form of travel today isn’t powered by the use of fire? Trains, planes and automobiles are all powered with fire.

5) Escape from countless hours of physical labour. Prior to the discovery and use of fire, especially that used to produce electricity, disparate groups of human being were stuck in separate small communities around the world forced to spend most of their time in physical labour.

6) Inventions such as the modern computer and the rapid, worldwide communication network, which includes cell phones, e-mail and the internet would not have been developed nor could they be sustained by the intermittent, low density energy derived from solar cells and wind mills.

7) Satellites, both communication and weather; how many satellites have been launched into space without the use of fire? Many, but not all, are sent to space by hydrocarbon fuels. (Even those satellites that study outgoing long wave radiation and have futilely been attempting to prove that increasing levels of carbon dioxide are causing catastrophic climate change.)

8) One of the consequences of using fire as an energy source is that it has provided many people with enough time on their hands to debate whether or not fire is a good thing, i.e., the global warming AKA climate change AKA biodiversity AKA sustainable development debate.

(Remember also that environmental extremists not only want to ban the use of fire for energy production; they want to ban the use of nuclear energy and hydroelectric energy as well.)

The vast amount of energy that the use of fire has placed at the disposal of humanity has been used to revolutionize the nature of our existence. The mere fact that fire was a source of light and heat independent of the sun meant that humans could roam beyond the tropics into the damp, cold regions of the north with seasons of snow and long freezing nights. It was fire and fire alone that enabled man to become a creature native to the entire world and not just the tropics. In addition, the heat of the fire, i.e. cooking, brought about changes in our food supply that made otherwise inedible food palatable and nourishing. Fire has not only increased the variety of food that humans can eat, it also powers the diesel tractors used in modern farming. Our food supply has consequently multiplied beyond the wildest dreams of our ancient ancestors. Current world hunger problems are primarily distribution problems not quantity problems.

Nor has the importance of fire diminished with time; rather the reverse. Wood was no doubt the first fuel used in building and maintaining a fire, but coal took primacy over wood in the 17th century. In the 20th century these two fuels were join by gasoline and oil. In the 21st century shale oil and natural gas are gaining importance.

If the “powers that be” really thought that the continued use of fire was causing a climate catastrophe they would ban its use all together, but it would seem that they just want a piece of the action. The cap-and-trade scheme is not unlike property tax in which the government just lays claim to your property and starts charging you rent, i.e. property tax. (If you think that you own your home just stop paying your property tax and see what happens.) The cap-and-trade scheme is the government just laying claim on all fossil fuel resource within its jurisdiction and charging people a fee to burn them as an energy source.

“The power to tax is the power to destroy.” (John Marshall in McCulloch v. Maryland 17 U.S. 327)

It could be that humans will eventually run out of things to burn, but that day keeps getting pushed back by innovation. For the present I can’t think of a more efficient way to destroy our society’s prosperity, which has brought us all of the above benefits, than to impose a tax on the use of fire. It leaves me wondering; in what kind of society do we now live in which we have to buy a license to use fire as an energy source, something that has been free for 125,000 years? And who exactly are we paying these fees to in order to obtain the privilege of burning that which nature provides?

Carl Brehmer

(Slightly edited from the original.)

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