[Marxism] Climate Justice standpoint Re: France’s protesters are part of a global backlash against climate-change taxes - The Washington Post

Patrick Bond pbond at mail.ngo.za
Wed Dec 5 04:55:42 MST 2018

-------- Forwarded Message --------
Subject: 	[REDlistserve] Yellow vests movement: Macron’s fuel tax was no 
solution to climate chaos
Date: 	Wed, 5 Dec 2018 13:43:58 +0100
From: 	Maxime Combes <maxime.combes at gmail.com>


For your information, please find below a piece published two weeks ago 
in a French media now available in English

*/A few words on the situation in the country : /*
The situation in the country is moving up quite quickly: the yellow 
vests movement was initially seen as a "No-Tax right-wing movement" but 
it is much more complicated. Most of them are fighting against tax 
injustice and Macron's decisions in favor of the richs / TNCs / 
capital-owners. That doesn't mean that far-right wing groups are not 
infiltrated in the movement, but that does mean this is a complex social 
movement with more and more references to social and leftists demands 
(rising up of the minimum salary, etc). Macron government annoucements 
that they did yesterday are far to calm dow the situation. People feel 
flouted and the mobilisation coming on saturday is a key, since this is 
also a big climate day of mobilisation, and, with some others, we are 
trying to make some links. Not an easy task, but since we have now 
under-18 students in the streets, we hope to get some good news in the 
coming days.
(you may all know that all French revolutions came first through 
"anti-tax movements" - not saying that we are about to get a new 
revolution, but these are very important days in our country and 
definetely key to get a left answer to all of this)

Please feel free to share widely and to come back to us. (I have a lot 
of info - materials, but only in French)

Yellow vests: Macron’s fuel tax was no solution to climate chaos 
Maxime Combes <https://www.rs21.org.uk/author/maxime-combes/>
4 December 2018

/The French government has now decided to suspend a planned eco-tax on 
fuel in response to mass protests. While the movement of the ‘yellow 
vests’ (gilets jaunes) has turned into a broader revolt against 
inequality and Macron’s neoliberal reforms, e/conomist and climate 
activist *Maxime Combes* (Attac France) argues that as a way to tackle 
climate change, the tax is neither fair nor effective. //

//Analysis originally published on the daily internet journal of ideas 
<https://aoc.media/analyse/2018/11/23/gilets-jaunes-vs-macron-transition-ecologique-limpasse/?fbclid=IwAR0ZD_Fh3na1y2gdi2r1xta9DO9vTUIwenUGSIdL9XPSr9IxRYNTbNZ53Hg> and 
translated by *Taisie Tsikas*.//

It is in the name of “ecological transition” and the need to “liberate 
households from dependence on petrol” that French Prime Minister Edouard 
Phillippe justified the status quo: no new proposal was announced the 
day after the “gilets jaunes” protests. By making the carbon tax, and 
hence the rise in fuel prices, the central plank of its policy to reduce 
fossil fuel consumption – a legitimate objective in itself – the 
government, blinded by an ideological and narrow understanding of the 
role that ecological fiscal policy can and must play, are leading the 
transition to a dead-end.

This discourse is intended to be simple and accessible: by increasing 
prices of fuels, consumers can be made to modify their behaviour, 
reducing their use of vehicles and/or buying more fuel-efficient 
vehicles. The same applies to boilers that use oil, in which case the 
emphasis is put on replacing them in favour of wood-burning or gas 
boilers. The case of tobacco is often used as an example: hasn’t its 
increase in price, done in the name of public health, reduced its 

*Little impact on behaviour*

However, when spending is constrained in the short term, increasing the 
price does not necessarily reduce consumption. Or at least not by much. 
Economists say that price elasticity – that is, the sensitivity of 
consumption to prices – is weak or very weak. In the case of fuels, the 
price elasticity is generally understood to be between -0.1 and -0.35%: 
when the price of fuels – and notably diesel – increases by 10%, 
consumption falls by between 1 and 3.5%. To reduce consumption of at 
least 10% – and up to 35% – and thus to have a non-negligible effect in 
the fight against climate change, the price of fuel would have to be 

Doubling prices is not what is predicted by the government of Emmanuel 
Macron, which has endorsed an increase in the domestic consumption tax 
on energy products (TICPE) of 23 cents per litre for diesel by 2022, and 
11.5 cents for lead-free, which is about 7 to 15% higher than current 
prices (around 1.5 euros per litre). As a result, the expected decline 
in fuel consumption will be limited to a few percent by 2022.

By comparing the global fuel volumes used by road traffic between 2007, 
just before the economic crisis (53.4 million cubic meters) and 2013, 
the lowest point of consumption in recent years (47.8 million cubic 
meters), we can get a sense of scale. The decrease in consumption is 
limited to about 7%. In the same period, prices for gasoline and diesel 
increased by around 30%. It is therefore difficult to conclude that 
increases in fuel prices lead to significant reductions in consumption 
from the point of view of combating climate disruption. Since then, 
consumption levels have been rising again (an increase of 4% between 
2013 and 2017).

In the short term, the level of fuel consumption is therefore 
insensitive to price changes: the price signal, invoked by all 
proponents of the carbon tax, works rather poorly, with the most limited 
effect on collective consumption. However, in the fight against climate 
change, it is the total volume of fuel consumed, and therefore the total 
greenhouse gas emissions released into the atmosphere, that matters.

*Reinforcing inequalities*

Although limited, the impact of price increases on consumption is very 
different depending on the type of household. This is a well-known 
effect and has also been seen in the context of rising tobacco prices. 
In the case of tobacco, it was found that the increase in price, 
combined with prevention messages, primarily reduced the tobacco 
consumption of well-off social classes, thus reinforcing health 
inequalities to the detriment of those in poverty.

Another observation that counts equally here: the price sensitivity of 
household budgets to fuel prices is highly dependent on the household’s 
standard of living. While the richest 10% of households travel three 
times more kilometres than the poorest 10%, it is estimated that they 
reduce their consumption much less when prices increase than poor 
households reduce theirs. The price signal works very poorly for 
households that have the means to cope with it, and their behaviour 
changes very little.

However, these same 10% of the wealthiest households emit four times 
more carbon than the poorest 50%. A home among the richest 10% therefore 
has a carbon footprint twenty times higher than that of a household 
belonging to the poorest 50%. With such a policy, the highly polluting 
lifestyle of the richest households is spared, while the poorest 
households pay the highest price.

In fact, poor households with vehicles have, on average, older and less 
efficient cars than the richest. They are also much more exposed to 
rising fuel prices: the 20% poorest households spend more than 7.5% of 
their budget on fuel, against less than 4% for the richest 10%.

This is the triple difficulty for poor households: more exposed than 
wealthier households to the increase in fuel prices, having less means 
to cope with it and without necessarily having the opportunity to change 
their vehicles or boilers. This last point is essential: it is easy to 
show that more than 50% of the budget of the poorest households are 
“pre-committed” expenditures, that is to say constrained.

*Is a conversion possible?*

When you are poor and the price of fuel increases, you don’t change your 
vehicle like you change your shirt. We live with what we have: when we 
do not have the means to change something, we live with our polluting 
vehicle or oil boiler for as long as possible, and we restrict our other 
consumption, the quality of our heating or our journeys: such a policy 
leads to eviction by prices. Price is no longer a ‘signal’ to encourage 
behavioural change, but a barrier preventing us from meeting mobility or 
heating needs, at least in the short term.

The government claims to want to respond to this situation with, on the 
heating side, a very small increase in the energy check [an allowance 
paid to households with low incomes to help pay energy bills] (from 150 
to 200 euros) and a conversion bonus – not specified at this time – to 
remove oil-fired boilers within the next 10 years. On the vehicle side, 
it offers a conversion bonus of up to 4000 euros for the poorest 20% of 
French people. These would be people whose standard of living is less 
than 12,550 euros, with a low capacity to buy hybrid or electric cars 
whose purchase price can be as much as twice their annual income.

This is also one of the perverse effects observed: of the 250,000 
conversion bonuses already paid out so far, 93% have been used to 
purchase cars with combustion engines (47% of which are diesel) and 
barely 7% for hybrid or electric vehicles. While 8.7 million polluting 
vehicles roam French roads, the government has only budgeted for one 
million conversion bonuses, or just 11.5% of polluting vehicles.

Rising prices and the conversion bonus therefore condemn almost all 
households, whether they have bought a new vehicle – mostly with a 
combustion engine – or not, to a strong dependence on future fuel price 
developments, vulnerable to these prices being pushed up even more by 
further increases in the carbon tax or by international markets.

Moreover, savings promised to households with the purchase of a more 
efficient vehicle thanks to the conversion bonus will be worth nothing 
if future governments want to achieve reductions in fuel consumption 
that would be significant from the perspective of the fight against 
global warming. Will investing more than one billion euros in a 
five-year period for such an outcome be worthy of an ambitious 
environmental policy?

*First reduce the need for mobility and heating?*

By making the increase in fuel prices the central policy that must drive 
the inhabitants of the country to change their vehicles and change their 
boilers, without reducing their mobility needs and their heating needs, 
Emmanuel Macron and the government are making themselves prisoners of an 
ideology that prevents action on the structural causes of too great a 
dependence on fossil fuels.

Putting an end to urban sprawl and bringing economic activities closer 
to workplaces – rather than moving them away from already urbanized 
areas – relocating public services and ensuring the sustainability of 
local shops, developing public transport and options for alternative 
modes of transport, are priority areas for reducing the need for 
mobility reliant on carbon.

In a recent report, the OECD also indicated that some public aid has 
favoured the destruction of natural habitats and urban sprawl. This is 
notably the case for the development tax, which is levied on real estate 
construction operations, which could be changed to favour 
low-space-consuming activities and avoid projects that lead to 
perpetuating urban sprawl and low-density peri-urban areas. Is it not 
time to save the soil, to reuse those already artificialized and close 
to existing transport systems?

While a new bill on transportation is currently being prepared by the 
Minister of Transport Elisabeth Borne, it seems more than absurd that 
the government stubbornly supports the construction of new urban or 
peri-urban highways in Strasbourg (GCO), Castres (A69) or Rouen (Liaison 
A 28-A 13), while at the same time it encourages or tacitly validates 
the closure of railway lines and train stations nearby, as in the South 
of France or in the Massif Central.

The State of California’s transport services have just acknowledged that 
the expansion of existing motorways, or the construction of new 
motorways, generates additional induced traffic that can only eventually 
lead to the saturation of the new routes; more roads means more traffic. 
Pursuing the construction of new motorways therefore inevitably leads to 
encouraging new journeys to be made, a phenomenon which is particularly 
linked to urban sprawl, and therefore to additional consumption of 
fuels, which the government claims to want to reduce.

Similarly, reducing the heating needs of households through a massive 
investment plan in the renovation and insulation of the existing housing 
stock should be a constant focus for the public authorities. This is not 
the case today: time and time again the government has halved the energy 
transition tax credit (CITE), which helps households install more 
efficient wood burners, and it has cut the ecology budget by nearly 600 
million euros from the revenues derived from fuel taxes.

*Why exonerate the most highly-polluting businesses from the carbon tax?*

How can a policy of raising fuel prices for households be justified when 
companies are either exempted from these increases – in particular in 
air and maritime transport – or hardly affected by the very weak 
increase in the price of carbon in the market for European quotas? 
Furthermore, the proceeds of these taxes are not used, for the most 
part, to finance ecological transition policies that are still underfunded.

By defending an inefficient and anti-redistributive fiscal policy, and 
by refusing to accompany the ecological taxation with a transition plan 
capable of reducing the mobility and heating constraints that weigh on 
households, Emmanuel Macron and the government are in the process of 
ruining public acceptance of taxation – particularly the consent to 
ecological taxation which, if well thought out and researched, could be 
useful for reducing the levels of pollution of the richest households.

As the ecological crisis continues to worsen, they also risk making the 
ecological transition unpopular. It is a risk that will endure and that 
must be avoided at all costs. Now is the time to ensure that ecological 
and climate politics do not aggravate inequalities but, on the contrary, 
help to reduce them and allow us to move towards more fiscal and social 

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