It takes a lot of things to be a good researcher. Quantitative skills, problem solving, writing, and speaking ability. But besides those skills, what 5th year Economics Honours and Mathematics double major student Braydon Neiszner really has going for him is passion. Neiszner brightens up visibly when asked about his work on British Columbia’s carbon tax and on ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change. That’s fair, given he’s been excited about answering these questions since before he started university and now he’s finally getting that opportunity while working with Dr. Andrea Craig on an Undergraduate Research Award and Honours Thesis.
One of the main things Neiszner has wondered, having grown up over the border in Calgary, is why are carbon taxes so contentious. Though his work, along with several studies previously, show that British Columbia’s carbon tax has been a success, Neiszner has wondered how the tax affects different communities. Neiszner puts it explicitly: “A carbon tax in B.C. may make sense in Vancouver, because you can more easily walk to work, while in Calgary which is a very expansive and cold city, people may not use less gasoline, just because they can’t.”
And when afforded the opportunity to investigate those issues, Neiszner jumped at the opportunity. By investigating the effectiveness of the carbon tax in comparison to census data and climate, he was able to ask how does the carbon tax affect different communities differently? Using innovative methods, most notably creating a “synthetic control,” where he created a hypothetical British Columbia that never implemented a carbon tax, Neiszner was able to show that the tax has been effective. In the real world, B.C.’s gasoline consumption declined, while in the carbon-taxless hypothetical world, consumption went up. In addition, consumption was lower in denser populated areas, likely due to the decreased travel distances and more viable alternatives to car use.
But what Neiszner is really excited about is that gas consumption went down by a larger amount in areas with moderate temperatures than in areas with more extreme temperatures. Neiszner puts it this way: it’s much easier to cycle or take the bus in mild and mostly snowless Vancouver or Victoria than it is in frigid northern or mountainous communities. Here is where Neiszner thinks there is strong opportunity to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and equity of the tax. British Columbia’s carbon tax has been successful, in part, by subsidizing low-income families by providing tax breaks to people who can’t afford the extra money on carbon. But there could be more opportunity to offset the inequalities Neiszner found in his research by creating more regionally specific subsidies.
On top of that, Neiszner found some interesting results regarding the growth – or stagnation – of the tax. He points to “announcement effects” – where the public reduced their consumption after the announcement of the tax because they were much more aware of it – that drove the effectiveness. What Neiszner found in his work was that making sure the tax is increasing makes people reduce their consumption. If the gas goes up, people reduce consumption. Interestingly, the actual price, or the rate of increase of the price, was much less important in reducing consumer consumption than just making sure it was going up at all. In brief, he says, “The price of carbon is less important than the fact that it’s a tax.” Though many researchers say the tax needs to be larger to make an effect on global emissions, if an increasing tax could be implemented around the world, it could have an effect on global emissions.
But Neiszner’s research has raised a litany of new questions that he’s eager to tackle. He’s got several issues to address first in his Honours thesis. He plans to isolate the British Columbia-specific issues surrounding climate change. Did the tax work because it was well designed, or because B.C. is full of people receptive to reducing their emissions? Quebec’s carbon tax has been less effective, though whether that’s due to situational differences – B.C. has the mildest climate in the country – or design differences – Quebec’s tax reinvests its revenue in green energy, while B.C.’s is revenue neutral, returning all the value gained to the public – is unknown. Neiszner is really excited about trying to determine how the tax is received by the public: why does it cause such political strife when proportional fluctuations in gas prices due to other factors mostly go unnoticed? In a world where carbon taxes are both highly controversial and highly effective, answering this question could have major implications for our fight against climate change.
Beyond his honours research, Braydon has ambitions to match his passion. He’s looking to expand his work here at UBCO before exploring more climate issues in a Master’s degree in Economics at a suite of impressive schools. What’s good news for fighting climate change is that excited and eager people like him are working on these major issues.