I’m not joking. Read this interview transcribed on Grist. In this first installment, Klein makes two arguments: (1) Because of low oil prices there is less investment in unconventional oil, Arctic oil and fracking, and (2) Low oil prices give us a convenient opportunity to introduce carbon taxes because people are used to high prices.
The first is crazy. The main reason for low oil prices is the expansion of supply in a decelerating global economy. If supply expands in region A and this crowds out investment in expanding supply in region B, supply still expands. It is more supply and more fossil fuel consumption that will fuel climate change. There is a slight benefit from substituting less carbon-intensive sources, like conventional oil deposits, for more carbon-intensive ones, like the Alberta oil sands, but the difference is hardly sufficient to qualify as progress against climate change. I suppose Klein thinks declining economic growth in the continuing aftermath of 2008 is a good thing, but that’s another argument I've already thrashed out.
Ah, you say, but with lower oil prices and less investment in new sources of supply, eventually supply must stop growing, and prices will go up again. Yes, of course. This is a normal investment cycle, and it will put us back to where we were when oil prices were high. In the meantime we will have had this hiatus of lower prices and higher-than-otherwise consumption.
The second is only slightly less crazy. First, there is no real-world evidence that the price of oil plays a role in the political ability to introduce a carbon tax or permit system. In fact, insofar as high oil prices (when they’re high) represent scarcity rents, a tax or auctioned permit functions in part as a transfer of that rent from fossil fuel companies to the public, so you could make a case that high prices are politically beneficial. Of course, there’s no evidence for that either.
The deeper point is that the fossil fuel consumption patterns we saw in the world during the period of high oil prices were not nearly sufficient to put us on a path to avoid catastrophic climate change. We will need much higher costs to consumers to do that. Will people be happier about $15 a gallon gas if the starting point is $2 rather than $4? Your call.