I just changed cell phone providers. Why? My former provider, Telus, was tweeting its enthusiastic support for the newly announced Canadian federal carbon tax of $10 per tonne emitted in 2018. (The levy will increase every year, to $50 per tonne in 2022). See the story in the National Post here.

Telus, as a publicly traded corporation, has no business in supporting any government policy or tax—unless all of its owners decide that this is what they want the company to do, instead of creating wealth for themselves. Obviously, no shareholder consultation was done regarding the carbon tax, as the tweet followed the government’s announcement almost instantaneously. Nor is it likely that a consensus could be reached among all shareholders, despite the majority views on climate change and its alleged carbon dioxide connection.

It is the fiduciary duty of the executives of a corporation to maximize the company’s profits, to the benefit of the shareholders—and not to engage in diluting profits. The executives can of course hold whatever private views they want about carbon taxes, but they must keep them to themselves (or tweet about them as private citizens) and not let be distracted from their fiduciary duty.

The outrage against Telus’ support for the carbon tax on social media was swift, as angry customers were threatening to leave the company for its competitors. The new carbon tax is estimated to cost the average Canadian family $1,250 in the first year, and go up from there. In Alberta, the center of oil production in Canada, where the economy has suffered the most from the low prices and where unemployment is high, Telus’ carbon tax cheering tweet was considered particularly callous.

Obviously, it’s not in the self-interest of Telus to appear wishing hardship for its customers. So after 17 hours of pummeling in the social media, Telus tweeted an apology: “Our carbon pricing tweet late yesterday was not meant to be partisan or political, but we know it appeared that way, and we are sorry.” This was also what the Telus customer service representative told me when I canceled my contract. Clearly, Telus doesn’t get that its role is the creation of material values (cell phone service), not encouraging more taxation. On the contrary, it should oppose the carbon tax and any other taxes as they destroy human welfare.

Many commentators have argued that a federal carbon tax in Canada is completely futile, as Canada’s carbon emissions are only about 1.5% of the total global emissions, and that gasoline consumption is unlikely to decline regardless of price increases.

But the fundamental reason why business and everyone else should oppose a carbon tax is rarely addressed in any of the public discussion: there is no reason to try to lower carbon emissions—if human flourishing is the standard of value.

The main argument for decreasing CO2 emissions is that they cause catastrophic climate change—this is now taken as the unquestioned truth and “settled science.” However, those who hold such a view ignore the fact that climate is always changing, and the impact of CO2 due to any human activity on it (and particularly, on global temperatures) is negligible. To take drastic measures such as carbon ‘pricing’ means compromising human flourishing—lowering people’s standard of living and quality of life—for some alleged, unproven benefit of lower atmospheric carbon levels.

Carbon dioxide is not a toxic pollutant but a greenhouse gas that is necessary for plant growth and for a healthy planet. Historically, the current level of C02 in the atmosphere is relatively low, and lowering it further could endanger all life on Earth. See Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore’s informative explanation here.

Telus says it’s a founding member of Smart Prosperity, an organization of business leaders and others who pledge to fight for cleaner environment and economic growth. There are likely no opponents for such goals, as they are consistent with human flourishing. (Whether business leaders should participate in such organizations instead of focusing on economic growth of their own companies and keeping their pollution in check, is another matter). But Telus and other businesses should recognize that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant and there is no evidence that curbing carbon emissions through taxation or other government measures has any human benefit at all.

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Jaana Woiceshyn teaches business ethics and competitive strategy at the Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary, Canada. She has lectured and conducted seminars on business ethics to undergraduate, MBA and Executive MBA students, and to various corporate audiences for over 20 years both in Canada and abroad. Before earning her Ph.D. from the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, she helped turn around a small business in Finland and worked for a consulting firm in Canada. Jaana’s research on technological change and innovation, value creation by business, executive decision-making, and business ethics has been published in various academic and professional journals and books. “How to Be Profitable and Moral” is her first solo-authored book. Visit her website at profitableandmoral.com.

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