Keeping Global Warming in Perspective

 

The evidence for man-made global warming is now overwhelming. For example:

  • The extent of artic summer sea ice is steadily shrinking.
  • The world’s oceans are getting warmer.
  • Spring in the U.S. is coming sooner each year on average.

The three biggest carbon emitters in the world are China, the U.S. and India in that order. But what is also true, and not sufficiently well appreciated, is that carbon emissions in the U.S. are dropping while they are still increasing in China and India:

  • In the 2015 Paris climate agreement, China pledged that it would start reducing carbon emissions by 2030 but, in the meantime, is still continuing to open coal burning power plants.
  • In the U.S. carbon emissions have been steadily decreasing since 2000 (see chart).
  • In India the economy is growing at 7% per year and 240 million people still lack electric power. This means that carbon emissions from coal burning are likely to double in the years ahead.

Coal use in the U.S. will continue to drop with or without enforcement of the Obama era Clean Power Plan because natural gas is now so plentiful and so much less expensive than coal. The best way for the U.S. to continue showing leadership in combatting global warming is for it to adopt a revenue-neutral carbon tax.  This would let the market sort out which type of energy is the cleanest and most efficient in meeting our country’s growing energy needs.  In fact a carbon tax might even be beneficial for the coal industry by creating a strong incentive to develop carbon capture and storage technology.
Conclusion. Most Americans now agree that global warming is real and that this presents a huge threat to human civilization.  It is likely that a revenue-neutral carbon tax will be adopted by our country in the near future.

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Why We Badly Need a Revenue Neutral Carbon Tax

 

A large and steadily growing majority of Americans believe that global warming, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, is a serious problem which must be addressed. What remains is to figure out how to do this with the least possible amount of economic damage to ourselves and others.
Capture1Consider that:

  • Energy consumption will increase 56% worldwide by 2040, overwhelmingly with the use of fossil fuels. Biofuels are a very inefficient source of energy and wind energy isn’t much better. Solar energy is dropping in price but is still much more expensive than natural gas.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency has just issued its Final Rule for a Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon emission levels in 2030 by 32% below 2005 levels.
  • California is now considering drastic legislation requiring a 50% reduction in petroleum use by 2030 which is likely to do much damage to the California economy.
  • In 2008 the Canadian province British Columbia introduced a revenue neutral carbon tax which has succeeded in reducing carbon emissions without damaging the BC economy.
  • The advocacy group, Washington Carbon, is trying to put a carbon tax on the Washington State 2016 ballot. Initiative Measure 732 would institute a tax on fossil fuels of $25 per ton of carbon dioxide. According to the Seattle Times many environmentalists are opposed to this initiative because it would be revenue neutral!

Conclusion: humanity is faced with the very serious problem of global warming and the response so far is chaotic and totally inadequate. The developing world is rapidly increasing its use of fossil fuels while the EPA is trying to put the brakes on our own use. Meanwhile states (and Canadian provinces) are establishing their own individual energy policies.
Isn’t it clear that what is needed is a conceptually simple unified approach to create incentives for all of us to cut back on carbon dioxide emissions? Isn’t it also clear that the best way to do this is with a national carbon tax?
It is up to the U.S. and other developed countries to take the lead in doing this. Once we are clearly doing what is needed, then and only then can we begin to lean on less developed countries to follow our example.

 

 

What Is the Best Way to Cope with Climate Change?

 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has just issued it’s latest and most definitive assessment about the extent of global warming.  The earth’s average temperature has increased by .85 degrees centigrade since 1880 and is on track to increase to 2 degrees centigrade in a relatively short time span.  Such a major climate change will have severe repercussions for human life.
CaptureThere is much evidence for the IPCC’s gloomy prognosis.  Most convincing for me is that the extent of the summer artic ice cap is steadily shrinking, as demonstrated in the above chart.
The Environmental Protection Agency is attempting to decrease carbon emissions by regulation but there is a limit to what can be accomplished in this way:

  • The EPA’s goal is a 30% reduction in carbon emissions from 2005 levels by 2030. But the only way that this can possibly be achieved is by substituting the use of natural gas for coal, which reduces carbon emissions by 50%
  • The current low cost of natural gas is making nuclear power less economically viable even though nuclear power has no carbon footprint at all.
  • In addition to creating such constraints, this approach also has led the EPA to set complicated and arbitrary goals on carbon emissions for each state individually.

In other words, by employing onerous regulations the EPA will only, at best, be able to achieve a 30% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030. Of course, this is better than nothing but it is not nearly enough to significantly slow down global warming.  Even if European countries succeed in meeting similar targets as the ones set for the U.S., this leaves out the largest carbon emitter of all, namely China, as well as the rest of the developing world. Since it is impractical to eliminate the use of fossil fuels altogether, or even come close to doing so, the emphasis should be on limiting carbon emissions.  In other words, we should create incentives for carbon “sequestration,” i.e. the capture and storage of carbon when burning fossil fuels.   The way to do this is with a tax on the release of carbon into the atmosphere.  Such a carbon tax would provide a huge incentive for energy and power companies to develop the best possible sequestration techniques. With an economic incentive to do so, U.S. technological ingenuity will quickly develop effective methods for carbon sequestration.  Once discovered and perfected, their use would rapidly spread around the world. Climate change is real and we need an effective way to address it.  A carbon tax is the best way to get the job done.

Why We Need a Carbon Tax V. We’re Playing with Matches!

 

“Risk is like fire: If controlled it will help you; if uncontrolled it will rise up and destroy you.”                                                                            Theodore Roosevelt,   1858 – 1919

Just a few days ago I featured an Op Ed column in the New York Times “The Coming Climate Crash” by Henry Paulson, the former Secretary of the Treasury.  He discusses global warming as an economic issue.  The increasing number of severe storms, deeper droughts, longer fire seasons and rising sea levels it will cause will wreak tremendous economic damage on our country and the whole world as well.
CaptureA new report, “Risky Business” produced by the Risky Business Project, elaborates much further on this theme.  “The American economy is already beginning to feel the effects of climate change.  These impacts will likely grow materially over the next 5 to 25 years and affect the future performance of today’s business and investment decisions in the following areas: coastal property and infrastructure (damaged by storm surges and higher sea levels); agriculture (disrupted by higher temperatures); energy (costs will go up to provide more cooling).”
In addition to the large scale economic effects referred to above, global warming will affect each of us in a very direct way.  For example, in Omaha NE where I live, in just a few short years the current average of about 10 days per summer with a temperature over 95 degrees F, will increase to about 25 such summer days.
All of these effects are assuming that we continue on our present course of rapidly increasing CO2 build up in the atmosphere.  We do have a choice in this matter.  We can cut back but it will take a big effort to accomplish this.  The whole world needs to cut back and it is up to the U.S. to lead the way.
Republicans need to step forward on global warming.  It is highly irresponsible to say that any anti-carbon measures we take will just hurt our economy and ignore all of the harmful effects of proceeding on our present course.  It is also irresponsible to say that we can’t act unless everyone else does too.  If we are exceptional, and I agree that we are, then it is up to us to set an example for the whole world.
We need fiscal conservatives in office to address our very serious deficit and debt problems.  But fiscal conservative have to win the trust of a wider group of voters to show that they are deserving of broader support.