Saturday, February 28, 2015

Facing the Truth About Climate Change - by Jeffrey Ball in New Republic

Percentage of Global CO2 Emissions (Credit: Click to Enlarge.
Something has to change.  Partisan fighting on either side of the aisle won’t do it.  Neither will international climate agreements, which have been easily gamed.  A technological breakthrough—a clean-energy silver bullet that would allow the world to decouple economic growth from carbon dioxide—might.  But betting on a grand laboratory innovation requires hope for the best; better to hedge against the worst.  The means to meaningful change on global warming is within the world’s grasp.  It requires smarter climate policy:  more targeted and more economically efficient.  It requires, in short, getting more realistic.
Another approach is needed.  Instead of cap-and-trade, the United States should impose a carbon tax.  The tax could be structured so that it is revenue-neutral—a phrase much beloved by politicians—and returns the carbon proceeds to the American people by cutting other taxes, such as those on income, which fiscal conservatives contend are a bigger drag on the economy.  For years economists have called for a carbon tax, and for years politicians have dismissed the idea as a nonstarter.  But a pivotal moment is approaching in Washington, one in which overarching tax reform actually might take place.  Such a moment could provide political cover for this tax, because it would be part of a larger political bargain.  Demo­cratic environmentalists would get a stick with which to cajole (or worse) emitters to cut carbon; Republican fiscal conservatives would get the carrot of rolling back income taxes and other levies that they believe stymie growth.

A world in which the mean global temperature stayed within the two-degree threshold would be different in almost every respect from the one that presently exists.  It would require eating, traveling, trading, and manufacturing in palpably new (but hopefully not archaic) ways.  Humanity has solved a multitude of localized environmental problems: dirty water, dirty air, dirty soil.  It even has addressed some global ones, most notably the ozone hole.  But it never has solved an environmental problem as complicated as climate change.

The measures proposed thus far by the United States, China, and other countries in the lead-up to the Paris climate conference will not prevent the planet from breaking through the two-degree threshold.  They do suggest, however, that competing global players can fashion climate strategies if they see them as serving, rather than eroding, their own economic interests.  The test now will be whether that shift toward geopolitical realism can usher in environmentally meaningful action.

It is exactly what the fight against global warming needs.  In the United States, too many conservatives have ignored environmental reality, discounting the mounting science; and too many liberals have ignored economic reality, larding on inefficient support.  Both approaches are irresponsible and must be discarded.

Unless an astounding number of scientists across a multitude of disciplines are stupendously wrong, man-made climate change is no hoax.  But if it’s as serious as they say, it requires a serious response.  Serious doesn’t mean loud and grandiose.  It means robust for the environment and feasible for policy makers across the political spectrum.  One without the other is just cheap ideology.  Here’s the real inconvenient truth:  global warming won’t be solved by political hot air.

Read more at Facing the Truth About Climate Change

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