Governments addressing climate change

The off shore wind farm was established on a natural reef 3.5 kms outside Copenhagen Harbor, in the autumn of 2000 and consists of 20 turbines, each with 2 megawatt capacity.

by Robert D. Vines PE, C.P.M., Board Member

The most important, but most difficult action required to save our planet, is that every country must embrace the science leading to climate change and commit to immediate actions. This will be particularly difficult for underdeveloped countries because they are being asked not to do the things that can bring a better life for their people. It is the things that the developed countries did to get to their more comfortable lifestyle. We tore down forests for farmland and burned coal to give us cheap energy. 

An example pointed out recently by the Canadian Energy Center is that China currently has 184 coal-fired generating plants underway. There has not been a coal-fired plant built in the US in the past 35 years. Asking China to stop building these plants is akin to telling them not to follow the example of how the developed countries achieved the life they enjoy today. This means that there must be some type of responsibility sharing among countries. The developed countries cannot simply ask other countries to move to more expensive energy production. They must share the cost as they will also share the benefit.

Coal burning energy generation.

This crucial requirement of global cooperation must result in commitment from each and every country on the planet. And it must have international oversite capability along with the ability to enforce compliance. Those accountability consequences must also be sufficient to assure adherence. The failed Kyoto Protocol and the wobbly Paris Accord had no teeth. Success of the future will depend on an equitable pain-sharing commitment from every country. One of the better plans is called the “Climate Club” proposed by Nobel Prize winner William Nordhaus. This is the most critical aspect of saving our planet. One country cannot solve this problem alone.

In the US, the most visible cause of global warming is that we have always used fossil fuels to keep warm and create energy that can be used for transportation and to generate the electricity that makes life better. Burning fossil fuels is the least expensive way to achieve this. But what if burning fossil fuels was suddenly more expensive? Things would change. Humans would search for ways to achieve the same life without burning as much. But, how could you make burning fossil fuels more expensive? 

On my first visit to Europe many years ago, I noticed something. The cars were half the size of cars in the US. They were half the size because gasoline was many times more expensive than in the US. Why was it so much more expensive? Because gasoline was taxed at seven times the average rate in the US. 

That sounds like a pretty obvious solution: If gasoline is more expensive, we would be buying smaller, more efficient cars. There would also be a second benefit to increasing the gas tax because the government desperately needs additional tax revenue to offset the increasing budget deficit. A logical progression of this increase would be to add a $.50 tax each year for several years. 

Making this change is not just one way to achieve a reduction in gasoline use; it is the only realistic way to make it happen. People will change when it is in their best interest to do so. When driving a more efficient car becomes essential for people, they will make that change. Government mandates for auto efficiencies are not near as effective as consumer demand. 

Coal and natural gas will have to follow the same strategy. Tax both, and soon people will be seeking more efficient homes and alternative energy sources. 

You are probably saying: “You’re just re-inventing the carbon tax proposals,” and you are absolutely right. I did that because it is sometimes difficult for folks like me to get their head around the idea of a carbon tax. It would be better if it was called “Greenhouse Gas Tax” because that is what it is intended to be. And, to repeat, “government efficiency mandates are not near as effective as consumer demand.” If gas is high, consumers will demand and buy more efficient cars.  

The next category for government action is food production, specifically red meat. Between 15 and 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock production, while using up 25 percent of agricultural land for growing the grain to feed these animals. The solution here also needs to be incentive-based. That means that we will have to tax the red meat that drives this global warming industry. If red meat costs more, we will use less. It is that simple. A gradual change to the cost of red meat will allow a shift in agriculture to more environmentally friendly foods and, undoubtedly, more healthy food. This is a solution that will work. Simply encouraging people to eat less red meat does not work. 

The third category is population. The essential carbon sequestering rainforest is being destroyed because of the growth in the population. The more people there are on this earth, the more carbon there is added to the atmosphere. In so many regions of the earth, family planning and birth control methods are simply not available. The poorest regions are often the regions with the highest population growth. Improving this condition could be the most cost-effective action for combatting climate change. Although the relative cost would be low, the solution would require government cooperation and coordination. Educating women and providing family planning access would be the ultimate goal. 

Top: United Nations – Wikimedia Creative Commons
Second from the top and cover – William Alden – Wikimedia Creative Commons
Third from the top – Andrew Sorensen – Wikimedia Creative Commons
Bottom – US Fish and Wildlife – Wikimedia Creative Commons

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