How to Solve the Climate Problem | The Nation


How to Solve the Climate Problem

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The key requirement is that the United States and China agree to apply across-the-board fees to carbon-based fuels. Why would China do that? Lots of reasons. China is developing rapidly and it does not want to be saddled with the fossil fuel addiction that plagues the United States. Besides, China would be hit at least as hard as the United States by climate change. The most economically efficient way for China to limit its fossil fuel dependence, to encourage energy efficiency and carbon-free energies, is via a uniform carbon fee.

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James Hansen
James Hansen, former director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, is adjunct professor in the...

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James Hansen bravely told the truth even when the Bush administration tried to silence and penalize him.

If Congress follows these five suggestions, we could solve the problem of global warming.

The same is true for the United States. Indeed, if the United States does not take such an approach but rather continues to throw lifelines to special interests, its economic power and standard of living will deteriorate, because such actions make the United States economy less and less efficient relative to the rest of the world.

Agreement between the United States and China comes down to negotiating the ratio of their respective carbon tax rates. In this negotiation the question of fairness will come up--the United States being more responsible for the excess carbon dioxide in the air today despite its smaller population. That negotiation will not be easy, but once both countries realize they are on the same boat and will sink or survive together, an agreement should be possible. Europe, Japan and most developed countries would likely agree to a similar status to that of the United States. It would not be difficult to deal with any country that refuses to levy a comparable across-the-board carbon fee. An import duty could be collected by countries importing products from any nation that does not levy such a carbon fee. The World Trade Organization already has rules permitting such duties. The duty would be based on standard estimates of the amount of fossil fuels that go into producing the imported product, with the exporting company allowed the option of demonstrating that its product is made without fossil fuels, or with a lesser amount of them. In fact, exporting countries would have a strong incentive to impose their own carbon fee, so that they could keep the revenue themselves.

As for developing nations, and the poorest nations in the world, how can they be treated fairly? They also must have a fee on their fossil fuel use or a duty applied to the products that they export. That is the only way that fossil fuels can be phased out. If these countries do not have a tax on fossil fuels, then industry will move there, as it has moved already from the West to China and India, with carbon pollution moving along with it. Fairness can be achieved by using the funds from export duties, which are likely to greatly exceed foreign aid, to improve the economic and social well-being of the developing nations.

In summary, the backbone of a solution to the climate problem is a flat carbon emissions price applied across all fossil fuels at the source. This carbon price (fee, tax) must rise continually, at a rate that is economically sound. The funds must be distributed back to the citizens (not to special interests)--otherwise the tax rate will never be high enough to lead to a clean energy future. If your government comes back and tells you that it is going to have a "goal" or "target" for carbon emission reductions, even a "mandatory" one, you know that it is lying to you, and that it doesn't give a damn about your children or grandchildren. For the moment, let's assume that our governments will see the light.

Once the necessity of a backbone flat carbon price across all fossil fuel sources is recognized, the required elements for a framework agreement become clear. The principal requirement will be to define how this tax rate will vary between nations. Recalcitrance of any nations to agree to the carbon price can be handled via import duties, which are permissible under existing international agreements. The framework must also define how proceeds of carbon duties will be used to assure fairness, encourage practices that improve women's rights and education, and help control population. A procedure should be defined for a regular adjustment of funds' distribution for fairness and to reward best performance. Well, what happens if, instead of accepting the need for a rising carbon price, our governments continue to deceive us, setting goals and targets for carbon emissions reductions?

In that case we had better start thinking about the Venus syndrome.

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