The near-unanimous view of economists is that the best way to deal with pollution externalities is by pricing them, generally through a pollution tax or cap and trade program. Yet, policy makers still prefer to reward “good” behavior rather than impose costs on bad behavior. Economists grumble, but policy makers respond that we mustn’t let the perfect be the enemy of good steps in the right direction. There’s something to that, but a number of recent debates illustrate how these substitutes for pricing pollution can go off the rails, often doing much less good or even overall harm.
The fundamental problem is not that green energy has positive spillovers — running your A/C on solar power doesn’t make others better off — but that brown energy has negative spillovers. Thus, when we subsidize green instead of taxing brown, we end up making electricity too cheap overall.
— Severin Borenstein, Bad Incentives For Green Choices, Energy Economic Exchange, 8 July 2013
“… They say “we burn cleaner than coal,” and that’s true, 50% cleaner. But methane, natural gas, is 105 times more potent in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. And they are leaking huge clouds of methane off these well sites. It’s leaking in the distribution systems, and more than 1% leakage means that natural gas development is worse than coal for the environment… The engineering of these wells if fatally flawed. We know they they are going to contaminating aquifers. We know there is no way to fix them. But we also know that methane leakage right now is also unfixable at the levels we are seeing it. 7-17% leakage in the field. That means its worse than coal…” — Josh Fox on the Daily Show, 26 June 2013.
“… It is too late for any emissions reductions to avoid catastrophic climate change. But I think it’s important to stop and think about what it means to be too late, because what it means is we are committed to a period of very intense change, probably more intense than our civilization has ever seen. And to me that makes activism more important than ever. If we are going to have to navigate through this period of intense change, it really matters who is steering the ship.„ ”
Michael Gillenwater of the GHG Management Institute recently wrote a great blog post about climate literacy and climate denial. At one point he really nails the issue when he points out that there is an opportunity costs to confronting denial too directly…
“Now, I won’t go as far as to argue that we stop trying to teach kids about climate science in schools. … But putting on my financial watchdog hat, I’d say that investments to teach and convince the broader public of the realities of climate science deserve close scrutiny. To us it seems far wiser to use those resources to help prepare with the skills necessary to address the problem the sub-population that is already interested and engaged. A strategy of focused deep skills development, rather than shallow and broad awareness.”
— Michael Gillenwater. ghginstitute.org
I might press the case further, personally. This focus on education took up the energy that might have been put into preparation for what was clear to come soon… a Sandy. In the preparation, the climate education would have taken care of itself, no?
David Roberts is quickly becoming my favorite writer on the challenges of the climate crisis. The piece below from Grist recently examines the surreal nature of listening to skeptics rant about “climate alarmists.” We really do have an alarming situation. Witness Australia.
There was recently another one of those (numbingly familiar) internet tizzies wherein someone trolls environmentalists for being “alarmist” and environmentalists get mad and the troll says “why are you being so defensive?” and everybody clicks, clicks, clicks.
I have no desire to dance that dismal do-si-do again. But it is worth noting that I find the notion of “alarmism” in regard to climate change almost surreal. I barely know what to make of it. So in the name of getting our bearings, let’s review a few things we know.
— David Roberts. “If you aren’t alarmed about climate, you aren’t paying attention” (grist.org)
Installation Art of Melting Ice at 142 Throckmorton for MountainFilm on Tour Mill Valley. December 2012. Installation and Timelapse by Carter Brooks. carterbrooks.com