Monday, February 22, 2016

Will pricing carbon emissions save us from Climate Change?

The quick answer as to whether carbon pricing offers a quick and relatively easy way to save us from Climate Change is no. Climate Change is too complicated for such a simple solution. But carbon pricing may be the way to save Capitalism.

Here’s a recent news story that highlights the continued effort to pass carbon pricing and the continual push back to stop it:

Lawmakers consider putting price on carbon Lawmakers in the state of Washington this month began discussing a measure that could make the state the first to tax residents and businesses on their carbon emissions. You can watch the two-hour work session, or watch this video, which explains everything you need to know about carbon pricing in three minutes. (February 19, 2016) Innovation Trail

Capitalism’s successes have always been delusional in that its accounting ignores environmental costs incurred in the production and distribution of goods and services.  In actuality, those costs have been carried by people getting sick from bad air and our ecosystems crashing.  Capitalism must learn to adopt accurate accounting, or it will die a painful death, and may take human civilization with it.

Climate Change, the mother of all problems, is making the burning of fossil fuels a major threat to our existence. We could dramatically curb our carbons emissions if we put a price on those emissions because it would be cheaper to use clean, renewable options. Carbon pricing would put the environmental equation back into the cost of burning fossil fuels where it always should have been.

Would pricing carbon be difficult? Yes. We waited too long to begin and now the industries that haven’t paid the true costs of their products are too used to not doing it. They got a lot of money using our environment for their profits and they are not going to want adjust for this tragically unfair mistake.

Would pricing carbon make tremendous strides towards addressing Climate Change? It would. Folks would use less fossil-fuel intensive products and services and use more of those that rely on renewable energy. This would quickly change everyone’s buying habits so that our economy would really mimic the very environmental system it needs to be in compliance with. We and our environment would fare better; not just the polluters.

Would pricing carbon save us all? No. Pricing carbon would go a long way to making it clear the days of using our life support system as an invisible hand to prop up an economic system are over. 

Making our environment healthy would pay better than making it sick. But there are many other aspects to Climate Change that carbon pricing would not fix. Carbon pricing would not provide leadership on adapting to the consequences of a warming planet, nor would it help to address this crisis equitably. There is no one solution to a problem that will engulf all aspects of our existence. That will take leadership and a pervasive attitude towards stewardship of our planet. We have a lot of work to do.  Carbon pricing will help a lot. It won’t save us. But it might save Capitalism.

Why would carbon pricing save Capitalism? Filling this tremendous flaw in Capitalism, where our environment was not factored into this theory from the beginning, might just give this economic system a way to make itself viable. Providing humanity with a financial incentive to bring down greenhouse gas emissions, instead of sending them through the roof, might just change a lot of people’s behavior in a short amount of time without too much disruption and inconvenience. If not, we’ll have to try something else.   

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