Few progressives deny that we must curtail BOTH consumption and population. This includes Paul Ehrlich. And the equity issue has been addressed by Aubrey Meyer’s Contraction and Convergence proposal, which has been around for decades but ignored. This is a simple proposal which would set an absolute globally accepted goal of zero emissions by a fixed date but which allows different countries to attain that level at different rates but simultaneously at the end. This implies that the wealthy countries will cut their emissions MORE and FASTER. It also does not curtail serious honest development in poor countries which is directed at fulfilling basic needs of the poor rather than lining the pockets of the middle class and the rich.
Some of you may recall the beginning of the Kyoto protocols and other international meetings where India and China and other less developed countries demanded to be completely
excluded from any global emissions agreement because they were still the smallest emitters and their countries were not on a level of development or fossil fuel emissions anywhere
near that of the USA or western Europe. THIS IS NOT LONGER THE CASE. China is now the highest emitter in the world and India is trying hard to come in second. They are
taking their lead from the right wing and business interests in this country who do not want to do anything that would reduce energy consumption and thereby reduce economic growth.
So we have the largest emitters in the world with a tacit agreement NOT to do ANYTHING to curb climate change.
This does not mean we have to sit back and wait while these countries dither and delay. If anything it means that it is more important to the US to take the lead so as to break out of this
fraudulent and unacceptable trio. The main question is therefore this: what are the first steps we must take? And then what are the other important steps that should follow?
It is the general feeling that a carbon tax on fossil fuels should be the first thing. This would be a fee and dividend tax. Consumers would pay more at the gas pump or in their heating and electric bills, but at the end of the year each person would receive a dividend check. This answers the problem of how to be fair to the poor…who in any case consume much less energy than the rich. It also forces business and utilities to find ways of reducing demand and of providing alternatives. If industry and business have to pay more for their energy, they will pass on the costs to their customers. This is known as the free market in case you forgot. There are lots of costs of doing business: insurance, labor, materials, rent, utilities, etc. All of these are reflected at the retail level. If the cost of a product such as bottled water goes higher, so be it. The same for gasoline, which still sells for less than the price of a gallon of milk. There is something wrong with that arithmetic. It needs to be corrected.
Unfortunately we are living in a capitalistic society which is dependent on economic growth. Management and corporations want to minimize their costs and maximize their profits.
Higher energy prices will reduce consumption and reduce their profits. This is the dilemma, and no economists have had the cojones to speak up and tell the truth.Climate change and energy policy cannot be discussed without addressing economic growth. The longer this discussion is dragged out, the fewer the options become to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Thus, there is a built-in conflict that gives rise to deception and encourages rationalization of bad interim options such as natural gas as a replacement for coal. The only way
a carbon tax and the resultant higher energy prices will take place is if there is a strong citizen movement behind it. Years were wasted by Pastor Bill McKibben and 350.org that they
could have been beating the drum for a carbon tax. McKibben himself has refused to use those words; instead he says we need "to put a price on carbon", but that is as far as he went.
This has contributed to the inability to form a cohesive public constituency because McKibben has refused, and still refuses, to produce any specific agenda for action or legislation.
In fact in one of the last emails he deigned to send me about five years ago, he defended his refusal to do any lobbying in Washington because he said it was hopeless. He has never
told his acolytes what they should or could do. His gesture to get universities to banish fossil fuel stocks from their investments has made some headway, mostly because it is on
campuses where students can easily participate. He supposedly drove on a nationwide road show a year or two ago to peddle his wares though I never read about it. The worst aspect of his continuing reclusive presence is that he fuels the fires of cynicism and defeatism. If McKibben, the great leader, doesn’t consider political action in the nation’s capital worthwhile,
why should anyone else bother?
The carbon tax must be our first priority. But other things must follow: ending subsidies and tax breaks of all kinds for fossil fuels; mandating federal energy efficiency standards and measures first in government buildings and then on all new construction; rationing gasoline; imposing a Border Tax Adjustment (BTA) on high-carbon imports (which can only be done after WE tax carbon); beefing up public transportation; leaning on international development agencies not to fund projects involving or producing fossil fuel emissions; placing sanctions on foreign countries that are allowing deforestation, legal or illegal. And more, much more. At some point an international NGO/grassroots conference needs to be held to put millions of people around the world on the same page for the same ends, a World Ecology Forum modelled on the failed World Social Forum co-opted by the extreme left and Islamist sympathizers.
What is now clear is that putting the focus on social justice is a self defeating strategy because it has the wrong target and the wrong constituency as well as the wrong ideology. If and when a climate change agenda is put together, it will become clear that it encompasses all the goals that social justice activists aspire to…while the opposite, a social justice agenda,
will in no way come address much less reform the institutional, economic and political targets that would make climate change mitigation possible.