Saturday, March 30, 2013

Phase in carbon taxes to phase out greenhouse gas emissions

I’d like to see carbon tax applied in three phases.

The first phase would be a carbon tax applied to extraction: coal, crude oil, natural gas, even if the extractor claims the material will be stockpiled and not sold immediately.

Second phase would be a carbon tax on industrial sales of material as well as their emissions. That means refineries, electric generation by coal, etc.

Third phase would be a carbon tax on small commercial ‘retail’ and household and personal use emissions. This point would pick up on embedded carbon costs in products or services that are imported from outside the US tax system.

Example for the third phase would be a tax on the carbon footprint of a plastic item like a detergent or shampoo container that was stamped out in a mold operating on coal-fired electricity in a foreign country.

The three phases should add up like a VAT (value added tax), so no one taxpayer feels they are paying overmuch for someone else’s decisions. Places where residential populations depend nearly exclusively on coal-fired electricity or oil transport should be given the means to change their ways.

Overview of sources and users of all forms of energy is available in a convenient graphic from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Estimated U.S. Energy Use in 2011: ~ 97.3 Quads

We’d have to work something else out for taxing other GHG emissions, like the HFC coolant in air conditioners. I don't have a graphic for that at present.

Basically, don’t kill the economy while saving it.

A carbon tax system can steer the economy towards energy efficiency, and pick up other bonuses that might emerge along the way, like public transportation on safe bridges.

I agree with others that the revenues of a carbon tax could go into a general fund.

If carbon tax follows the history of the tobacco industry and cigarette taxes, then put the revenues towards an array of public works and services that reduce dependency on fossil fuels. That can scale from major public transport improvements to subsidized solar roofs on residences.

I cross posted a version of this in a couple of comments on Climate Progress.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Favorite Maxims

Justice delayed is justice denied.

First do no harm.

1. you can never do just one thing
2. everything goes somewhere
3. no population can increase in size forever
4. no free lunch (energy is finite)
5. evolution matters
6. time matters
7. life would be impossible without interactions

Saturday, March 9, 2013

looking ahead - looking behind - climate change and an abandoned piano

Some ideas for how to deal with the problems of our time seem as naive as pioneer dreams in the westward expansion in the 19th century.

Ideas like --
--hydroponics after the planet gets too hot for plants.
--living in a biodome
--adding sulfur dioxide to the atmosphere constantly
All of these are energy and mineral resource intensive.

These notions remind me of a photo. It was a black and white photo of a rutted trail across the plains. Even though decades had passed after the last pioneer's covered wagon rumbled by, the ruts were a persistent scar on the land.

An upright piano stood at the side of the trail. Superficially, it looked like one could walk over and strike a few keys. Its owners abandoned the piano at a point in the trail where one could see that there were many long miles ahead before a place to water the animals.

I have not been able to find that picture again. If anyone knows it and can tell me I'd appreciate it.

The abandoned piano is an icon for me of a frequent mistake in foreseeing the risks. Too many of us assume that we can take the familiar with us into the unfamiliar, without understanding the fundamentals of logistics. 

Monday, March 4, 2013

Climate Change and Niemoller's refrains

Thinking about the public's slow response to issues of climate change, Father Niemøller's poem came to mind.

A version that seems suitable for adaptation:

In Germany they first came for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me -
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

My experiments with adapting Niemøller's saying:

Adaptation #1

In America carbon use was widespread,
and I didn't speak up because I too used carbon.
In China the carbon use became widespread,
and I didn't speak up because I bought products from China.
The carbon use destroyed the water and soil and homelands of indigenous peoples,
and I did not speak up because I was far away and not indigenous.
The carbon use destroyed the habitats of plants and animals,
and we didn't speak up because the plants and animals were not our food.
Finally the extreme consequences of carbon use and climate change came for us all,
and it was too late to save everyone, including me.

Adaptation #2

In Africa climate change brought drought to the Africans,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't an African.
In Asia climate change brought weakened monsoons,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't an Asian.
In New Orleans climate change came for the low-lying neighborhoods,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't from there.
Climate change brought floods to Great Britain,
and I didn't speak up because I was an American.
Then climate change came for me -
and by that time no one had time to come help.
They were too busy trying to survive.

Adaptation #3

In the 1980s the flowers began blooming earlier in the spring,
and I didn't speak loudly because it seemed like a small thing.
In the 1990s, the winters became wetter with rain or snow,
and I didn't speak up because I was busy with children who liked to play.
In the 2000s the killing heat waves and forest fires spread larger on the maps,
and I did not speak loudly because I was far away and had air conditioning.
In the 2010s the crops began to fail in other parts of the world,
and I said only a few things because I had food and I didn't know who else to talk to.
Finally climate change became personal,
And yet it is personal for everyone.

Joan Cope Savage