Climate Solutions by dana1981
Posted on 8 July 2011 by dana1981
After publishing Throwing Down The Gauntlet, which encouraged everyone to take individual action to address climate change, actually thoughtful requested that other Skeptical Science contributors publish posts detailing what we've each done to reduce our personal greenhouse gas emissions. This post is my response to that request, combined with what I think we should do on a larger scale to solve the climate problem.
I'm a big believer that if you're going to talk the talk, you'd better walk the walk. So I do what I can to reduce my personal carbon emissions. I usually commute to work on either an electric moped (which I highly recommend) or on bicycle. Once we could afford it, my wife and I bought the most fuel efficient car on the market - a 2007 Toyota Prius. If I can't take the moped or bicycle to work, my wife and I carpool in the Prius. I've also got a feather foot to maximize fuel efficiency around 50 miles per gallon. When feasible I try to use mass transit (i.e. trains and light rail).
At home we take steps to minimize our energy consumption. I was fortunate that my local electric utility had a home energy efficiency improvement program for low income households when I was between graduate school and career, and thus qualified for it. Last August we started leasing solar panels from Sungevity (very cool company), and over the past 10 months, the panels have produced 275 kilowatt-hours more electricity than we've used (the excess goes into the power grid). The solar panels also make my moped zero emissions.
Then of course I try to educate others about climate science. I started out answering questions in the Yahoo Answers global warming section five years ago (that's me at the top of the 'top answerer' list in the right margin), and in September 2010 started contributing to Skeptical Science.
Finally, because I'm convinced we can't solve the climate problem without serious large-scale policy implementation, I make climate policy my #1 consideration when I go to the voting booth. Whichever candidate has the best plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (and a serious chance to win) likely gets my vote.
I think the single most important step in solving the climate problem is the implementation of a carbon emissions price. The "CO2 is plant food" crowd isn't going to like this next bit, but CO2 is a pollutant. It endangers public health and welfare - not directly, but through its impacts on the climate. Thus from a purely economic standpoint, allowing free unlimited carbon emissions is just plain stupid. It's what economists call an "externality".
It's the equivalent of allowing polluters to dump hazardous waste into our waterways free of charge. Eventually somebody - whoever comes in contact with that waste and experiences the associated health impacts - will pay the price for that pollution, but when it comes to carbon in our current system, it's not the polluter. Thus the polluter has no incentive to stop polluting.
With other pollutants, we address this problem by either putting a price on their emissions, or by regulating them. This results in both protecting public health and welfare, and also encourages polluters to find ways to reduce their pollutant production, which results in a net positive impact on the economy. This is why there's an economic consensus that we should commit to reducing our carbon emissions.
And that's just the economic perspective. There's also the scientific perspective that in order to give ourselves a chance to avoid dangerous warming, we need major emissions cuts (which we are currently miserably failing to achieve), and the biggest step to achieve these cuts is with some sort of carbon price.
I don't have any particular preference what form that carbon price takes, whether it be a tax or a cap and trade system. A carbon tax is simpler with fewer loopholes to exploit, and can be offset by reductions in other taxes, as British Columbia is doing. Personally I'd prefer to see at least some of the funds go towards programs and research to increase energy efficiency and develop and implement renewable energy technologies, as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative cap and trade system has accomplished. As the recent Google.org study showed, I think the USA is missing a golden economic opportunity by failing to sufficiently invest in green technology development, which will likely come back to bite us.
There are many other reasons to reduce fossil fuel consumption, from domestic security and energy independence, to clean air and water, to addressing ocean acidification and peak oil, etc. I've yet to see a single valid reason why we shouldn't take these steps, other than alarmist claims that doing so will cripple the economy, which are based on exaggerating the costs and ignoring the benefits of emissions reductions. And yet the fossil fuel industries are so entrenched in our country that we continue to fail to take these steps which would benefit us in so many different ways.
It's difficult not to be discouraged by this self-destructive behavior. For those of us who understand these issues, all we can do is take steps to reduce our own emissions, communicate the problem to others, and hope they follow suit. Hopefully enough people will come to understand the magnitude of the problem and the urgent need to address it before it's too late.