At Davos, Stern Calls for Carbon Tax

"Humankind’s failure to pay for damaging the environment is the "biggest market failure ever seen," declared Sir Nicholas Stern, the author of last year’s groundbreaking report on climate change and former adviser to Tony Blair.

Sir Nicholas called for higher taxes on fuel to combat environmental damage yesterday at a summit of business and political leaders in Davos, Switzerland.

As reported by The Guardian (U.K.), the issue of global climate change dominated the agenda of the first day of the
World Economic Forum’s annual meeting.

Making the environment pay is one of 17 sessions focusing on climate
change this week. According to The Guardian, a majority of attendees at a standing room-only
session yesterday backed Sir Nicholas’s contention that carbon taxes
were a force for good
and twice as many of the high-level attendees
said environmental protection should be a priority for world leaders as
did a year ago.


Last modified: January 25, 2007

NY Times Blog Spotlights Carbon Tax Center

Times science blogger John Tierney beamed the spotlight on CTC big-time in his front-page blog today:

If you thought there was something missing in the energy section of the State of the Union Address, there’s a new Web site to fill in the gap.

President Bush last night dutifully mentioned the "serious challenge of global climate change" and reeled off ways to address it – burn less gasoline, subsidize other forms of energy. In the Democrats’ response, Sen. James Webb of Virginia dutifully talked of "affirmative solutions" and "a wave of entrepreneurial growth in the form of alternate energy programs." But neither he nor Mr. Bush went anywhere near economists’ favorite prescription for slowing global warming: a carbon tax.

The tax is taboo in Washington, but now there’s a place it dares speak its name: the Carbon Tax Center,
which opened this week with the aim of becoming "the village square for civic and political conversations about the why, who, and how of taxing CO2 emissions in the U.S. and, eventually, the world."

Tierney notes that taxing carbon is an uphill fight. Okay, carbon taxers, let’s start evening the odds. Post a comment on his blog and let the fur fly!


Last modified: January 24, 2007

We Want to Hear from You

Charles and I created the Carbon Tax Center because prompt and effective action to reduce carbon emissions is imperative to slow and then stop the world from hurtling towards a climate disaster. We are convinced that a carbon tax is essential to reduce U.S. emissions quickly and steeply enough to prevent atmospheric concentrations of CO2 from reaching an irreversible tipping point. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration is doing practically nothing and most of the proposals for action do not go far enough. We want CTC to serve the climate advocacy community. Please tell us what you think about our web site, what you like, what you want to change, etc. We’ll listen and respond.


Last modified: January 23, 2007

Glaciers in Alps Will Melt by 2050 According to Experts

Based on mounting evidence of slow but steady melting of continental ice sheets, scientists are now warning that the glaciers in the Alps will be mostly melted by 2050 according to a Jan. 21 AP story. California recently announced plans to reduce carbon emissions by 25% to 1990 levels by 2020, and by 80% below 1990 levels by 2050. The United States Climate Action Partnership (industry/environmental groups) proposal announced yesterday (Jan. 22) calls for a carbon dioxide emissions drop of only 10 percent to 30 percent from today’s levels within 15 years. Fast enough?


Last modified: January 23, 2007

The World Welcomes CTC!

Here’s a sampling of e-mails to [email protected] since our launch yesterday.

Keep those cards and letters coming. Even better, comment here, on this blog. Please also add a link to CTC on your Web site. Tell your friends and neighbors.

And feel free to donate. Already received: 6 contributions totaling $500. We’re thrilled and grateful.

— Dan and Charles

Great idea. I like your FAQs addressing the various issues. It’s about time someone did this! — (veteran energy policy analyst)

You can count on me to promote the idea whenever and wherever I get the chance because it’s the right way to go on this important issue. (economist, author, educator)

Nice work! Better late than…. But it may be too…. (longtime sustainability writer-activist)

This new clearinghouse for information on Carbon Tax is great. I’ll pass this on to the authors I am working with in environmental studies. (editor)

Site looks great! I think it will make a big impact. (a friend)

Dear global warming activists: great news below! Please forward this to your friends and lists, and spread the word. (climate activist)

Sounds intriguing. Please keep us in the loop. (CEO of an international environmental policy org.)

Good luck! I posted this on The Oil Drum. (eco-activist, Peak Oil-er)

My instinct has always been that imposing a tax on carbon is a better way to go than the cap-and-trade approach simply because it would force all actors to reduce their emissions no matter how efficient or inefficient they presently are and we need all the reductions we can get if we hope to arrest the worst case scenarios. (CEO of a grassroots enviro org)

The site looks good. Like the name of the newsletter vis a vis Al G. Signed up. Good luck! (family member)

Congratulations on your new carbon-tax group! I signed up for your email. I think the time is right for a c-tax. (author)

Good for you. The debate is needed. (founder of a major sustainability org.)

Your proposal, it seems to me, is the very sort of thing we need more of — and the very sort of thing that any number of well-heeled, self-styled “greens” would like to avoid (e.g., let’s stick a wind tower in Podunk and let’s drive our SUV out to take photos of it). (writer)

This is really a great contribution to the dialog. I especially like your assertion of how a CT is better than cap and trade. That really deserves its own slide show.  (Solar-photovoltaic and energy-efficiency entrepreneur)

Congratulations. This is a noble effort. (cycling and livable cities advocate)

Interesting, and even elegant site…I am freezing on behalf of the cause, etc. (writer)


Last modified: January 23, 2007

Carbon Dioxide Emissions are Growing Dramatically

per capita carbon dioxide emissions are at least twice those of most European countries such as Belgium, Germany and the U.K., and 2.3 times those of the Netherlands. Americans also emit 2.1 times as much CO2 per person as Japanese … and roughly five-and-a-half times as much as the average for all non-Americans on Earth combined. Click here for 2003 country data.


Last modified: January 21, 2007

Prices, Taxes, and Amory Lovins

Last week’s New Yorker magazine carried a profile of energy-efficiency apostle (and, as it happens, my college classmate and longtime acquaintance) Amory Lovins by the magazine’s global-warming reporter Elizabeth Kolbert. "Mr. Green — Environmentalism’s most optimistic guru" is a fair, digestible (at just 8 pages) portrait of the Rocky Mountain Institute CEO who reconceptualized the energy debate in the 1970s and is still tirelessly pitching his message of synergistic, human-scale energy solutions to the world’s political, financial and industrial leaders.

Gas_for_Less.jpgBack in the day, I was a member of Amory’s worldwide web of energy analysts who fed him our cutting-edge research (mine concerned cost escalation in the building and operating of U.S. nuclear reactors) and benefited in turn from his incisive editing and brilliant framing of our work. Along the way, however, I grew skeptical of his faith that human ingenuity and care would catalyze the dreamed-of wholesale shift to energy efficiency and renewables. Advances in efficiency, and there were many, seemed scattershot and outweighed by humankind’s capacity to invent ever more uses of energy and our boundless appetites for using them.

The key difference in our outlook turned out to concern price. Amory, the physicist and optimist, considers high energy prices helpful but not necessary, whereas I, an economist and, dare I say, a realist, regard them as necessary though not sufficient. Thus, the Carbon Tax Center.

Toward the back of Kolbert’s article is this useful passage:

… the example Lovins likes to point to — the drop in oil use in the early nineteen-eighties — is, at best, equivocal. As Lovins notes in his book, what made people "pay attention" to oil consumption was the 1973 Arab oil embargo and the second, even more severe 1979 oil shock. Part of the drop was due to structural shifts in the economy away from oil-intensive activities. Part of it was fuel substitution by both individual consumers and industry, as homeowners and factories switched from oil to, for example, natural gas. The largest part of it was increased fuel efficiency in both automobiles and buildings, led by the creation of federal auto efficiency standards in 1975. And, finally, part of it was a change in consumer behavior as Americans bought smaller cars and turned down their thermostats. Thus what Lovins offers as a demonstration that federal regulation and new taxes are unnecessary could just as plausibly be seen as evidence of exactly the opposite.

My point — and CTC’s point — exactly.

And Thomas Friedman’s point too, perhaps. In his first New York Times column after Kolbert’s article appeared, Friedman wrote of the need to require "power utilities, factories and car owners … to pay the real and full cost to society of the carbon they put into the atmosphere." In case the point wasn’t clear, Friedman added: "… prices matter. They drive more and cleaner energy choices."

Although Friedman didn’t mention Lovins by name — he’s a big admirer of Amory, as am I — I’ll bet he wrote with the New Yorker profile in mind.

Photo: karbon69 (Flickr)

Last modified: January 20, 2007

Carrying Coals to Newcastle (Global Warming Version)


The photo shows a helicopter delivering snow from a nearby mountain pass to a low-lying ski area for a race to be held Jan. 26-28 in Austria. If you look carefully you can see the suspended net dropping the white stuff on the barren hillside.

The ski race organizers spent $389,000 bringing snow from high to low elevations for an entire week, the New York Times reported on Jan. 19:

If even half the cost went for fuel, and if the fuel cost $3 a gallon, then the aerial ski portage consumed 65,000 gallons of petrol, roughly what 100 SUV’s would burn in a year. To enable a ski competition … incapacitated by global warming!


Last modified: January 20, 2007