United Nations Foundation and Sigma Xi on Confronting Climate Change

‘The world is experiencing climate disruption now and the increases in droughts, floods, and sea level rise that will occur in the coming decades will cause enormous human suffering and economic losses. The poorest are likely the most vulnerable. We imperil our children’s and grandchildren’s future if we fail to improve society’s capacity to adapt to a changing climate,’ according to Rosina Bierbaum, former Acting Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, announcing the findings of Confronting Climate Change: Avoiding the Unmanageable and Managing the Unavoidable. The report was prepared by the United Nations Foundation – Sigma Xi Scientific Expert Group on Climate Change, and released on Feb. 27.

‘The global-average surface temperature has already risen about 0.8 deg C [1.4 deg F] above pre-industrial levels and is projected to rise another 2-4 deg C [4-7 deg F] by 2100 if CO2 emissions and concentrations grow according to mid-range projections. Prudence dictates limiting the average temperature increase to no more than 2-2.5 deg C [3.6-4.5 deg F] above the pre-industrial level, and our report offers clear recommendations for achieving that goal,’ said John Holdren, the Teresa and John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy, Harvard University, Director of the Woods Hole Research Center, and Board Chair of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The report recommends new global policy framework for mitigation that includes “mechanisms that establish a price for carbon, such as taxes or ‘cap and trade’ systems. A carbon price will help provide incentives to increase energy efficiency, encourage use of low-carbon energy-supply options, and stimulate research into alternative technologies. Markets for trading emission allocations will increase economic efficiency.”

At a New York Academy of Sciences forum on Feb. 27, Professor Holdren observed that although many people generally think a cap and trade system would be relatively easy to implement, the details of an effective cap and trade system would actually be quite complicated. Responding to concerns that a carbon tax could not be implemented because politicians fear the “T” word, Professor Holdren stated that a carbon tax is possible “with a modicum of political leadership.”

Last modified: February 28, 2007

Canadian Greens Lead Way and Propose Carbon Tax

Friends of the Earth – Canada and Corporate Knights Magazine provided a model for United States environmental groups on Feb. 28 by releasing a detailed plan for climate protection that includes a carbon tax.  As stated by Toby Heaps, Corporate Knights Editor-in-Chief and Friends of the Earth-Canada Board Member. “Our climate protection plan is unique and compelling?it taxes carbon emissions, and uses the funds to mobilize a massive redeployment that would trigger Canada’s green industrial revolution.”  While the Carbon Tax Center recommends progressive tax-shifting or a rebate in the United States, we defer to our friends in Canada as to what makes more sense in their country.  Congratulations and good luck!

Last modified: February 28, 2007

Last modified: February 26, 2007

Greg Mankiw's Blog on a Revenue-Neutral Carbon Tax

Professor Greg Mankiw’s blog notes that based upon the CBO’s new report on Budget Options, a $1 increase in the gasoline tax would provide sufficient revenue to reduce all ordinary income tax rates, AMT rates and dividend and capital gains rates by 2 percentage points. Mankiw describes the result as an approximately revenue-neutral tax reform, but anticipates opposition based upon "status quo bias."

The status quo bias noted by Professor Mankiw is an important concern, particularly when combined with the obvious reluctance of politicians to utter the "T" word. We are convinced, however, that proposing a revenue-neutral tax with either progressive tax-shifting or a rebate, combined with the increasing acceptance of the need to do something soon about global warming, will inevitably result in passage of a carbon tax.

Last modified: February 25, 2007

Last modified: February 25, 2007

Last modified: February 21, 2007

When Snow Won’t Fall

We’re forever on the lookout at the Carbon Tax Center for new and outsized ways in which Americans are using energy. Too often,
today’s novelty item is just a clever marketing campaign away from tomorrow’s sizeable carbon emitter. Witness high-definition televisions, or Jet Skis.

If history is a guide, efficiency standards to govern new devices’ fuel consumption won’t be promulgated until after they have
proliferated — if ever. Carbon taxes, in contrast, could help rein in new products’ energy requirements from the git-go, i.e., in the design stage. Where a product has little redeeming social value, the price signals from a carbon tax might even keep it from gaining a toehold in the culture.

Spray.jpgThese thoughts came to mind when we read an article in The New York Times last week about suburbia’s latest must-have energy-guzzlers: home snowmaking machines.

"Since Nature can no longer keep to her early deadlines," The Times reminded us in a veiled nod to climate change, dads from Darien to Denver "are taking matters into their own hands, and creating their own seasons, at least when it comes to winter."

They’re doing it with snowmakers — machines named "Backyard Blizzard" and "Snow at Home" that feed on water and run on electricity, lots of it. According to the manufacturer, the Blizzard Sport model uses 2 kilowatts. The Times article gave a lower figure — which didn’t appear until the nineteenth paragraph and came with the curious note that "a clothes dryer guzzles more power."

Of course, most clothes dryers aren’t left on for two days straight. That’s how long a snow-loving Greenwich, CT developer profiled in The Times story had been running his two snowmakers when the reporter dropped by.

Another two-machine man, owner of a boat repair business owner near Atlantic City, NJ, made this admission: "My neighbors are going to work at the casinos at 3 a.m. and I’m out there, too, messing with the guns. It’s really hard to turn the guns off."

Hmm, what did Miles Davis tell Coltrane when the saxophonist said he sometimes didn’t know how to end a solo? "John, just take the horn out of your mouth." In this case, given the large helpings of fossil fuels that go into powering snowmakers, a carbon tax might provide a strong incentive to users to turn them off, or to refrain from buying them in the first place.

We calculate that using two snowmakers — one evidently isn’t enough — twice a month, for two days straight, over four months of the year consumes around 3,000 kWh — enough to pump out 1,220 pounds of CO2, based on the national average mix of fuels used in making electricity. On that average, the $370/ton carbon tax that CTC proposes (after a 10-year phase-in) would add
$225 a year in operating costs.

Based on the high price-elasticities for many luxury goods, the tax might be expected to reduce sales of home snowmakers by around a third. That’s a nice hit, though admittedly it’s far from the 75% market shrinkage that is probably needed to strangle the snowmaker industry in its cradle. (Achieving that through a tax disincentive alone would require a carbon tax five times larger than the one CTC is seeking.)

Which suggests that by itself a carbon tax won’t determine the outcome every time. But it would nudge some of us away from making certain climate-damaging choices. And at least the polluter — whether it’s a giant factory or, as in this case, dear old snowmaker dad — would be made to pay.

Photo: el moose / Flickr

Last modified: February 21, 2007

Last modified: February 21, 2007

Last modified: February 21, 2007

Last modified: February 15, 2007