Komanoff: The Time Has Never Been More Right for a Carbon Tax (U.S. News)
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Komanoff asks: If efficiency hasn’t cut energy use, then what? (Grist)
Komanoff: Senate Bill Death = Win for Climate (The Nation)
Q&A: Charles Komanoff (Mother Jones)
Against the backdrop of a Trump administration seeking to drag the United States’ economy back to the coal age, Canada’s clean growth strategy is a breath of fresh air. Now more than ever, Canada needs to continue to innovate on decarbonizing its economy, and a central plank of that strategy is putting a price on carbon pollution.
British Columbia’s groundbreaking 2008 carbon tax introduced carbon pollution pricing to the Western Hemisphere. With 86% of Canada’s population now covered by a carbon price, and 100% to be covered by 2018 under the national benchmark, our country is well-positioned to be an international beacon of progress and a major competitor in the clean global economy.
Here are four big reasons Canada should strengthen its resolve to move forward on carbon pollution pricing.
1. Canada is not alone
Given the effectiveness of carbon pricing in reducing climate-damaging emissions, it should come as no surprise that 25% of global carbon pollution is already or about to be covered by a carbon price. That represents over 40 countries, including seven of the world’s 10 largest economies.
China has already piloted cap-and-trade in 5 provinces and 2 cities, making it the second largest carbon market in the world, after the European Union. Later this year China’s carbon pollution market is expected to go national, making it the world’s largest. Carbon pollution pricing is now a maintream approach and Canada is positioned to demonstrate how to do carbon pollution pricing well.
2. Carbon pollution pricing will help Canada become a clean tech powerhouse
The global clean tech market is currently worth $1.15 trillion and expected to more than double to $2.5 trillion in 2022, according to Analytica Advisors. Yet Canada’s share of this vital pie is shrinking (from 2.2% to 1.3% of the market over the last 10 years) as other countries outpace us in clean tech development.
Carbon pricing is one of the tools clean tech entrepreneurs cite as key to supporting innovation. By moving forward on carbon pricing and other clean growth policies, Canada can catch up and be positioned to take advantage of growing and shifting global market opportunities. Currently, 23% of Canadian clean tech exports are destined for non-U.S. markets, but this share is anticipated to increase to more than 30% in the next four years.
3. Carbon leakage and competitiveness concerns can be addressed by smart design
Identifying and mitigating competitive disadvantages must be a priority for Canada to ensure that pricing carbon pollution doesn’t result in carbon leakage and doesn’t adversely impact the economy. Canada’s Ecofiscal Commission estimates that around 5% of Canada’s economy (with variation between 2-18% depending on the province or territory) could be subject to competitiveness impacts if the country has a higher carbon pollution price than jurisdictions with whom we trade. Craig Alexander, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada, recently argued that competitiveness impacts would be less than 0.15% of GDP and not a justification to delay.
Where impacts are felt, carbon leakage issues can be addressed by the design of the pricing framework. Any measures taken to address competitiveness concerns for emissions-intensive, trade-exposed sectors should maintain the incentive to reduce pollution, as well as be targeted, transparent, consistent, temporary and simple.
4. Carbon pollution pricing lets the market drive the solutions
Along with some 140 other countries, Canada committed 18 months ago in Paris to do its part to reduce carbon pollution sufficiently to stay well below 2 C of warming. In order to achieve that goal, government has two main levers with which to shift to a lower-carbon economy: pricing and regulation. As a market-based mechanism — with support from both ends of the political spectrum — carbon pollution pricing sets the rules of engagement and lets the market pick the most efficient and effective ways to grow the economy. It supports innovation and ensures that those technologies and solutions that deliver the best results are the ones that thrive and go on to be competitive exports to a rapidly decarbonizing global economy.
With the U.S. waffling on its commitment to the Paris Agreement, it’s more important than ever for Canada to step up to be a global leader and demonstrate that addressing climate change is how we will build a strong economy that can weather the storms to come.
Josha MacNab is the British Columbia director at the Pembina Institute, Canada’s leading clean energy think-tank. Charles Komanoff, an economist, is the cofounder and director of the New York-based Carbon Tax Center.
On the eve of China president Xi Jinping’s scheduled two-day visit with the U.S. president, we took a deep dive into data on China’s energy use and carbon emissions. With the help of Fordham University student (and CTC intern) Cristina Mendez, who drew on official Chinese government statistics along with outside sources including Carbon Brief, we find that China has essentially capped its carbon pollution emissions — far ahead of the 2030 date for capping CO2 to which China committed in the landmark 2014 agreement between President Xi and then-U.S. President Obama.
That agreement followed a year-long diplomatic offensive initiated by then-U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and effectively ended the “axis of denial” by which China and the United States, by far the world’s largest climate polluters, pointed to the other’s inaction to justify its own. The bilateral accord in turn paved the way for the December 2015 Paris climate agreement in which nearly 200 nations pledged to rein in their emissions of carbon dioxide and other climate-destroying greenhouse gases.
A naysayer could point out the divergence between U.S. and China carbon emissions since 2005 (a standard “baseline” year for comparisons over time). In that year, U.S. emissions of CO2 from burning coal, oil and gas were around 5,810 million metric tons (“tonnes”), just a shade below China’s estimated 6,160 million tonnes in the same year. Since then, U.S. emissions have fallen by around 800 million tonnes while CO2 from fossil fuel burning in China grew by over 3,000 million tonnes.
That’s a swing of nearly 4 billion tonnes between the changes in the two countries’ emissions, a huge difference that can’t be swept under the rug. Nonetheless, it is tempered by four key considerations.
1. China’s carbon emissions, though now nearly twice those of the United States, are well under half of U.S. emissions on a per capita basis. With almost 1.4 billion people, The population of China is more than four times the U.S. population of 325 million. U.S. per capita CO2 emissions, which we estimate at 15.4 metric tons last year, are nearly two-and-a-half times as great as China’s 6.4 tonnes per person.
2. A considerable part of China’s CO2 comes from electricity and direct fuel burning to manufacture goods exported to the United States. Those emissions far outstrip U.S. emissions to supply agricultural and other products to China.
3. Based on historical CO2 emissions — which determine the amount of atmospheric carbon pollution now trapping Earth’s heat, given the roughly hundred-year time scale for a carbon dioxide molecule to distintegrate — U.S. climate-damage responsibility is roughly double China’s, even without normalizing for population. (For that calculation we added the past dozen years of respective emissions to the World Resources Institute’s compilation of the world’s nations cumulative carbon emissions during 1900-2004.)
4. Most importantly, if we wish to look forward: The apparent capping of China’s CO2 emissions over the past three years marks a sea-change in that country’s previously inexorable rise in carbon pollution over the prior several decades. It was only in 1988 that China’s CO2 emissions from fossil fuels (along with cement manufacture, which is otherwise excluded from the data in this post) passed 2 billion metric tons, based on a terrific WRI times-series visualization. The implied annual growth rate to 2013, when the total (without cement) surpassed 9 billion, was greater than 6 percent per year. From 2005 to 2013, China’s compound average emissions increase rate was 5.3 percent. To bring emissions to a screeching halt since then, without war, famine or other cataclysm, is close to miraculous.
Two charts tell the story. The first, directly above, shows the overwhelming dominance of coal in China’s energy supply, but moderating since 2011 and falling since 2013. This is significant because coal is the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, not to mention the most polluting in terms of “conventional” pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and fine particulates that kill several million Chinese people each year and sicken hundreds of millions more, as the New York Times has reported on multiple occasions. (See, for example, here, here and, perhaps most damningly, here.)
The second graph, below, highlights the changes in that supply over the past three years. Coal is down, while all other energy sources are up. In carbon terms (not shown in the graph), the combined increase in oil and gas use slightly more than offset the decline in coal burning, thus statistically creating a minuscule net estimated increase in CO2 of four-tenths of one percent from 2013 to 2016. Perhaps more importantly, energy output from carbon-free hydro-electric dams, non-hydro renewables (chiefly wind turbines and solar-photovoltaics) and nuclear power all increased, with their combined gain easily exceeding the net expansion in fossil fuel use.
The United States is not without its own climate triumph; as we pointed out in our recent “Good News” blog post and report, U.S. electricity-sector emissions (from power plants burning fossil fuels) fell 25 percent from 2005 to 2016 — a reduction equalling nearly four-fifths of the Clean Power Plan’s intended 32 percent drop in power-sector emissions from 2005 to 2030. (Note that our 25 percent figure is down slightly from the 27 percent reduction we reported in December, with preliminary 2016 data; both the post and report have been updated to reflect full-year emissions.)
But that’s electricity only — the “low-hanging fruit” for the U.S. and most other countries. U.S. emissions from transportation are up, as we’ll report shortly in a separate post. Far more worrisome, of course, is the Trump administration’s neanderthal assault not just on climate-related standards, regulations and research but on the very notion of energy efficiency and environmental stewardship.
The point of this data exercise is to underscore China’s historic achievement in flattening its carbon emissions. It may be premature to crown China as the new global leader in climate action, as some commentators have proposed lately. Let’s not forget that it was Germany’s pump-priming for renewable energy a decade or more ago that propelled the Chinese solar-PV industry down the cost curve. And lately the United Kingdom has been driving down carbon emissions at a remarkable rate.
But turning the corner on carbon emissions, as China apparently has done while providing material prosperity for well over a billion people, is no mean feat. The U.S. president will likely remain oblivious, but other Americans can acknowledge and celebrate China’s achievement.
Energy data for 2005-2015 are from BP, Statistical Review of World Energy, 2016, June 2016. We calculated 2016 energy data by applying year-on-year percentage changes in China Energy Portal, 2016 detailed electricity statistics, Jan. 20, 2017, and National Bureau of Statistics of China, Statistical Communiqué of People’s Republic Of China on the 2016 National Economic And Social Development, Feb. 28, 2017, Section XII. Resources, Environment and Work Safety, both accessed April 5, 2017. For coal, we applied the estimated 1.3% drop to 2016 in coal consumption stated in Jan Ivar Korsbakken & Glen Peters, A closer look at China’s stalled carbon emissions, March 1, 2017, posted to Carbon Brief, rather than the 4.7% drop asserted in NBS-China’s Statistical Communiqué. Emissions data are from BP Statistical Review (2005-2015), with 2016 calculated from the 0.3% rise to 2016 (excluding cement) estimated in Korsbakken & Peters.
Driving in the United States didn’t just inch upward during the past two years, it practically erupted. Total on-road vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) by cars, trucks and buses jumped by 87.5 billion last year, after increasing the year before by 105.2 billion, according to FHWA data. The two-year increase, nearly 193 billion miles — that’s just under 600 miles for every U.S. resident — is the largest in U.S. history (see graph).
Percentage-wise, the increases may not look momentous — 3.5 percent in 2015 and another 2.8 percent last year. But the two-year growth percentage, 6.4 percent, is the highest in almost three decades. And it comes after a spate of articles and reports celebrating (or decrying, depending on one’s point of view) the arrival of “peak driving,” or, at least, peak driving per capita.
So what’s going on?
The prime factor couldn’t have been population growth; it totaled just 1.4 percent from 2014 to 2016. And let’s not over-credit 4.2 percent economic growth over the same period, since the level of driving is more molasses-like than GDP, as we discuss further below. (Also note that GDP subsumes population, so the two factors wouldn’t be additive.) What about pent-up demand from the 2008-2011 economic slowdown? It makes for good anecdotes but probably not enough to move the dial.
My candidate for key cause of the surge in U.S. driving is super-cheap gasoline, or, more precisely, the precipitous drop in U.S. gasoline prices since 2014.
The nationwide average pump price was $3.43 in 2014, the fourth consecutive year in the mid-three dollar range. It dropped nearly a dollar in 2015, to $2.51, and fell again in 2016, to $2.20. Adjusted for general inflation (which is how we economists calibrate these things), the 2014-2015 price drop was 26.8%, and the 2015-2016 drop was 13.3%. The two-year real fall in price, 37%, is the largest over two consecutive years since at least 1950.
A drop in gasoline prices would cause an uptick in driving. If it’s cheaper to drive a mile, or 100 miles, it stands to reason that people will drive more miles. But how much more? How sensitive is the amount of miles driven (VMT) to the price of gasoline? Or, more precisely, how sensitive are changes in VMT to changes in the price of gas?
The answer: the relationship between VMT and gas prices isn’t super-sensitive; but it’s more than zero, and enough to make a big difference in the amount of driving when gas prices take a large turn.
Let’s look at how the math works. The parameter we’re looking for is the gasoline price-elasticity of VMT (driving). Let’s say it’s negative 0.1. (Negative because a lower price means more driving; and just 0.1 because the connection is probably slim.) Now let’s say the price of gasoline drops by one-fourth, or 25%. Based on the assumed -0.1 price-elasticity, we would expect a 3% rise in driving. (Mathematically, that’s because 0.75 raised to the negative 0.1 power, written as 0.75^(-0.1), is 1.029, which denotes a 2.9% increase.)
Does that feel right? Would a one-fourth drop in the price of gas — not just over a single day or month, but over a sustained period — actually lead people to drive 3% more? Would people take more car trips, or longer trips, to that extent? It seems reasonable that they would, though how much is an empirical question. (Which is why the entire vast literature on price-elasticities is based on observed behavior.)
In the table at right I’ve run the actual drops in the price of gas through that calculation, for two possible VMT price-elasticities: (negative) 0.10, and half that value, or 0.05. For the 0.10 value, the drop in the price of gas would have evoked much or most of the observed rise in driving. For the lower 0.05 value, not so much but still a significant portion. (The influence for 2016 should actually have been greater than shown because of the lagged effect from the 2015 price drop.)
What, then, are the best estimates for the price-elasticity in the literature (again, we’re looking for the change in VMT as a function of changes in the price of gasoline)? For the past decade I’ve relied on a seminal 2007 paper by U-C Irvine transportation economists Ken Small and Kurt Van Dender in which they derived a long-run price elasticity of gasoline consumption for the U.S. of -0.38, with 46% of that being due to changes in the amount of vehicle travel. Multiplying those two figures yields a long-run elasticity of VMT with respect to the price of gasoline of -0.175.
(The Small – Van Dender paper is summarized on CTC’s Effectiveness page — drop down to the first bullet point. The paper, “Fuel Efficiency and Motor Vehicle Travel: The Declining Rebound Effect,” is available here. The result just given appears on p.24 (FN 27). Small and Van Dender also remark that the 46% share of gasoline price elasticity accounted for by VMT declined to 27% when recalibrated to prices and driving behavior observed toward the end of their sample period. It’s also true that their elasticity figures are long-run, whereas the VMT behavior we seek to explain here is short-run, implying a still-lower price-elasticity; on the other hand, when the price of gas changes it’s easier to change the amount of driving quickly than to change miles per gallon, which suggests that the short-run elasticity of VMT might not be many times smaller than the long-run figure.)
My takeaway is suggested by the table above: while numerically the gasoline price-elasticity of VMT is small, the fall in gas prices in 2015 and 2016 was so severe that it almost certainly explains a lot of the observed rise in driving. Of course, rising incomes would also have played a role, but likely a small one. The Small – Van Dender income-elasticity of driving is 0.11 in the short run and 0.53 in the long run. Assuming a value of 0.25 for our purposes, the 2.6% increase in real GDP from 2014 to 2015 would have been expected to evoke only a 0.6-0.7% increase in driving (since 1.026 raised to the 0.25 power is 1.0064); for the 1.6% rise in GDP from 2015 to 2016, the effect on driving would have been smaller still.
What does this exercise suggest about carbon taxes? Take it as yet one more demonstration that prices influence the level of usage of just about everything, including fuels, energy, even driving. The price sensitivities (elasticities) may not be enormous, but they are felt nonetheless. In 2015 and 2016 they were enough to power a record two-year rise in total U.S. miles driven. And they’ll also act in reverse, which is how a carbon tax — particularly one with a rising price trajectory that can filter out market volatility — can be so powerful in slashing gasoline use and fossil fuel use generally.
And remember, the price elasticity of gasoline use (and its carbon emissions) is at least twice as great as the elasticity of driving with respect to the price of gas, which is what we’ve explored here. (We explored the price elasticity of gasoline in this Sept 2015 post, which is one of our most-viewed ever.)
So when you see someone parading false facts like this one on the New York Times letters page earlier this month,
[F]act — as documented by the Energy Information Administration and experienced by anyone who must drive regularly regardless of cost — fuel prices have little effect on gas consumption. (The letter, from Food & Water Watch, is the third of five in that link.)
you’ll know how to push back.
February 8, 2017, 9:30 a.m. • For Immediate Release
The Carbon Tax Center voiced strong support this morning for a proposal by the Climate Leadership Council to enact a comprehensive nationwide carbon tax starting at $40 per ton of carbon dioxide and rising over time.
The Council is scheduled to release its proposal, “The Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends,” at the National Press Club this morning, Wednesday, Feb. 8, at 9:30 a.m.
A $40 per ton tax on carbon pollution starting in 2018 and rising thereafter by $5 per ton each year would, by 2030, reduce annual U.S. CO2 emissions from levels in 2005 (a common baseline year) by an estimated 2.3 billion metric tons, a 40 percent reduction.
Alternatively, measured against a moving “business as usual” trajectory with no national carbon price, the 2030 reductions would be 1.4 billion metric tons a year, or nearly 30 percent of unpriced emissions projected for that year.
(The Council’s proposal envisions that “A sensible carbon tax might begin at $40 a ton and increase steadily over time.” We chose $5/ton as a politically palatable annual rate of increase, and modeled such a tax using our carbon tax model.)
“The robust carbon tax proposed by the Climate Leadership Council would vault the U.S. from the middle to the head of the global pack in reducing heat-trapping, climate-damaging emissions,” said Carbon Tax Center director Charles Komanoff. “It would also provide a template for other nations to follow, creating a real possibility of keeping the rise in global temperatures to 2 degrees Centigrade or less,” Komanoff said.
Using CTC’s model, Komanoff calculated that the future emissions reduction rate with the Council’s carbon tax would surpass by 50 percent the actual reduction rate since 2005, “a major achievement,” he said, “given that the past reductions were largely enabled by eliminating much coal-burning – the lowest-hanging fruit in eliminating carbon.”
CTC also endorsed the political “swap” in the Council’s proposal to rescind the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. “The important work of the Clean Power Plan was largely completed anyway,” said Komanoff, pointing out that well over 80 percent of the plan’s targeted reduction in electricity-sector emissions for 2030 had already been achieved by the end of 2016. “The proposed carbon tax is the logical and necessary next step,” he said, “instilling incentives throughout the U.S. economy to replace fossil fuels with clean energy.”
CTC further endorsed the Council’s proposal to “dividend” the carbon tax revenues to U.S. households on a quarterly basis. “We’ve studied ‘fee-and-dividend’ for years, and can vouch that it’s the most equitable, least bureaucratic and least corruptible way to distribute the hundreds of billions of dollars of revenue from a carbon tax, while also generating jobs,” Komanoff said.
Komanoff sounded a cautionary note about the dogged resistance of Congressional Republicans to climate action, but added that the Council’s proposal hits all the right marks for a business-friendly, small-government climate policy. “Republicans looking for a way out of their denialist, obstructionist stance on climate have been handed a lifeline,” he said. “Their children and grandchildren are counting on them.”
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About CTC: Since 2007, the Carbon Tax Center has stood at the front lines of the struggle for a sustainable climate and a habitable Earth. Our mission: to generate support to enact a transparent and equitable U.S. carbon pollution tax as quickly as possible — one that rises briskly enough to catalyze virtual elimination of U.S. fossil fuel use within several decades and provides a template and impetus for other nations to follow suit.
Think global, act local. I had that seventies slogan in mind last Sunday morning, at home in lower Manhattan. The pro-immigration rally in Battery Park was a few hours away, the sun was shining, and I walked around the corner to meet up with Erik Torkells, editor of the neighborhood blog, Tribeca Citizen.
Erik had a bag-snagger — a telescoping grappling hook for pulling plastic bags off tree limbs. Like many New Yorkers, he can’t abide the bags and other gossamer debris stuck, like tumors, to our half-a-million street trees. The contraption cost 400 bucks, and when he drew it from its canvas bag I could see why: it had four extenders, a fancy clamp or two, and a fearsome business-end worthy of a stevedore.
Bag snagging, I quickly learned, is serious business. Time-consuming, too. Over the next hour-and-a-half, and even with a big assist from my pal Rachel, who was passing by and gamely joined our little crew, Erik and I could only untangle a few dozen derelict bags from as many trees. And sad to say, we snapped a few spindly tree limbs in the process. (After we posted this, Erik put up a detailed account, Adventures in Bag Snagging; it’s obsessively terrific.)
If only there were a way to keep the bags out of the trees in the first place!
There is, of course, and that’s the main reason I went bag-snagging on Sunday, and why I’ve posted this piece as a Carbon Tax Center blog.
Beginning in February, a NYC local law enacted last spring — Local Law 63 of 2016 — will attach a nickel fee to carryout bags dispensed at supermarkets, grocery and convenience stores, and pharmacies. Shoppers who bring their own bags with them are of course exempt from the charge. Similar fees in dozens of U.S. cities, including San Jose, CA and Washington, DC, have curbed distribution of store bags by over two-thirds, reducing bag litter in gutters, streams and, yes, trees, and saving municipalities millions in trash collection and disposal.
Here in New York, however, implementation of the law was suspended to allow time for, er, more arguing. And now a last-ditch effort to pre-empt the law threatens to undo it before it can get started.
The connection to carbon taxing isn’t so much the petroleum waste from single-use bags, as the principle of charging a fee to encourage efficiency and conservation. To opponents, the fee smacks of punishment. To supporters, it’s a simple prod to finally do what our counterparts in Europe have been doing without grumbling for a century: keep a string or cloth bag with you to stick the groceries in.
In a way, the bag fee fight is the carbon tax struggle stripped to its essence: both policies internalize some of the cost of the harm in its price to incentivize less use. If anything, the bag fee is even more of a no-brainer. There’s no demonstrable burden on the poor. (The NYC law exempts food-stamp users.) There are no shut coal-mines to fret over, no analog to the low-wage worker forced to drive hours each day between two jobs. “You say you use twenty bags a week? Fine, bring your own!”
Sadly, that logic hasn’t worked on a handful of legislators. Perhaps they can’t make the imaginative leap to picture the simple but permanent behavior change. Or maybe they look upon the bag fee as an affront. Either way, the anti-fee forces might actually carry the day. Their repeal bill has cleared the NY State Senate, and now only the Assembly and the Governor stand in the way.
Why fight for the fee when a megalomaniacal demagogue in the White House is persecuting immigrants, refugees and Muslims and preparing to blow up the Paris climate accord? That one’s simple. The battles aren’t either-or, they’re both-and. We can progress on multiple fronts. Later that Sunday, my wife and I rallied with over 10,000 other New Yorkers in Battery Park, against the new administration.
Earlier this month, the New York Times asked Jennie Romer, the activist founder of Plastic Bag Laws, to comment on the rollback effort in Albany. “It seemed to be a very simple incremental policy to make real environmental change,” she told the Times. “And it has turned out to be an incredibly difficult fight.”
Yes, even seemingly incremental progress can be hard as hell. Still, we don’t stop.
If you’re a New York State resident, click here to find your Assemblymember’s contact info.
Bag-snagging photos by Erik Torkells.
Trump is bling, and bling is fossil fuels: The Boeing 757-200. The limo’s. The helicopters.
And also, evidently, the buildings. Not just the marble, but the lights, the escalators, and the machinery: motors, fans, compressors to (over) cool and heat.
We awoke this morning to find the Trump brand’s conspicuous energy consumption confirmed in spades, in EnergyWire. Thanks to their lead story, At blinged-out Trump hotels, ‘green’ isn’t part of the brand, we now know that out of nine Trump-branded properties in Manhattan that submitted energy use data under New York City’s energy benchmarking law, six were in the bottom 20 percent for energy efficiency, based on consumption per square foot.
Since those buildings are, ahem, huge, their outsize per-area energy usage puts their total fuel use and carbon emissions off the charts. To grasp how much, we zeroed in on one building, the Trump SoHo. According to the EnergyWire story, the combined hotel-condominium was in “the bottom [worst] 1 percent of properties of its type and size for energy intensity.”
We logged into NYC’s excellent Energy and Water Benchmarking Web site, navigated to Hotels and typed in the Trump SoHo address, 246 Spring Street. A bunch of graphs popped up, including the one at right, below, denoting CO2 emissions per square feet. From it, we were able to calculate that in 2014, the most recent year with available data, the fossil fuels burned to run the Trump SoHo emitted around 10,000 metric tons of CO2. (Calculations are at bottom.)
That’s a tough figure to put in perspective (okay, it’s within hailing distance of total carbon emissions for the entire country of Liechtenstein, which clocked in at 14,000 metric tons in 2013). So we converted it to dollars, using the carbon tax level that Trump’s Secretary of State-designate, Rex Tillerson, appeared to endorse on a handful of occasions during his tenure as ExxonMobil CEO: $25 per metric ton of CO2.
Ten thousand times 25 is 250,000, so at the (admittedly hypothetical) Tillerson rate, the Trump SoHo would be dunned around a quarter of a million dollars a year for its carbon emissions. (More precisely, the hotel’s electricity and energy providers would pay the tax and attempt to pass it through in higher charges.)
At the higher carbon tax levels that would make truly monumental dents in emissions, say, $100/ton, the annual charge would be a million bucks a year. That might get someone’s attention (and provoke an intervention by the energy managers from the Trump-branded 40 Wall Street skyscraper in Lower Manhattan, which improbably had an excellent (91) Energy Star score, according to EnergyWire).
But beyond poking fun — and it’s important to keep poking the new administration — the Trump properties’ energy profligacy matters a great deal for our planet. That’s because energy efficiency is critically important for reducing climate-damaging emissions.
For four decades and counting, visionaries like Amory Lovins and practitioners like the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy have documented (and fought to win supportive policies for) the capacity to provide more energy services (warmth, light) with fewer energy inputs. Last month, we published a Carbon Tax Center report identifying electricity savings that have caused electricity usage to flatten even as economic output increased, as the unheralded but key factor in the 25 percent cut in CO2 emissions from the U.S. electricity sector since 2005. (Shorter blog version here.)
There’s been a lot of debate about whether our 45th president can bring back coal. One way to stop that — and avert more fracking too — is to maintain and accelerate progress in U.S. energy efficiency, especially in buildings. In that endeavor, as in virtually every other, the right direction is full speed away from anything spelled T-R-U-M-P.
Note: As we were posting this article, we saw a post by the Energy and Policy Institute presenting strong evidence that ExxonMobil lobbied the Massachusetts state legislature to oppose two carbon tax bills, one of them revenue-neutral, during the 2016 session, i.e., when Tillerson was still CEO.