Refundable carbon tax now!
August 8, 2018 2:34 AM   Subscribe

"I really wanted to like @NathanielRich's @NYTmag piece about 70's & 80's climate politics. It does put AGW front-and-center for once. But I'm crushed to say that Rich suppresses important facts, covering up how organized climate denial created our current predicament. [Thread]" (via)

What the 'New York Times' Climate Blockbuster Missed - "Nathaniel Rich's article illustrates American failures, not global ones." (via)

Capitalism Killed Our Climate Momentum, Not "Human Nature" - "Nathaniel Rich, in his massive New York Times Magazine article, argues 'human nature' kept 'us' from fixing climate change in the 1980s. He's dead wrong." (via)

also btw...
The unfortunate truth about a carbon tax - "Indeed, a carbon tax is likely to be very unpopular with Americans as a whole because it will hit them where it hurts: their wallets. Such a tax is meant to price in the future damage of climate change so we shift to buying more green energy. Yes, renewables are dropping in price fast, which will make the transition less painful, but there's no way to avoid a regressive hit to Americans' wallets. The only way to really fix the problem is to simply remit all the revenue as an equal per person check to all Americans. Any other mix of revenue uses will almost certainly mean higher net costs for the bottom half of the population." (via)
posted by kliuless (20 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
 
How Not to Talk About Climate Change - "The New York Times Magazine claims in a blockbuster new article that democracy and human nature are to blame for the climate crisis. They're wrong."
posted by kliuless at 2:36 AM on August 8 [9 favorites]


A shameful history.

I often wonder at the fact that I've been hearing about an anthropogenic "runaway greenhouse effect" (for that is how it was generally referred to at the time) literally since the mid-1970s — Arthur Herzog's rather pulpy novel Heat pivoted on a sudden, distinctly anthropogenic warming event, and that came out in '77.

The facts have been clear for decades, and but for a few gestures during the Carter Administration, nothing was done at a point in history when it might have meant something. Now it is clear that there were those actively working to undermine the consensus forming around AGW, and actually prevent meaningful action from being taken.

There's a scene I cherish in one of Bruce Sterling's lesser novels, about some stormtrackers gathered around a campfire on, essentially, the night before the world ends. The conversation turns to the question, what do you think was the last moment at which things could have been saved? When do you think we took the fatal wrong turn? And each of the characters has a plausible, poignant answer: 1492. 1945. 1963. Never.

For me it feels likely that we could have managed the collective action necessary to avoid the thing that's now bearing down upon as as late as the end of the 1970s. Ronald Reagan and the criminals around him stole that chance from us, for reasons no grander than simple pocket-lining greed, and now we're reaping what they've sown.
posted by adamgreenfield at 4:06 AM on August 8 [12 favorites]


The world is literally on fire.
posted by Fizz at 4:56 AM on August 8 [5 favorites]


I live somewhere where a carbon tax was attempted and it became unpopular to the point it was rolled back when the public realised it would increase their energy costs somewhat. Before that fuel taxes also got reduced and it was extremely popular.

There's now a tidal wave of utility size solar and wind projects happening here because the cost of panels and turbines has dropped to the point that projects are borderline profitable without significant subsidies. Local government policy now has far less impact on the amount of renewable energy being added than Chinese government action to drive down prices in the solar panel and wind turbine industries.

Probably the most successful climate change action of the last few decades has been the increase in government mandated home appliance and car mileage efficiency, and that only occurred because the bodies setting those regulations are insulated from the public. If anyone could point to a program driven by public opinion that's had a meaningful positive impact I'd appreciate it because it would be less depressing.

I just can't take the "climate deniers misled the public" narrative seriously when every attempt to tackle the issue is initially popular until enough people realise it will cost them money and jobs. Its pretty clear that to fix this issue you have to quit being democratic.
posted by zymil at 5:05 AM on August 8 [8 favorites]


Its pretty clear that to fix this issue you have to quit being democratic.

I think this is less a function of human nature, though, and more a function of how easy it turns out to be to co-opt democratic processes when the people feel so uninvested in them that the only value function they can apply to a set of policies is a short-term, financial one.

And in any case, we're going to quit being democratic-capitalist at scale no matter what. The question is whether we do that now, and maybe hold the damage to "civilization-rending crisis" as opposed to "extinction-level event", or do that as a consequence of the early phases of said extinction-level event.
posted by Vetinari at 5:40 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]


oh, and...

Any other mix of revenue uses will almost certainly mean higher net costs for the bottom half of the population.

The early phases of either the civilization-rending crisis or the extinction-level event are going to disproportionately screw the poor *anyway*, since they're going to involve habitat damage that requires financial means to recover from followed by mass migration away from areas made uninhabitable by repeated habitat damage, which is also made far easier with financial means.

I'm not saying that a carbon-tax-funded universal basic income scheme is a bad idea, or any worse an idea than the various UBI schemes as currently proposed are; on the contrary I quite like it. I'm just saying that if pricing carbon emissions at their natural value (which would seem to be a simple matter of calculating the multi-trillion-dollar cost of restructuring the energy economy while inventing the magic necessary to hit negative emissions in the late 21st century, and dividing it by the amount of carbon we have to reduce by, and which I suspect will total up to a price per ton so eye-wateringly expensive that at least we can stop arguing about how to pay for UBI) ends up being more politically doable without tying it to UBI, then that's worth considering too.
posted by Vetinari at 5:48 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]


The world is literally on fire.

Salt Water Fish Extinction Seen By 2048 [CBS News]

We aren't going to pull out of this, so the only remaining option, I guess, is to try and enjoy being among the last few generations that will know the pleasures of organized, industrial civilization. I suspect many aspects of our daily lives (e.g. clean water, the internet, a beach vacation, vaccines) will seem like fairy tales to the great-grandchildren of today's kids.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:00 AM on August 8 [11 favorites]


No, we didn’t almost s­olve the climate crisis in the 1980s (on vox.com) is a lucid response to the NYTMag article.
posted by Baeria at 6:31 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]


For me, the key takeaway from that Vox article is this: "We are at the mercy of institutions and political structures. " People act within structures, both positively and negatively. Rich's narrative, while acknowledging the institutional role, focuses more blame on human psychology: "These theories share a common principle: that human beings, whether in global organizations, democracies, industries, political parties or as individuals, are incapable of sacrificing present convenience to forestall a penalty imposed on future generations." But we know that's not true. Depending on the circumstances, humans make choices that involve sacrifices, large and small, rational and irrational, all the time. It is the structures within which we live that shape our actions for good or ill. One aspect of the current state of the American political landscape is the ability for private interests to influence government and policy in out-sized ways. This isn't a function of human psychology, but societal structure.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 6:51 AM on August 8 [3 favorites]


I'm nowhere near done reading the NYT article, but it seems comprehensive and convincing. I started out disbelieving its early claim that the biggest scientific questions about climate change were largely answered by 1979, but having read the first a few chapters (is this a magazine article, or a book?) I'm slowly changing my mind on that. The biggest thing that wasn't appreciated, back then, was how intractable the politics and economics of it would be.

The twitter thread seems completely off the rails. The "one example" is entirely unconvincing. They very same wikipedia that it cites also tells us that the Charney report's policy recommendation suggested "concern but not panic" and avoiding hasty responses that could cost too much. It's suggested that this part was reflective of Nierenberg's personal views, as in restrospect seems likely. He looks a lot like the stereotypical example of a scientist who made up his mind too early, and then became entrenched in the wrongheaded opinions that resulted, as in "a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it." It doesn't seem likely that spending more time on the denialists would improve TFA.
posted by sfenders at 6:59 AM on August 8


[Couple deleted. Folks, "doom is inevitable" comments are understandable, but really hard for people's mental health to read a lot of -- please take it as read that people here already understand that the situation is dire, and instead stick to the specific articles here.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:24 AM on August 8 [3 favorites]


Salt Water Fish Extinction Seen By 2048 [CBS News]

Perhaps a bona fide sciency person can comment with more authority, but this is a 2006 re-publication of a WebMD article (that is, re-published in 2006 by CBS News after original publication earlier that year) and the Google results I'm seeing in general internet hits from the last 12 months seem to indicate that we should not be repeating this headline.

For example a National Geographic web article from last year says,
Based on this theory, he, Cheung and other authors published research in 2013 that showed average body weight for some 600 species of ocean fish could shrink 14-24 percent by 2050 under climate change.
and then goes through a bunch of hemming and hawing about how that theory and study have been criticized by other scientists.

Also last year from Climate News Network (not clear if this is a credible source but the author, Tim Radford, claims to have worked for The Guardian for 32 years, mostly as a science editor):
“Nowhere on Earth are fish spared from having to cope with climate change”, said senior author Julian Olden, professor of aquatic and fishery sciences. “Fish have unique challenges – they either have to make rapid movements to track their temperature requirements, or they will be forced to adapt quickly.”

But other creatures in the most extreme environments are affected too. British Antarctic Survey scientists report in Nature Climate Change that they used computer models to test a warming scenario for 900 species of marine invertebrates that live in the south polar seas.

Even a small warming of 0.4°C will cause unique local animals to change their distribution, and although some will fare well, overall there will be more losers than winners.

“While a few species might thrive at least during the early decades of warming, the future for a whole range of invertebrates from starfish to corals is bleak, and there’s nowhere to swim to, nowhere to hide when you’re sitting on the bottom of the world’s coldest and most southerly ocean and it’s getting warmer by the decade”, said Huw Griffiths, the Survey scientist who led the research.
posted by XMLicious at 7:30 AM on August 8 [5 favorites]


Thanks for catching that, XMLicious - here [via Sci-Hub] is the original study which was published in the AAAS's Science in Nov. 2006.

Checking Worm and his co-authors via Web of Science, all appear to have continued writing on this topic, though not in a way that gives an updated comparable and quickly digestible overview.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:50 AM on August 8


I'm not saying that a carbon-tax-funded universal basic income scheme is a bad idea, or any worse an idea than the various UBI schemes as currently proposed are; on the contrary I quite like it. I'm just saying that if pricing carbon emissions at their natural value (which would seem to be a simple matter of calculating the multi-trillion-dollar cost of restructuring the energy economy while inventing the magic necessary to hit negative emissions in the late 21st century, and dividing it by the amount of carbon we have to reduce by, and which I suspect will total up to a price per ton so eye-wateringly expensive that at least we can stop arguing about how to pay for UBI) ends up being more politically doable without tying it to UBI, then that's worth considering too.

The US emits roughly 6.5 billion tons of CO2 equivalent per year; that's about 20 tons per capita. (16 tons directly as CO2 and another 4 as methane, N2O and other greenhouse gases). The studies in the Vox article, the last link, are using carbon prices in the $50-75 per ton range. The higher extreme prices they mention are $100 per ton, and the single highest value I've ever seen in anything credible is $300 a ton. Even at that rate, that's only $6000 a year; the baseline $50 value would be about $1000 per person per year -- neither of them are exactly what I would call a basic income. That's particularly true when you consider that the $1000 per person per year also represents higher prices on gas, electricity, food and so on.

Don't get me wrong, I like carbon taxes and I like basic income, but using one to pay for the other is the same kind of math as "millennials could afford houses if they didn't spend all their money on avocado toast".

The only way to really fix the problem is to simply remit all the revenue as an equal per person check to all Americans. Any other mix of revenue uses will almost certainly mean higher net costs for the bottom half of the population."

What's unfortunate is that this isn't true from the evidence provided; the studies they cite compare a series of all-or-nothing proposals -- give everything back, divert everything to deficit reduction, etc. It's true that giving everything back is the only one of those limited extreme proposals that is progressive in taxation terms, but that doesn't mean it's the only proposal possible.

A much smaller amount of money is needed in more targeted rebates to make a carbon tax progressive; I've done some back-of-the-envelope math myself to guesstimate it's as low as 20%, but the actual economists who devised the Alberta carbon tax program have a rebate level of around 50% of revenue, targeted to the bottom 60% of the population. Individuals earning less than $47.5K and couples/families under $95K receive a full rebate ($300 for the first adult, $150 for the second, $45 per kid), with incomes roughly $12K more than that getting no rebate, prorated in between. (NB: This is for a $30/ton carbon tax.)

The upside of this is that even if there isn't enough money left over for a basic income, there is a ton of money left over for other improvements that can also help fight climate change; at $50 per ton, the US would produce $325 billion in carbon tax revenue; if half is used for rebates to keep the tax progressive, there's $163 billion left -- the total government expenditure (all levels) on public transit is $53 billion per year; to match Dutch annual expenditures on cycling infrastructure would be something like $12 billion per year.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 8:17 AM on August 8 [6 favorites]


I have a $50K loan from putting in a 11.73kW solar array. I drive less than 5,000 miles a year.

Tax the fuck out of carbon. Refund the poor people. Everyone who can afford it and doesn't have solar should be taxed the fuck out of. Government established solar farms for those who have bad roofs and shade issues. Buy panels there. Equity sharing in those same solar farms for poor people. Nationalize utility companies and transition them to energy storage and shortfall.
No, we didn’t almost s­olve the climate crisis in the 1980s
Yes. We did. Then Chernobyl happened and the Soviets fucked it all up.
posted by Definitely Not Sean Spicer at 8:34 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]


Also, when I went back home to Perth it was incredibly encouraging to see the massive amounts of solar panels on roofs there. They were up to one in four houses in January. One in fucking four. The demand curve has been so utterly wrecked by solar it's astounding.
posted by Definitely Not Sean Spicer at 8:38 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]


neither of them are exactly what I would call a basic income.

"Basic income" is not usually taken to mean that you'd have pay that entire income directly to each and every man, woman, non-binary, otherkin, and child in the land.
posted by sfenders at 8:53 AM on August 8


... well, not income-tax-free anyway, and not in most of the concrete proposals for it.
posted by sfenders at 9:01 AM on August 8


We are vividly seeing how much more powerful “cheaper or better” is than “costly or coerced” to create industry-scale change in carbon emissions. Coal is dying, rooftop solar is thriving and electric cars are surging because of abundant natural gas, huge Chinese discounting, and the buzz around luxurious and sporty Teslas, not because of prohibitions, taxes, forced conservation or punitive econoboxes.
posted by MattD at 3:21 AM on August 9


That's not true, is it? The whole reason that it's the U.S., Australia, and petro-monarchies at the top of per capita emissions lists together is because we don't have substantial fuel taxes. At the human species level we would have a great deal more stopping room between us and the cliff we're driving towards—and have very nearly reached—if all of the places which consume the most fossil fuels had “prohibitions, taxes, [and] forced conservation or punitive econoboxes”.

We're well beyond the point of relying on the easy solutions or any narrow set of solutions by themselves... we have to do everything, all at the same time. Every bit of indiscipline is going to cost lives at this point, mostly lives of the more vulnerable people in developing countries. We're basically scrambling to make sure as many seatbelts and airbags will be in working order as possible when we irretrievably go over.

But concordantly and a bit paradoxically, every effort and strike against energy conglomerate perfidy and each win for climate justice and preparation for the further disasters to come will commensurately save more human life through marginal returns now that we are riding the edge of Armageddon so closely, and we should use that to inspire ourselves to action rather than despair.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.
posted by XMLicious at 5:52 AM on August 9 [2 favorites]


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