What is the Social Cost of Carbon?

Reprinted from MIT Technology Review By David Rotman In contrast to the existential angst currently in fashion around climate change, there’s a cold-eyed calculation that its advocates, mostly economists, like to call the most important number you’ve never heard of. It’s the social cost of carbon. It reflects the global damage of emitting one ton of carbon dioxide into the sky, accounting for its impact in the form of warming temperatures and rising sea levels. Economists, who have squabbled over the right number for a decade, see it as a powerful policy tool that could bring rationality to climate decisions. It’s what we should be willing to pay to avoid emitting that one more ton of carbon. For most of us, it’s a way to grasp how much our carbon emissions will affect the world’s health, agriculture, and economy for the next several hundred years. Maximilian Auffhammer, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, describes it this way: it’s approximately the damage done by driving from San Francisco to Chicago, assuming that about a ton of carbon dioxide spits out of

April 26th, 2019|home, Uncategorized|

Congressional Action on Resilient Infrastructure: Areas of Progress and Future Needs

By Brian La Shier, Jessie Stolark, and Ellen Vaughan The Environment and Energy Study Institute (EESI) has issued this informative paper on recent congressional actions to encourage the development of resilient infrastructure.  INFRASTRUCTURE Natural and built systems that can better withstand severe weather and other hazards. Resilient infrastructure saves lives and property during catastrophic events, reduces the cost of recovery, and provides significant cost savings over the life of infrastructure systems. Climate-resilient infrastructure is designed and built with future weather patterns in mind, based on observed events, data and modeling. Even though the 115th Congress did not enact a comprehensive infrastructure bill as many had hoped, lawmakers passed and advanced several pieces of legislation that address resilience in homes, defense facilities, airports, and water infrastructure. Going forward, resilience should be a central goal for the new construction, repair, or modernization of any infrastructure project, from early planning, budgeting, and design, through the duration of a project's life cycle. At a minimum, Congress can require resilience metrics and mitigation strategies for federally-funded projects. Prioritizing resilience in planning decisions can help meet

April 17th, 2019|home, Uncategorized|

Why We Need the Feds

By William S. Becker For at least 20 years in the United States, the relationship between climate-action advocates and the federal government has been like the relationship between Charlie Brown and Lucy's football. Every time it looked as though congresses and presidents might do something, the climate movement ended up on its clunibus. We have to go back to 1992 to find Congress's last positive act on climate change. That was the year the Senate blessed and President George H.W. Bush ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Since then, the two presidents who used their own authority to cut the nation’s carbon pollution were succeeded by presidents who forced the country to backslide. When Donald Trump announced that he plans to pull America out of the Paris climate agreement, a monumental achievement of the Obama Administration, it was no surprise that many in the climate-action movement gave up on the Feds. The silver lining in Trump's stupid decision, however, was that many cities, states and businesses stepped into the leadership void. More than 3,500 corporate executives, college

April 8th, 2019|home, Uncategorized|

What will it take to decarbonize on time?

By William S. Becker Several committees in the new House of Representatives have put climate disruption on their agendas -- a long overdue departure from silence, snowballs and stupidity when deniers are in control of Congress. If the committees discuss America’s energy mix – which they should since fossil fuels are what's changing the climate – things could get very interesting. Why? It will be interesting not only because the carbon cartel will flex its muscles publicly and privately to prevent any talk about keeping its assets in the ground.  It will be interesting, too, because environmentalists, climate hawks, advocacy groups and citizens might not agree on how to do what we must: achieve a net-zero carbon economy within 30 years. In other words, we will have to take as much carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere as we put in. In broad strokes, this requires that a) we dramatically increase our energy productivity; b) we reduce, if not completely abandon, the use of fossil fuels to provide electricity, transportation fuels, industrial energy requirements and so on; and c) we

February 1st, 2019|home, Uncategorized|

Shooting at the Wrong Tax Target

By William S. Becker Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been in Congress just a few days, but she's already looking like the Robin Hood of the climate-action movement. She and her merry band of progressives in the House of Representatives are the kind of heroes we need right now. But Ocasio-Cortez has aimed her first arrow at the wrong target. Ocasio-Cortez is a champion of the Green New Deal, a plan to combat climate change by producing 100% of the nation’s electricity with renewable resources within 10 years.  While so much progress in so little time may seem unrealistic, America has done great things even faster. The shift to zero-carbon energy is the right idea and Congress should be aiming high. The Green New Deal has a social justice dimension, too, so Ocasio-Cortez has proposed that it be financed by raising the marginal tax rate to 70% for people making more than $10 million annually. That would kill two big birds at once. It would reduce income inequality as well as carbon emissions. Some of her progressive Democratic colleagues in the

January 14th, 2019|home, Uncategorized|

Building the Green New Deal

By William S. Becker The always informative blog Grist reports that the proposal for a national Green New Deal is stirring up criticism from grassroots organizations that have worked for a long time on social justice, renewable energy, the sovereign rights of Native Americans and other dimensions of the idea pushed by freshman U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Some long-time activists are concerned that the idea was developed “top down” by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign, rather than at the grassroots where boots with well-worn soles are on the ground. Grist reports that Ocasio-Cortez’s staff is now taking in ideas from many of those organizations and the Green New Deal is growing from a concept into a more specific set of objectives. In case there still is any friction about the top-down origins of the idea, let’s consider how these things often work. The idea of a Green New Deal has been around for a long time before Rep. Ocasio-Cortez adopted it, but the way it has appeared on the congressional stage is not untypical. In the intense pressure and pace of political

January 10th, 2019|home, Uncategorized|

2019: Year of the Carbon Revolution?

Second in a series of occasional articles about the new Congress and climate change. The clear and present danger of climate change means we cannot burn our way to prosperity. We already rely too heavily on fossil fuels. We need to find a new, sustainable path to the future we want. We need a clean industrial revolution. -  Ban Ki-moon By William S. Becker It is dangerous to recommend a revolution in a nation whose citizens are armed to the teeth. Some people might get the wrong idea. But it is also dangerous for a complacent citizenry to leave the country in the hands of leaders who violate the trust we have placed in them. That's what is happening today as members of Congress ignore the wishes of the people who elected them. Research shows, for example, that the American people want more federal protections for the environment. Instead, President Trump is rolling them back and Congress is acquiescing. However, the most dangerous example of official negligence is the refusal of Congress and/or the President to do something about two

December 29th, 2018|home, Uncategorized|

Whither the Green New Deal?

First of a few blogs on House Democrats and global climate change.    By William S. Becker To Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Welcome to Washington D.C. You have just joined the ranks of new members of Congress, fresh from their first election victories, energized and ready to change the world, only to find that Congress won’t let them. But please don’t stop trying. To everyone else: Here is some background and a few observations. Ocasio-Cortez is breath of fresh air, a former bartender from New York. She is 29 years old, a self-described socialist like Bernie Sanders, photogenic, Puerto Rican and part of the surge of women who ran for Congress and were elected to last November. She became a media sensation when she won the Democratic primary election against veteran Rep. Joe Crowley, who had not had a primary opponent in 14 years. When she takes her seat in the House on Jan. 3, Ocasio-Cortez will be the youngest woman ever to serve there. Riding on the momentum of her election and her notoriety, Ocasio-Cortez wasted no time preparing to

December 27th, 2018|Uncategorized|

Defusing a “Trump Effect”

By William S. Becker When Donald Trump announced last year that he wants to pull the United States out of the Paris climate accord, countless people around the world who invested decades of hard work to achieve that historic agreement held their breath, wondering whether other nations would follow suit. Other nations did not; 194 of the 195 countries that approved the accord three years ago held fast. Today, those nations are meeting in Poland for "COP24", this year's negotiations on how to proceed collaboratively on climate action. By some accounts, there is problem-- a “Trump Effect” that’s eroding other nations’ determination to fulfill and exceed the commitments in the Paris pact. The “Trump effect” is the topic of a study published last March, which concluded that Trump’s actions over the last two years may be slowing international momentum. Trump is undermining the Paris agreement in three ways, according to the report’s author, Joseph Curtin at the Institute of International and European Affairs.  His decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement has “created moral and political cover for others to

December 6th, 2018|home, Uncategorized|

Stop Arguing. Rebuild America

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims.” – Buckminster Fuller By William S. Becker Let’s assume for the sake of discussion that our politics is a mess right now. Thanks to Donald Trump, Republicans have become the Party of Fear and Division, with allies like Alex Jones and David Duke. Democrats do not seem to have a coherent vision for the country, except that it should not include Donald Trump. Some are afraid that our divisions are so deep and emotional that they could lead to armed conflict. Last year, Foreign Policy magazine asked several national security experts to evaluate the risks of a second civil war. Their responses ranged from a 5% chance to a 95% chance.  The consensus was 35%. The reasons ranged from weak institutions, tribalism, echo chambers, acrimonious public dialogue and the acceptance of violence as a form of protest, to social media trolling, entrenched polarization and the number of hate groups in America (917 last year including 623 antigovernment groups and 165 armed militias). Yet there is much on which we

November 12th, 2018|home, Uncategorized|

The Hope at the Heart of the Apocalyptic Climate Change Report

Along with their latest dire predictions, the world’s leading climate scientists offered a new path forward—but will anyone take it? BY JASON HICKELReposted from Foreign Policy When the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a new special report last week, it came with both good news and bad. The good news is that the carbon budget for staying under 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming is larger than we thought, so we have a bit more time to act. The bad news is that the consequences of overshooting that threshold are very, very bad. The catastrophes that we once believed would be triggered by only 2 degrees of warming are likely to occur at this lower threshold, including widespread collapse of food yields and extreme levels of human displacement. The IPCC has issued a clear and trenchant call for action—its most urgent yet. It says we need to cut annual global emissions by half in the next 12 years and hit net zero by the middle of the century. It would be difficult to overstate how dramatic this trajectory is. It requires nothing

October 26th, 2018|home, Uncategorized|