|Image Credit: Daniel Zanni (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)|
I call on each delegate to the UN Climate Summit to commit to not leave the meeting without a meaningful, enforceable, international agreement to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gas pollution levels to 350 parts per million within the coming decades in order to pull back on the uncontrolled climate experiment in which we are currently engaged, an experiment which the overwhelming majority of scientific evidence shows is already producing significant and mainly negative effects, such as increasing global average temperatures and the frequency of severe weather events, as well as altering ecosystem functioning, and which may have dire future impacts for human civilization due to rising sea levels, increased desertification, weather-induced crop failures, and species extinction.
While many people remain unconvinced of climate change and its negative consequences, the massive turnout for the People’s Climate March in New York City and in other cities all across the world this past Sunday demonstrate that there is significant public understanding and extremely strong support for addressing this issue, support that, with clear leadership directed toward sound policy prescriptions, can be harnessed to effect the changes needed to avert the worst consequences of greenhouse gas induced climate change.
Many potential policy instruments can and should be used to move us toward the goal of 350 ppm. However, as numerous economic analyses have shown, the best way to mitigate the negative impacts of greenhouse gas pollution is by putting a price on such pollution so that the price paid for fossil fuels tell the truth about its currently externalized environmental costs. I call on the UN to facilitate the pricing of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, either through an emissions tax or emissions credits trading protocol (and appropriate trade agreement levy allowances to ensure no country can free-ride on the system). Pricing greenhouse gas pollution would allow the free market to allocate investment capital to the technologies that most efficiently provide the energy we need without adding to atmospheric greenhouse gas levels. Such a comprehensive, market-based approach would affect all greenhouse gas emitters and not unfairly discriminate against one industry or region and do so without creating heavy-handed government regulations and associated regulatory apparatus, and without necessitating subsidies to particular industries, hand-outs which typically generate lobbying groups in a self-perpetuating cycle that too frequently extends the subsidy’s existence beyond any point of providing a public good.
Short-term increases in energy prices from such a pollution pricing program need not slow the world economy nor impoverish this or future generations. Putting aside the question of whether our current Gross Domestic Product accounting method, as a system which counts as positive economic growth money spent on clean-up, rebuilding, and medical care resulting from climate-change induced disasters without balancing the books by also counting as costs of pollution the destruction of capital these events produce, is an appropriate measure for global human welfare, even using such conventional economic measures, many examples of strong economic growth stemming from pollution reduction exist, both in individual industries forced to comply with environmental regulations and in entire industrialized countries like Germany, which has adopted progressive energy and greenhouse gas pollution policies while experiencing economic growth. Moreover, comprehensive analyses demonstrate that combining economic growth and decreased pollution is scalable to the world economy as a whole. Given these facts, there remains little grounds to defer action in deference to those who argue that clean-up and adaptation are our economically rational choices based on the assumption that unfettered compounding economic growth will make the generations who deal with the worst impacts of climate change much richer and therefore better able to bear the costs of adaptation than present generations are able to bear the costs of mitigation.
In light of the serious risks posed by uncontrolled climate change and the clear possibility for continuing poverty-alleviating global economic growth while reducing emissions to combat the worst effects of that climate change, it is a clear imperative that we must act decisively now to limit greenhouse gas pollution. Thank you for leading the world toward this goal, thereby putting is on the path to a more sustainable and prosperous future.