By Gernot Wagner Ph.D. Economist, Environmental Defense Fund
How serious is global warming? Here’s one indication: the first rogue entrepreneurs have begun testing the waters on geoengineering, as Naomi Klein laments in her must-read New York Times op-ed.
Sadly, Klein misses two important points.
First, it’s not a question of if but when humanity will be compelled to use geoengineering, unless we change course on our climate policies (or lack thereof). Second, all of this calls for more research and a clear, comprehensive governance effort on the part of governments and serious scientists – not a ban of geoengineering that we cannot and will not adhere to. (See point number one.)
Saying that we ought not to tinker with the planet on a grand scale – by attempting to create an artificial sun shield, for example – won’t make it so. Humanity got into this mess thanks to what economists call the “free rider” effect. All seven billion of us are free riders on the planet, contributing to global warming in various ways but paying nothing toward the damage it causes. No wonder it’s so hard to pass a sensible cap or tax on carbon pollution. Who wants to pay for something that they’re used to doing for free – never mind that it comes at great cost to those around them?
It gets worse: Turns out the same economic forces pushing us to do too little on the pollution front are pushing us toward a quick, cheap fix – a plan B.
Enter the Strangelovian world of geoengineering – tinkering with the whole planet. It comes in two distinct flavors: (more…)
By James Boyce and Manuel Pastor. Cross-posted on Triple Crisis.
There is good news and bad news about the clean energy transition. The good news is that half the new electric generating capacity installed worldwide in 2008-2010 was renewable. The bad news is that half wasn’t.
To avoid rapid global warming and its attendant human and economic risks, we need to accelerate the transition. We need to do more than slower growth in the use of fossil fuels: we need to cut their use substantially. This will require significantly ramped up investments worldwide in energy efficiency and clean energy.
One way to encourage this investment is to base public policies on the full range of benefits from reduced burning of fossil fuels – not only global benefits from reduced greenhouse gas emissions, but also local benefits from reduced emissions of particulates, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, mercury, benzene, and other toxic pollutants.
In the European Union, research has shown that the clean air benefits alone are sufficient to justify investments in energy efficiency and renewables. “The welfare effects of climate policy seem to be positive,” a 2006 report for the Netherlands Environmental Agency concluded, “even when the long-term benefits of avoided climate impacts are not taken into account.”
The clean air co-benefits of climate policy may be even greater elsewhere, in countries with less stringent air pollution controls than Europe. In a recent study we cite World Bank data indicating that in the United States the human health damages from particulate emissions are six times higher per ton of carbon dioxide than the average for Germany, France and the United Kingdom. In China, the ratio is more than ten times higher. (more…)