Climate Change Questions
How have politicians contributed to climate change?
Politicians campaign on unemployment, the EU, abortion, gun control, terrorism, migration, the minimum wage and school meals – everything except climate change. The greatest issue facing our planet is seldom discussed at elections; climate change is the elephant in the room. In fact, the very thing politicians are keenest to promise – economic growth – inevitably accelerates climate change. Politicians prefer the simple, optimistic message of economic growth rather than the more complicated one of sustainable development – partly because, until recently, voters haven’t been concerned enough about climate change.
Why haven’t the public demanded more action on climate change?
There are three big reasons.
- Disinformation – corporations and politicians want to preserve the status quo and have successfully fostered doubt on sustainability issues; for example, it’s only recently that opinion polls in the US show that the majority believes in climate change as a serious problem.
- Today, most individual actions to combat climate change are considered sacrifices; e.g. taking the train is less convenient than driving. Until it’s easier for citizens to take those positive actions, there will be resistance.
- Climate change isn’t urgent in that it can’t kill us today; it’s easy to put off acting for a little while. The scale of the problem encourages inaction; if you are an optimist you can say “it’s Ok, everything will be fine” and do nothing. If you are a pessimist, you might say “it’s hopeless, there’s nothing we can do”. It’s easy to use the “if only we had done something 20 years ago” argument.
Would humans vote to tackle climate change?
This would depend entirely on how any question was formulated and how any referendum was conducted. For example, “Do you think we should combat climate change?” would get a more positive response than “Are you willing to pay $1,000 per month to possibly reduce the effect of climate change on following generations?”.
But I don’t think this matters very much because a. I believe we are obliged to tackle climate change (see next question) and b. The question is only meaningful in a context – i.e. how you propose to tackle climate change.
Is tackling climate change a moral obligation or a democratic choice?
It’s a moral obligation because of the devastating effect of climate change on following generations; democracy doesn’t allow future generations to vote. Just as it would be absurd to use democracy to justify a majority enslaving a minority, it would be absurd to use it to ‘approve’ climate change.
How does managing CO2 emissions help the other crises?
We’ve seen that individual acts of consumption can contribute to more than one of the 5 Environmental Crisis – climate change, pollution, water scarcity, falling biodiversity and food production.
There’s plenty of evidence that burning fossil fuels leads to air pollution; it seems reasonable to assume that manufacturing the fossil fuel (e.g. refining oil, mining coal) and transporting it (e.g. by tanker) leads to other pollution. Climate change is certainly a factor in water scarcity and biodiversity loss. So there’s evidence that reducing CO2 emissions would reduce 4 of the 5 environmental crises.
The fifth environmental crisis is food production, where carbon intensive practices include massive use of fertilizers. Fertilizer manufacture accounts of 1% of the global carbon footprint, but then (via N2O emissions) it accounts for a further 1.5% in its use and then fertilizer run-off causes algae blooms – emitters of CO2 and methane.
Modern Society Questions
Why form a Modern Society to tackle climate change?
Imagine that you really need to lose weight for health reasons but you live in a society where that is difficult. Your work canteen sells only things like burgers with fries. Your kids and partner don’t like salads or vegetables and don’t want to change their diet at all. The only shops selling tempting vegetables are far away and expensive. You’d like to walk or cycle to work, but the only way of getting there involves driving on a motorway; to get exercise you need to join an expensive health club and it’s an inconvenient drive to get there. The only place you can meet socially is a pub. All of this doesn’t prevent you losing weight, but it certainly makes it harder; your life-style makes your diet feel like a constant sacrifice.
Trying to tackle climate change today is a bit similar; society is set up around consumption, driving and convenience. There isn’t a simple way to buy (or even identify) locally produced, ecologically sound food. Public transport is less convenient and often more expensive than driving. Electric cars are too expensive and there aren’t enough recharging points. You can still reduce your carbon footprint, but it’s a sacrifice – society isn’t helping you.
Expecting everyone to voluntarily make a big sacrifice to tackle climate change isn’t going to work. Instead we need to structure society so it’s easy and convenient for everyone to reduce their carbon footprint – a Modern Society.
Why don’t you simply highly tax bad behavior?
Attempts to tackle climate change simply by taxing bad behavior haven’t been very successful.
The first problem is that the cost often falls disproportionately on the poor. Those with a lower income spend a higher proportion of it on primary products like food, electricity or motor fuel. Increasing taxes on those things hurts those that can least afford to bear the cost.
Secondly, it’s a hard sell – it makes tackling climate change purely about adding pain. “They want to tax your steak now” is a typical sort of headline. At any sort of election if the choice is between “business as normal” and “business as normal but with added pain” it’s not hard to see who will win.
By offering a Modern Society you can enhance many people’s lives, change the debate and target who bears most of the cost for tackling climate change.
Can we afford to implement a Modern Society?
I don’t know but we can’t afford to do nothing. We have to tailor the plan to what we can afford; this requires many cycles of defining details and economic calculations.
Would a Modern Society make people happier?
The ideas presented here are most aligned with the countries considered the most happy.
How would a Modern Society work in specific countries?
Specific countries have problems layered on top of the things I discuss here; for example, in the USA voter suppression, gerrymandering and big money are killing democracy. So you would probably try to tackle problems like those as part of introducing a Modern Society there.
And the general approach I have outlined would need to be adapted to individual countries. For example, US cities are much more designed around the car and driving than those in Europe, so you would have to take that into account.
Would a Modern Society work if only one country did it?
Not very well. It might improve economic justice in a single country but climate change is global and all of the polluting countries need to address it (either through the ideas presented here or some other way). If the 4 or 5 biggest polluters (e.g. the US, China, India and Russia) do nothing we are still headed to a Climate Catastrophe no matter what happens elsewhere.
Doesn’t a Modern Society go against trade deals?
Trade deals often put a product built on the other side of the world (with a high carbon transport footprint and low labor costs) up against a local product (with no carbon footprint but higher labor costs). That makes no sense; for example, we want to encourage local food production for environmental reasons. Trade deals will have to adapt to the planet’s needs, not the other way around. Trade deals need to prevent a ‘race to the bottom’ in terms of carbon footprint, they have to penalize polluters.
Would the wealthy leave to avoid higher taxes?
Part of this depends upon where they can go and still avoid paying extra taxes. Someone rich isn’t going to move from France or the US to some poor, struggling country to save their tax bill. If they had to pay high levels of taxes in the EU and the US, they are unlikely to move anywhere.
What is a critical mass of countries for a Modern Society?
I firmly believe if the US and the EU adopted a Modern Society or something similar to it (e.g. the Green New Deal) it would succeed. Other countries would adopt the basic principles in order to keep trading.
How does a Modern Society compare to the Green New Deal?
They are obviously similar and either would be a huge step forward. I believe a Modern Society has some extra things to promote equality (e.g. salary information is public), has more on taxation (e.g. Wealth Tax, Land Value Tax, ecotax) and not promoting population growth. But the biggest difference is that the Modern Society tries to reduce consumerism (e.g. by working 4 days a week, by highly taxing short lifetime consumer products and by subsiding local, primary products) whereas the Green New Deal puts more faith in ecologically sound technologies permitting continued growth.
What is Land Value Tax?
This is taxation citizens pay based on the unimproved value of the land they own. For example, the tax on an acre in Central London will be much higher than on an acre in the Highlands; but the tax paid on an acre of industrial waste land in Central London is the same as an acre with a luxury house on it. The tax has several advantages over alternatives; tax-fraud is almost impossible, it encourages redevelopment of waste-land, it redistributes land ownership to more people, it discourages high rents and it encourages development activities in low land value regions. More on Wikipedia.
What is Universal Basic Income?
This is income that the government pays to each of its citizens whether they are working or not. Citizens can use this income as they see fit – e.g. for retraining or simply to augment their income. It is generally accompanied by a simplification of the welfare system – e.g. elimination of unemployment benefit or retraining grants. More on Wikipedia.
What is Wet Bulb Temperature?
This is the temperature an analogue thermometer would read if its bulb was covered in wet cloth; it measures how much cooler the air can get through evaporation. At 100% humidity, no evaporation is possible so the wet bulb temperature equals the air temperature. For a given air temperature, lower humidity means lower wet bulb temperatures. More on Wikipedia.
What is the Social Cost of Carbon?
This is an attempt to work out the cost to the planet of CO2 emissions. If there was a technology that could easily remove CO2 from the atmosphere and store it safely, the cost of doing this would be pretty much the social cost of carbon. Because we don’t have such a technology – and may never get it – this cost is very hard to work out. One study works out at $417 per tonne and this seems the correct decimal order of magnitude to me; other, much lower numbers, are sometimes used – Obama used $45 and Trump uses $1! Because emitters are generally not charged this cost, it acts as an incentive to pollute.
Discouraging pollution by charging the social cost of carbon is good, but, as Vox reports, there are severe limitations with the idea. Even if polluters were always charged an accurate social cost for carbon pollution, there isn’t any scheme to actually use this money to ‘manage’ the pollution. The money would be collected by some government but the pollution is global. So if the money were used as compensation, it would have to be divided up and distributed to every country on the planet using some formula. But, if the money were used to remove the carbon from the atmosphere, then the collecting government would have to undertake (on behalf of the rest of the planet) to actually do the removal when the technology becomes available (if it ever does). This would need some World Bank of Carbon and implies a much higher level of global cooperation on climate change than exists today.
There is also an interesting comparison you can do between world GDP, world CO2 emissions and the social cost of Carbon. Using 2017 figures, $2172 of GDP activity generates 1 tonne of CO2. If we actually subtract the social cost of all the carbon emitted from the GDP, this would reduce the world 2017 GDP from $80.6 trillion to $65.1 trillion.
What is an Ecotax on Sales?
It’s a system to tax the sale of products or services at a rate that reflects their ecological footprint. We want to tax ecologically sound products and services at low rates, especially if they are for primary products like food (because the poor spend more of their income on such products). We also want to highly tax products and services that have high ecological impact; these would include plane flights, bottled water and short life-time consumer products. We want to encourage repairs over replacement, so repair services would be lowly rated and non-repairable products highly rated.
Every product or service would be given a rating from A (ecologically sound – e.g. local unprocessed food, repairs) to E (ecologically unsound – e.g. private planes). This rating would reflect the intended lifetime, repairability and warranty of the product (e.g. a repairable mobile phone with a guaranteed 5 year lifetime would be taxed as a B, but a non repairable one with a 6 month warranty would be a D). The rating takes account of transportation (to encourage local products) and packaging (to encourage simple or no packaging). Products considered as primary (e.g. food, basic clothing, public transport) would get a lower rate than a ‘frivolous’ products (e.g. a ‘whoopee‘ cushion, a programmable toaster) or ‘luxury’ products (e.g. fashion, champagne).
The tax on an A rated product would be very low; ideally it would be zero or even slightly negative (that is to say, the government would subsidize good ecological choices). The tax on the highest band would be eye watering – at least 100%. Beef, for example, would be in a higher band than chicken because it has a higher environmental impact.
The rating system is such that it encourages manufacturers to design products with lower ratings – e.g. to package less or make the product more repairable. It’s a public part of the buying experience, to educate buyers about the choices they are making. In Europe, this ecotax would be a relatively simple evolution of VAT. In the US, there isn’t a nationwide sales tax (though 45 of the 50 states operate sales taxes), so a VAT-like system would have to be introduced.
What is a local currency?
A local currency isn’t really legal tender but it’s money that can be used to buy some products in a restricted area. If people are paid part of their income in a local currency, they have to buy local products. This automatically has a lower carbon footprint and keeps the money in the local economy. For example, the local food cooperatives could accept local money and the ‘fifth day’ could be paid half in the national currency and half in the local currency. Wikipedia has more info.