The Epicurean solutions to climate change

Climate change is without doubt the biggest threat facing the world. Although it doesn’t mean the end of civilisation just yet, the adverse effects of climate change are getting progressively worse. Extreme weather is becoming more frequent. Crop yields in many parts of the developing world are becoming more common. Drought has become a routine way of life for many. In the developed world, such problems can seem distant and non-urgent. But climate change has already affect life in the rich world, from the drought in California, to the refugee crisis being exacerbated by poor crop yields in Syria https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/climate-change-hastened-the-syrian-war/. Having said that, one of the cruellest ironies of climate change is that it affects the developing world more, despite per capita CO2 emissions being worse in the developed world.

The question then becomes what to do about it. Now to an extent, technology can be of great assistance. The cost of renewable energy has come down considerably in recent years. Wind and solar power are far more efficient than they used to be. But it’s not good enough simply to let the ‘free market’ solve climate change, as some American conservatives propose. Addressing the problem requires swift and decisive government action, because the companies aren’t inclined to solve the problem if it hurts their profits. This shouldn’t involve punishing companies with unnecessarily high taxes, but tax codes and regulatory regimes need to be fundamentally altered with climate change in mind. Here are a few of my proposals, some of which are already in the process of being implemented:

A high carbon tax, offset by lowering other consumption taxes. If carbon is taxed at a high rate, it will become far more profitable for energy companies to switch to renewables quicker. It has the benefit of incentivising renewable energy without the cost of a government takeover of the energy industry. Companies would be free to decide which renewable are the most efficient. The tax would have to be high enough to force substantial change. Having said that, other consumption taxes would have to be lowered to prevent a spike in inflation. A carbon tax would also have the benefit of discouraging car use, reducing congestion and paying for much-needed road maintenance.

A carbon trading system, where each company is given a limit on the amount of carbon they can emit. They can then buy and sell their limits with other companies. The European Union is in the process of implementing this. But the problem is that the carbon allowances were too high, so it didn’t make much difference. Instead, carbon limits should be much lower, and companies should have to pay more to increase their carbon allowance.

A moratorium on airport expansion. Businesses and frequent flyers wouldn’t like this. But the fact is that aeroplanes are enormous polluters. And in the age of the internet, flying has become less necessary than ever before. Flying also causes considerable noise and light pollution. It’s time people simply learnt to fly less.

Heavy subsidies for electric cars, financed by higher gasoline taxes. This is already happening in Norway, where electric cars are extremely common. Not only does this help reduce climate change, it also reduces premature deaths caused by air pollution. There is currently a transition to electric cars. But it is happening too slowly. Making electric cars more affordable, combined with more congestion charges for gasoline cars in our major cities, will make a considerable difference.

Encourage people to have fewer children. Now I’m a bit torn on this one, because I realise a lower birth rate can damage an economy because the working age population have to pay higher taxes to subsidise the elderly. But at the end of the day, climate change is more important than economic growth. All of these measures will be near-useless if the world population continues to expand at the current unsustainable rate. Aside from greater access to contraception and family planning, perhaps being childless should be incentivised using the tax system.

The good news about climate change is that the solutions are more affordable than ever before. The cost of renewable energy has come down, and people increasingly realise the urgency of the problem. Although Trump’s intransigence on this issue is infuriating, many American mayors and governors are choosing to ignore him. Trump won’t be around forever- his approval ratings are in decline and his supporters are disproportionately old. I’m certain there will once again be a global consensus on climate soon. I just hope that by then, it won’t be too late.

3 Comments

  1. Posted on behalf of Robert Hanrott: (our comments system is yet to be perfected)

    Amen to that! It amazes me how people can still deny that human beings are the cause of climate change – a sort of bloody-minded mixture of “up yours” and ignorance

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