Climate Change Policy

More from the China US Climate Change Conference

John Harte describes the oft-cited wedge solutions of Socolow and Pacala (, showing the use of wedges to decrease today’s carbon with different technologies, slowly at first and then more rapidly. Harte would add wide destabilization wedges to the Socolow stabilization wedges: greenhouse gas emissions must be cut more rapidly and radically to reach targets, reinforcing Inez Fung’s speech.

Pretty much everyone says that reducing use is critical. Efficiency – doing the same with less — can be improved much more rapidly. John Holdren, who (along with many others) advocates taxing energy more, believes that higher energy prices will slow economic growth, compared to business as usual (ignoring costs of adapting to and suffering from climate change). This means that instead of reaching a certain standard of living in 2050, we must wait until 2051 or 2052. Holdren was asked about voluntary simplicity, and while he appreciates the contribution of the 5 – 10% amenable to simplicity arguments, he believes that policy changes will facilitate decision-making by the other 90-95%.

Everyone emphasizes that paying today is much cheaper than paying for adaptation later. We are at risk of facing adaptation costs too high even for the rich, in not so many years.

More about Holdren’s talk later.

Nobel Prize winner (economics) George Akerlof believes that the time to act, based on the state of knowledge, was 15 or 20 years ago. Now action is more expensive. Waiting even longer is economically foolish. His wife (Janet Yellen) worked for the Clinton Administration trying to convince Congress to at least accept policies that would save the US and individuals money. Not only did this fail, the argument was wrong. When we walk into someone else’s house and eat their dinner, the question should not be our costs and our benefits – it’s their dinner. We are stealing from others the carbon they want to emit. The question is moral, not economic.

Paul Baer’s frequently cited analysis from a few years ago advocates keeping atmospheric carbon levels below 400 ppm. He now believes that safe levels of atmospheric carbon are 350 – 375 ppm, below today’s 381 ppm. Paul talked about the concept of eco-equity, that rich countries should and will pay all incremental costs of reducing carbon emissions. Paul’s graph shows Southern carbon emissions increasing 1.5% per year, with the North getting the rest – by 2030, there is no rest. One idea is to look not just at the average income in a country, but the income of rich people in each country – rich are required to pay, no matter where they live. Some rich claim they need to spend their money on raising the standard of living of their fellow citizens. We could trade – rich Southerners improving their country, rich Northerners paying for carbon mitigation.

Gary Guzy works for Marsh USA, Inc. It is their job to help insurance companies assess risk, and with 6 of the 10 most expensive US natural disasters occurring in the last 18 months, and enormous government failure with Hurricane Katrina, thinking has crystallized. Their group helps insurance companies look at a range of risk, to property, health, business resources (aquifer salinization, deforestation due to infestation), and regulatory compliance, as well as risk to reputation and investor focus.

Amory Lovins gave a bizarre presentation. First he focused on his ideas for saving money and energy by insulating so well that the heater isn’t needed, laying out pipes to minimize other costs, building cars from carbon fiber, lighter than and otherwise preferable to steel. But the majority of his talk opposed nuclear power. In a conference where everyone else is there to oppose climate change, and discuss how getting there from here is hard to impossible but we have to try, Lovins appears to be much more interested in nuclear power than in climate change. By cherry picking data and by extrapolating past the point of common sense, he was indeed able to show that nuclear power is not needed because we can solve the climate change problem rapidly without it. Or some problem, whatever problem he was trying to solve didn’t actually include climate change. For example, it is cheaper to invest in energy efficiency than nuclear power. Duh, it’s cheaper to invest in energy efficiency than any new power plant, up to the point where energy efficiency becomes very expensive. Since Lovins isn’t advocating reducing electricity use to zero, eventually that point will come.

More posting as time permits.

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