Home > Uncategorized > Global warming must be addressed now

Global warming must be addressed now

from Dean Baker

There are two enormous myths about global warming. One is that dealing with it is optional. The other is that the measures needed to slow the process will devastate the economy. Neither is true.

On the first point, we are already seeing major changes in weather that are almost certainly related to global warming, both in the United States and around the world. In the United States, we are seeing rising water levels eroding beachfront property all along our coast lines.

We are also seeing extraordinary conditions like the multi-year drought that until recently had much of California rationing water.

In addition, we have seen extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy, which destroyed hundreds of homes in New Jersey and New York and made many areas uninhabitable.

The story is much worse elsewhere in the world. The Sahara Desert is rapidly moving southward in Africa, depriving millions of people of the means to support themselves.

Hundreds of millions of people in low lying areas of Bangladesh and elsewhere in East Asia face far greater risk from storms and flooding due to rising oceans.  Global warming is a reality; we can’t solve the problem by looking away any more than we can deal with a weight problem by throwing out our scale and continuing to eat unhealthy foods.  

Further, the idea that addressing the problem will devastate the economy is nonsense.

The price of solar energy and wind energy has plunged in the last two decades. Both are already competitive with fossil fuel energy in many parts of the country, even without subsidies.

Modest subsidies, coupled with modest fossil fuel taxes, would go far toward reducing our emissions of greenhouse gases. And these would hardly bankrupt the economy.

Most analysts believe that a $40 per ton tax on carbon would be sufficient to allow the United States to meet the commitments it made in the Paris agreement negotiated under President Obama. A tax of this size would raise the price of a gallon of gas by roughly 40 cents, not a negligible amount but hardly one that would devastate our economy.

And there’s a big upside to clean energy. The solar industry already employs four times as many people as the coal industry.

We need to both manufacture the solar panels and have people install them on the roofs of houses and businesses. This industry can be the source of hundreds of thousands more jobs as the industry grows and the technology improves.

The same story applies to electric cars. It’s great that we still have many good-paying jobs in the auto industry, but there is no reason that we can’t employ as many people – or even more – producing electric cars. Here, technology is also improving rapidly so these cars can be more competitive.

Addressing climate change should not be a tough choice. We can both sustain a strong economy and sharply curtail our greenhouse gas emissions. There is no excuse for President Trump’s environment-threatening executive order.

See article on original site

  1. rddulin
    May 9, 2017 at 1:41 pm

    Some people that are not economically literate think broken windows are good.

  2. May 9, 2017 at 2:04 pm

    Dean is absolutely right as far as he has written here.

    Yet, speaking from personal first-hand experience in my 13 year environmental career in New Jersey, the problem lies at the level of ideas and power, especially economic power. The better I did my job as an advocate for saving what was left of intact “nature” in New Jersey, the more threatening my successes became. Conservative Republican conservationist tried to get me fired for my work, but did not succeed.

    It was always clear to me from especially informal things said by power brokers who tried to bridge the gaps between neoliberal ideas and power structures and NJ’s strong environmental movement, clear that the economic conservatives and esp. the economic moderates only tolerated us as long as we knew our place. Once our ideas – like putting regulatory teeth into the decades old voluntary NJ state plan which might have governmed land-use – where you could build and how much – threatened to climb out of our assigned power ghetto – sentimental non-profits – the encroachment was too much and we were put in our place.

    You can see these dynamics play out in the economic establishment’s reactions to Naomi Klein’s work: she has no illusions that what she is calling for marks the end of capitalism as it chooses to practice itself today, and here Dean Baker is trying to use market friendly and indeed, rational proposals like a carbon tax to save what’s left of the climate. Yet it is unacceptable to major portions of industry I think on ground not of rationality or environmental science although that’s the angle of undermining, but on sheer “who’s in charge” and whose ideas will govern.

    The NY Review of books chose Elizabeth Kolbert to deliver the establishment’s judgments on Klein: too radical and too pessimistic (the “p” word itself is ideologically fraught in America, as the accusations the Reaganauts hurled at the old New Deal dems show,…before Bill Clinton could practice his vast deceptions in the name of “realism.”

    Indeed, we should be pessimistic about what capitalism is delivering right now, for people or nature. But not resigned.

    Big topic here, so I will pause. Dean, you haven’t told us what you thought, think, of Richard Smith’s arguments in “Green Capitalism: The God that Failed.” As grim and realistic as they are, I can’t find fault in either their logic or their predictive capacity. So far he is right and the Willam Nordhaus’ are wrong. It isn’t changing its stripes, and the election of people like Macron in France is just buying time without solving the major dilemmas (Never have I seen such strained arguments on his behalf from none other than Yanis Varoufakis.).

    Readers who want to get a sense of late capitalism’s enormous toll on nature besides climate change might want to read Michael McCarthy’s “The Moth Snowstorm,” for its descriptive power and death knell toll of the losses in England since his childhood in the early 1950’s and the causes: within a thoroughly capitalistic and technologically driven British farming system, linked to EU policies and subsidies. His remedy to meet the grim reaper’s direction for nature I’m less enthusiastic about, but it’s a great read. As is the review of it in the December 22, 2016 print edition of the NY Review of Books, by verlyn Klinkenborg. Both author and reviewer were unknown to me prior to this, so I have no axes to grind for or against. Here at http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2016/12/22/whats-happening-to-the-bees-and-butterflies/

    Please ignore the old sentimental/cliched title; neither the review or the book are “sentimental” in that old sense; the realities they deal with are too cruel for that false luxury.

  3. rddulin
    May 9, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    The real problem is not climate change but the promised cures. Draconian measures are necessary to give money to the climate change enthusiasts.
    First any diligent student of capitalism knows that probably 95% of said funds will end up in the pockets of financial and money brokers.
    All of this money comes from labor and producer surplus, especially harming the poorest in society.
    The second is that the proposed climate change fixes are about six orders of magnitude from possibly being effective in modifying climate.

    • May 9, 2017 at 7:17 pm

      One would think that because it is the urge of capitalist upward mobility and consumption, spread from the West to the East, that capitalism would want to save itself, but it seems incapable of even following its own moderate’s logic: a carbon tax if not a carbon trading system. It will bear a heavy stigma for the rest of human time if it does not change course, which Richard Smith says is impossible.

  4. Charles Layne
    May 9, 2017 at 4:15 pm

    All of our current weather is due to the changed climate, changed by the increased energy in our thermally complex biosphere. Nothing is due to what was. It is very simple. Half of the earth is continuously bathed in sunlight which adds energy to our system, ie warms us. The other half of the earth continuously emits thermal energy to cold outer space. For eons those processes were balanced; the dark side loss was equal to the sun lite side addition. Then came industrialization and CO2 which attenuates the thermal loss on the dark side. Now the biosphere must warm until there is once more a balance between losses and additions and we are not there yet. The thermal time constant of our biosphere is long. We will experience “heating up” for a long time unless CO2 is removed from the atmosphere.

  5. May 9, 2017 at 10:24 pm

    We should find a way to concentrate sunlight so that just a few people can own it, and then objections to clean energy would vanish quite magically. Sadly, this may be the path the world takes – in other words wait until the renewable sector develops consolidated firms that can fight off the fossil sellers.

  6. May 10, 2017 at 6:08 am

    The theory of anthropogenic global warming based on the ‘hothouse effect’ is implicitly contradicted by the same data which is used as evidence of atmospheric warming and ocean warming. It is nonsensical to claim that the air temperature rise (presumably driven by the hothouse effect) could at the same drive and correlate with (on year to year basis) the ocean temperatures. This is because the specific heat (per mass) of water is 4.2 times greater than that of air, and the mass all the water on earth is 272 times greater than that of all the air in the Earth’s atmosphere, so the total heat capacity of water on Earth is 1144 times that of air. This has profound consequences for the causal claims associated with the hothouse effect: air warms up water very slowly as it loses the little heat it has to water, while water warms up air very fast, within days, as only 0.1% of it’s heat needs to be given up to keep atmosphere at the same temperature, assuming no heat is lost into space or into the Earth’s crust. The fact that temperatures of atmospheric air correlate with the ocean temperatures (if one is to believe the official data) then the air temperature cannot possibly drive the system. If it did the thermal lag would be in the order of 3000 years. And if the oceans drive the warning there are at least three possible causes of warming: conversion of oceans’ dynamic energy into heat due to geological changes, underwater volcanic activity ect., volcanic activity alone, direct sun energy absorption by water, but certainly not the hothouse effect. The fourth possibility is of course that the measured data is false, fake or otherwise unrepresentative of ‘global’ state of atmosphere and the oceans.

    Incidentally, whether global warming of any kind in fact takes place has recently been again put into doubt by observations of the Danish Metereological Institute: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/05/06/another-arctic-ice-panic-world-temperatures-plummet/

    But thats another matter….

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