Friday, December 7, 2012

Trucks, Carbon Taxes and Global Warming

There have been a few unfortunate financial setbacks of late but nevertheless if all goes according to Evil Overlord plan I intend to purchase a new vehicle in the next few months. And the vehicle won't be a hybrid. It won't be a small car. It won't be an electric car. It will probably be a large American truck that MIGHT get 18-23 MPG on a good day. Dedicated environmentalists may gnash their teeth and cut sharp looks at me but on this issue I don't care. I want what I want and I'm not interested in other people's opinions on the matter. I drive a minimum 50 mile daily commute, sometimes more, and I would like to do so in a vehicle that is large, safe, comfortable and actually has some extras that I like. If the rest of you want to drive Priuses that is just fine with me but don't expect to see me in one. And someday soon when I get real money then I would ditch the modern truck and get a gas guzzling classic car from the 40s to 70s period. But that's just me-frustrated lowrider and occasional blogger.

If you haven't noticed from the ridiculously mild winter we've been having so far in the US there is a serious problem with human caused climate change.

The amount of heat-trapping pollution the world spewed rose again last year by 3 percent. So scientists say it's now unlikely that global warming can be limited to a couple of degrees, which is an international goal.
The overwhelming majority of the increase was from China, the world's biggest carbon dioxide polluter. Of the planet's top 10 polluters, the United States and Germany were the only countries that reduced their carbon dioxide emissions.
Last year, all the world's nations combined pumped nearly 38.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, according to new international calculations on global emissions published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change. That's about a billion tons more than the previous year.
The total amounts to more than 2.4 million pounds (1.1 million kilograms) of carbon dioxide released into the air every second.
There, also either fortuitously or perversely, was recent news that the US may be sitting on more oil than even Saudi Arabia possesses. This was of course attacked and arguably debunked by experts in the field
On Nov. 12, the International Energy Agency’s annual World Energy Outlook report caused quite a stir by asserting that by 2020, the United States would overtake Saudi Arabia as the world's top oil producer. Mainstream journalists eagerly repeated this claim. 
But the truth is that it relied on a very loose definition of "oil." Saying that the United States will surpass Saudi Arabia in oil production is a bit like saying that a 12-ounce latte contains more caffeine than 12 ounces of espresso. It might make for an exciting headline and be useful as political fodder, but it's simply not true.

I can't call it. But I do know this. Despite the current US Administration's enthusiasm for green energy, super high CAFE standards and neutral to negative outlook on fossil fuels the reality is that neither the internal combustion engine or our reliance on oil, coal and natural gas is going away anytime soon. There doesn't look like there's anything yet to replace the big three in terms of cost, reliability, and efficiency. Perhaps a physicist or engineer can chime in on the efficiency question.
That hasn't stopped some more impatient environmentalists from proposing a carbon tax, something the Administration has hinted support for, even as it has refused to follow a EU carbon tax that would have impacted American airliners in Europe. Since pollution is a negative externality (the cost of an activity is not borne solely by those in the market) theoretically a carbon tax would more closely approximate the true cost of using fossil fuels which means people would be less likely to use fossil fuels and thus contribute less to climate change. So everyone wins. Or at least the planet wins.
The issue though is not only would a carbon tax slightly reduce economic activity and hurt the economy but obviously a carbon tax in the US is no good if other countries don't also impose one. Otherwise industry would just move to the areas without carbon taxes. China, India and Brazil are the big new contributors to climate change. They, historically have been less than enthusiastic about the idea of limiting their economic growth because of what the United States or Europe wants to do. It is easy to tell someone else don't do the bad things you did when you still have the benefits of doing those bad things. And if you did bad things to those people (imperialism, colonialism, slavery) you can't really blame them if they aren't eager to listen to your ideas about their economies. It's only when people see a personal/national benefit to taking steps to control climate change that they do so. This is slowly starting to happen. Maybe too slowly.

The big problem of course is that there are a tremendous number of things that contribute to warming the planet. Everyone finds it easier to point fingers at people doing things that they don't like or do while finding excuses for activities they enjoy-thus my example of getting a new truck. If you happen to live in a densely populated urban area with all sorts of mass transit you may say to yourself why shouldn't we discourage single passenger transportation, create outrageously unrealistic CAFE standards and force auto companies to produce carbon friendly vehicles. Someone who lives in the large interior or rural areas of our country may have a different point of view. If you are a vegetarian or vegan you might look at the massive cattle farms and their issues with runoff and deforestation or the horrible overfishing that's occurring and honestly suggest that meat usage needs to be reduced, forcibly or not, as part of a First World diet. 
If you are in the First World, you might cast a worried eye at the massive populations of China, India and Africa, and mutter about planet carrying capacity. You may agree with Agent Smith and point out that the best solution for climate change is that those populations get incentives (or be forced) to stop their growth. Obviously your POV might change were you in the Third World. Then you might become an expert on the incredibly wasteful lifestyle that we take for granted in the US. You might think that Americans needed to lose some weight, drive less and move towards a more "natural" lifestyle, one that may be more common outside of the US or Europe.
So there's the problem. Most people agree that human caused climate change is real and something ought to be done about it. The question is what are you willing to give up? How do we balance economic activity and reduction of carbon emissions?  If someone wants a 4000 square foot home are we going to tell that person he can't have it because heating it is wasteful? And since this is a global problem, how do we get everyone on board? Theoretically the US could twist people's arms raise people's consciousness within our borders. But we can't tell other nations what to do. And their calculations of national or corporate interest may not be what we would like them to be.


What are you prepared to do?

Is there a global solution?

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