The Politics and Economics of Climate Science - Kerry Emanuel

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In the second of two videos, MIT’s Professor of Atmospheric Science, Kerry Emanuel, explores the complex relationship between climate change and our economy. Professor Emanuel emphasizes the need to transform the energy market in the U.S. and move away from fossil fuels, to tackle the climate change issue, and give the U.S. a competitive edge in the market.



  • Climate Science
  • Politics


Rick Shankman's picture

I suggest that climate change

I suggest that climate change is NOT an economic issue.  If treated as such, only "economic" solutions will be offered to fix it (carbon pricing).  We have already seen all such previous measures/accords fail.  This is a climate science problem.

This is the classic Hegelian dialectic.  The people who created the problem are the ones being put in charge of solving it.  Look at who runs the MITEI and CLC for starters.

Treating climate change as a "market failure" only serves to bring the "market" (Big Oil, its economists, etc.) into the discussion of a solution.  They don't belong there... they got us into this mess.

When corporations misbehave, you legislate rules to control their behavior.

Curt Newton's picture

We should be clear that not

We should be clear that not all carbon tax proposals are created equal, especially regarding the "tax for regulation relief" swap component of CLC's plan. (The swap my opinion is a devil's bargain...if there's even anything left of environmental regulations to dismantle once Scott Pruitt is pried from office.)

Citizens Climate Lobby has been working for years to build political will at the federal level for a straightforward revenue-neutral fee-and-dividend plan with border adjustment. No tax-for-regulation swap. Tons of analysis and perspectives on their website. No funny business. Their method -- relentless focus on creating personal relationships and respectful dialogue with legislators -- may not be for all activist stripes, but the recent growth of the associated bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus is a hopeful sign that more Republicans will begin climbing out of the climate denial foxhole. 

The MA legislature current session has a pair of carbon fee-and-dividend bills from Sen. Barrett and Rep. Benson that are similar (one exception being Benson's bill sets aside 20% of revenues for renewables and low-income community investment).  See this panel discussion video from April 2017.  The first public hearing at the statehouse (July 2017) was a powerful demonstration of broad support for the bills.

Why might some fossil fuel companies be supporting a carbon price? David Roberts has been covering this beat for a while at Vox -- start here. If you hold big natural gas reserves, a moderate carbon price (say $20-$40/ton CO2e) props up the market position of those gas reserves relative to the FF alternatives (not to mention buying some greenwashing cover), but the tax is not so high it will suppress demand very much. Likely it would help your market position in the near term, at very little risk.

David Roberts in conclusion:

Exxon’s motives on this are complicated. In the proximate political environment, its support for a carbon tax proposal means very little. The GOP is too far gone to consider it. The company knows perfectly well it is in no near-term danger of being taxed. It will likely continue to support know-nothing Republicans and lobby against real-world climate policies.

But putting its name on a carbon tax proposal — one explicitly tied to the 2D target — can also be seen as big oil’s opening bid in what promises to be a long and contentious negotiation over the terms of surrender. There is still plenty of resistance to come from oil and gas, plenty of political and legal battles, but momentum in policy and technology have brought the end of oil, or at least the end of big oil, into view.

The industry finds itself in a fateful position, forced to think seriously about how to schedule and administer its own diminishment. That the world’s largest oil and gas company has taken a step down that road, even if it is a defensive and largely symbolic step, is no small thing.

The rub, the big battle, comes in raising that carbon price toward a true reflection of the social cost of carbon -- way more than $40/ton. Carbon Brief's social cost of carbon explainer is a great wonky deep dive on it.

Rick Shankman's picture

Speaking of the "Climate

Speaking of the "Climate Leadership Council"...

"Among other Republican leaders making the case for a carbon tax is former Secretary of State George Shultz PhD ’49, who chairs the external advisory board of the MIT Energy Initiative."

Then see...

The Climate Leadership Council's Devious Plan To Distract American Carbon Consumers

Ellen R. Wald, writing for Forbes

Today, June 20, [2017] the new Climate Leadership Council (CLC) announced its founding members. The CLC describes itself as an, “international policy institute founded in collaboration with a who’s who of business, opinion and environmental leaders to promote a carbon dividends framework as the most cost-effective, equitable and politically-viable climate solution.” And by “who’s who,” they do mean they are amongst the most powerful economic and political players.

Founding businesses include oil companies ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell , Total and BP . Non-energy companies include General Motors, Pepsi and Santander. Founding individuals include Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York; Steven Chu, a former Energy Secretary in the Obama Administration; Stephen Hawking, the famous physicist, and venture capitalist Vinod Khosla. The website lists the “Distinguished Co-Authors of Carbon Dividends Plan,” the CLC’s founding document, as James A. Baker III and George P. Schultz, both former U.S. Secretaries of State and 87 and 96 years old, respectively.

If it was not understood from the CLC’s own description, the purpose of this coordination of the powerful is to advocate for a carbon tax. This tax would be in lieu of environmental regulations, with disbursements of cash or “dividends” paid out to “the American people.” Under the proposal, the carbon tax will be “implemented at the…first point where fossil fuels enter the economy.” The CLC does not say this, but historically, taxes like this trickle down to the Americans consumers. Consumers will pay for this tax at the pump, on the utility bill or on the airline ticket. It would be felt by all Americans, rich or poor, with a largely regressive impact.

Rick Shankman's picture

The hidden lunacy of the 

The hidden lunacy of the "carbon tax" (carbon pricing) scheme...

"Exxon, BP and Shell back carbon tax proposal to curb emissions...

Oil giants ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and Total are among a group of large corporations supporting a plan to tax carbon dioxide emissions in order to address climate change.

The companies have revealed their support for the Climate Leadership Council, a group of senior Republican figures that in February proposed a $40 fee on each ton of CO2 emitted as part of a “free-market, limited government” response to climate change....

As further tradeoff for the new tax, the plan would dismantle all major climate regulations, including the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority over CO2 emissions and an “outright repeal” of the clean power plan."


Rick Shankman's picture

I suggest that the answer

I suggest that the answer doesn't lie in carbon pricing, as such measures are easily manipulated by polluters (governments now subsidize polluting activities and industries) to pass such tariffs back to the consumer, and there is no way to send any such collected money to the ozone layer or the world's oceans and rainforests.