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.



For me the one million dollar

For me the one million dollar question is: Can technology and science solve the climate problem ignoring politics, ignoring the dynamics of the economic system and ignoring the fossil fuel industry

who will try to hold on to their power and their profits as long as possible ?

Is it enough to concentrate on energy efficiency improvements and the deployment of cheap renewable energy to drive the consumption of fossil fuels to zero ? Also: Will this happen in time to avoid the worst ?

I believe the answer is no.

Ergo, we need a climate policy. We need a sufficiently high price on carbon.

Rick Shankman's picture

"We need a sufficiently high

"We need a sufficiently high price on carbon."

No Brigitte, that whole concept is a Big Oil trick!

"Carbon taxing" is merely a pay-to-pollute scheme and any tax will be paid by the consumer, not the polluter.

Curt Newton's picture

Rick, I don't see why you

Rick, I don't see why you think all carbon pricing proposals are Big Oil scams.

 I agree 100% that we shouldn't buy the CLC (Schultz et al) proposal, which rides on a quid pro quo trade with dismantling environmental regulations.

But look, for instance, at the revenue neutral fee-and-dividend plan that's been developed and promoted by Citizen's Climate Lobby. For ~80% of the US population, it actually puts money in their pockets - the ony folks who pay more are the lavish lifestyle big FF consumers. Their long-game focus on legislator relationships is starting to pay off - witness 56 members now in the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus.

More generally, revenues from carbon price can also be directed to just those renewables investments that you (and I think all of us) want. Here in New England, carbon auction revenues from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) system fund essential energy efficiency and rebate programs (convert yer oil furnace to a air-source heat pump system!)

I assume the reason why Exxon et al are on board with the CLC proposal is two-fold: it gives them some much needed greenwashing PR cover (yes, we can call it DIVERSION :). And so long as price stays south of $40, won't much damage their core oil and gas biz but it will be the final nail in coal's coffin.

Yesterday's US House approval dismantling the social cost of carbon basis for EPA regulations is a horrifying turn of events, with more immediate and far reaching implications than these carbon fee proposals. That legislation codifies the mindset that today's actors have zero responsibility for the long-term consequences of the actions.


Rick Shankman's picture

"Rick, I don't see why you

"Rick, I don't see why you think all carbon pricing proposals are Big Oil scams."

It's really quite simple Curt...

Firstly, any type of "pay-to-pollute" scheme (carbon pricing) presupposes the continued use of polluting fossil fuels for which the "tax" will be collected.  What good is that when Big Oil is actually subsidized to the tune of hundreds of billions of Dollars annually to continue polluting?  This is a scam and distraction.

Secondly, the ozone layer, rainforests and oceans don't accept cheques.  Money does not address the root cause of the problem. Legislating the use of renewables in place of their fossil fuel counterparts does.  This, while stopping the insane subsidization of the fossil fuel industry as well.

Curt Newton's picture

Yikes, this thread's been

Yikes, this thread's been running for so long that I forgot all these points have previously been made and cycled through.

 When we start repeating ourselves, time to cap it and move to the next one?

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

I agree with you Rick that

I agree with you Rick that climate CHANGE is not economic, it's science.

But I can't see how our response to it, effective climate ACTION, can escape economics. Like it or not (and I definitely shade toward the don't-like), economics is a key realm, the language, where so many values are expressed, tradeoffs are weighed, decisions get made.

We need to take action right now with all the tools at our disposal, to express the value of clean energy in terms that bring about the quickest and strongest transformation. We may not like it, but economics seems the most effective way to get response.

What drives recent solar deployment? Low cost panels. The past few years' leveling of global carbon emissions? Natural gas becoming way cheaper than coal. 

To paraphrase Churchill, a powerful social cost of carbon is the worst form of climate action, except for all the others. [Otters do help a little, thanks David Roberts!]

That cost needs to be high enough that more build-out and sustained use of natural gas becomes untenable - fracking, pipelines, and yes even the lifecycle of the new gas-fired MIT utilities plant.

Rick Shankman's picture

Quite the contrary Curt,

Quite the contrary Curt, climate action has absolutely nothing to do with economics.  That mindset alone is the most dangerous challenge to successful climate action.

 I'll explain further...

The idea that the climate problem involves so-called "market forces" is fatally flawed. There is no such market. Trade markets in fossil fuels are wholly contrived nonsense.  The level of control over global oil is unimaginable.

You are posting revelations regarding Big Oil's funding and control of both sides of the climate issue. Do you for one minute believe that Big Oil leaves the market to its own devices?

With an estimated $5.3 TRILLION in annual exploration and production subsidies (including political destabilization, wars, infiltration of academic institutions, funding disinformation campaigns, etc.) there is nothing "economic" about it. This is global energy hegemony tactics.

As many authors on this subject have pointed out, clever masking of the issue and reframing the discussion in economic terms is a devious plot to advance a "carbon tax" agenda that will function as a "pay-to-pollute" solution to derailing climate action efforts.  Any group that can dupe world governments into paying them TRILLIONS a year to destroy the Earth can easily manipulate a new tax plan. This sort of thing has been done many times before with disastrous results, as the costs are (like always) transferred down to those most vulnerable - the consumers.

Additionally, there is no way to send money to the ozone layer, Amazon rainforest, Niger Delta, polar ice caps, extincted species, etc.  MONEY does not directly address climate or environmental damage.  Hurricane Bertha doesn't accept checks or debit cards.

Use of non renewable fossil fuels must stop. Period. We know this already, as the name inherently implies - NON-RENEWABLE.

What we are dealing with now is unabashed corporate greed looking to tap every last drop (no matter the consequences) before the curtain comes down.

Further, Big Oil's (and the small number of people who actually own it) global resources hegemony is used as a geopolitical weapon of control. Big Oil is in no hurry to mess with that power over the world and its helpless customers feeding that power and control.

The only counter-weapon against this is concerted community activism (the true democratic process) to legislate real laws to stop it. Why do you think the CLC wants to trade "carbon taxation" for a repeal of all EPA laws on fossil fuels?

No Curt, this isn't economic.  This is a fight for the survival of democracy and to stave-off the possibility of inducing the sixth major extinction event in Earth's history.

Rick Shankman's picture

Some (lightly-scratching-the

Some (lightly-scratching-the-surface) commentary on what inevitably happens when governments succumb to the forces pushing to inject "economics" into climate science and action... 

="">Energy Subsidies and the World Trade Organization

In short, you get groups that create and manipulate systems to get the world's people to pay Big Oil to steal their natural resources from them and ruin their lives and health.

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." 

- A tax plan to stop climate change

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

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 ba

ck 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.

Aryt Alasti's picture

Any proposal to cancel

Any proposal to cancel environmental regulations in exchange for implementation of a carbon tax is of course reprehensible and absurd.

What the Fortune critique doesn't mention, however, is the mechanism by which a "revenue-neutral" carbon tax changes behaviors. It has been shown to in fact be effective in accomplishing that, though never to the extent which advocates are aiming for, because in only one locale (Sweden) are taxes at the level which theorists believe would result in truly transformative changes of consumption (and in Sweden, wealthy citizens have been determined to drive their gas-guzzlers, while also some major industries have been exempted).

The deal is that low-income persons would be using the least to begin with; wealthy consumers use far more. With an equal amount returned to all citizens, potentially low-income people would receive significantly more than was their additional outlay, while those with higher incomes would be motivated to reduce usages due to their substantial additional tax costs.

There is wide agreement by a wide variety of supporters, many of whom have put a lot of study into the subject, that this makes sense as a means of reducing consumption. I see it as one among many policies and initiatives that ought to be implemented - including regulatory constraints on companies, elimination of subsidies (although costs of that may also be passed on to the poor), incentives for installations of renewable energy, enhanced infrastructure, and distributed energy, adaptive and ameliorative measures, and much of what is recommended in the "Drawdown" proposals.

The primary focus needs to be on education of the public, however, as without that, none of the above will happen to the extent necessary. As you say, fossil-fuel companies exert tremendous control over what occurs in global economies, and unless citizenries are united in determination to counter that influence effectively, we are headed for dystopias or worse.

Curt Newton's picture

Right on, Aryt - especially

Right on, Aryt - especially your last two points, that this is only one of many approaches and they're all important; and that citizen engagement is the bedrock solution.