Update: Contrarians at Bali More than 100 scientists led by physicist Freeman Dyson and veterans of the IPCC itself have signed an open letter (full text) to UN's Ban Kie Moon urging adaptation instead of futile attempts to "fight" climate change with sin taxes.
Upon hearing he had won the Nobel Peace Prize last October, former US Vice President Al Gore said that, "We face a true planetary emergency. The climate crisis is not a political issue, it is a moral and spiritual challenge to all of humanity. It is also our greatest opportunity to lift global consciousness to a higher level."
A TAX TO SAVE THE POLLUTION SINNERS OF THE WORLD Gore repeated this basic theme in his 2007 Nobel Peace Prize Lecture in Oslo and Bali this past week. He proposes a grand and sweeping solution to global warming in clarion call speeches that have energized a global environmental movement to "fight" climate change...with taxation that will also by the way, close the Gap between the Rich and Poor. Gore is way beyond just the US Presidency.
AL GORE (Nobel Lecture): "This week, I will urge the delegates in Bali to adopt a bold mandate for a treaty that establishes a universal global cap on emissions and uses the market in emissions trading to efficiently allocate resources to the most effective opportunities for speedy reductions...Here also is the Nobel Lecture of R.K. Pachauri of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, this year's co-winner with Gore for work on global warming, summing up the scientific data and the general consensus that it is "anthropogenic" or man made--but not necessarily how to deal with it.
We also need a moratorium on the construction of any new generating facility that burns coal without the capacity to safely trap and store carbon dioxide.
And most important of all, we need to put a price on carbon -- with a CO2 tax that is then rebated back to the people, progressively, according to the laws of each nation, in ways that shift the burden of taxation from employment to pollution. This is by far the most effective and simplest way to accelerate solutions to this crisis."
According to Al Gore, the way out of this Global Warming problem is by imposing a new global sin tax based on the amount of carbon dioxide pollution a given activity represents, shifting the tax burden "from employment to pollution." For example, if I take a vacation that involves jet travel, I ought to be taxed according to my share of the damage done to the environment as a result of my flights, with the tax proceeds being used for environmental remediation. Of course, the assumption is that the governments or institutions that end up with my sin tax can effectively undertake remedial efforts or channel the taxes in such a way as to offset at least the amount of damage I've caused, and not just fund bureaucracy and regulators' polluting vacations!
It's not a new idea. Taxation is the economic mainspring of Gore's "organizing principle for human civilization". Yale University Professor of Economics, William Nordhaus (pdf) has analyzed Gore's proposals and concludes that they would result in $12 trillion of climate mitigation -- at cost of $34 trillion in taxes.
BEFORE BALI WAS KYOTO Writing in the Wall Street Journal University of Buckingham's Prof. Julian Morris points out some interesting facts about the Kyoto Protocol:
Even if the Kyoto Protocol were fully implemented — not just by the EU, but by all of the more than 160 signatories — and its restrictions kept in place until 2100, its effect on the climate would barely be discernible. It would merely delay the projected warming by less than a decade over the course of the next century. Meanwhile, the economic cost has been estimated at between 0.1% and 3% of gross world product. Even at the lower end, that is an enormous price to pay for essentially no benefit.Ron Bailey of ReasonOnline in a dispatch from Bali :
RON BAILEY: "In his 1992 book, Earth in the Balance, Gore argued, "We must make the rescue of the environment the central organizing principle for civilization." Man-made global warming is an economic and technical problem of the sort that humanity has solved many times. For example, forests are expanding in rich countries because they have well-developed private property rights. Also in rich countries, regulations have helped once polluted rivers and lakes to become clean and have drastically cut air pollution. One of the keys to solving environmental problems is economic growth and wealth. Economists have identified various income thresholds at which various air and water pollutants begin to decline, with many indicators improving once GDP per capita in a country reaches around $8,000 per year. So keep in mind that anything that unduly retards economic growth also retards ultimate environmental clean-up, including global warming.Regular readers of Philippine Commentary may recall my previous postings on Garrett Hardin's famous article in the peer-reviewed journal Science (1968) on The Tragedy of the Commons which is particularly relevant to Global Warming--a problem that involves the global commons. Here the sense of the word "tragedy" is that of Alfred North Whitehead: "The essence of dramatic tragedy is not unhappiness. It resides in the solemnity of the remorseless working of things."
In any case, global warming is not the result of environmental sin; it is the result of human progress creating another commons problem. We do not need to "lift global consciousness"; we need to find a cheap, low-carbon source of energy. I have no doubt that man-made global warming is an economic and technical problem that an inventive humanity will solve over the course of the 21st century."
An important conclusion about problems involving public commons is that there is no "technical solution" to the basic problem. It's like the game of tic-tac-toe. There is no way to win once all players become familiar with the game. Keeping the "commons" publicly accessible inexorably leads to the destruction of the commons. The only solution is to turn such commons into private property. I don't know how we do that to the global commons.
I am also not sure yet how Gore's ideas fit into this framework. If the new CO2 tax he is proposing is likened to a sin tax, we only have to look at the continued prevalence of gambling, drinking and smoking to wonder if this is the right way to go. On the other hand, if it spurs the development of new technologies that don't have the problem of discharging CO2 into the atmosphere, could a case not be made for such taxes being beneficial?
Not if they degrade human living standards or retard economic development, since the more immediate needs of food, shelter and clothing cannot easily be sacrificed for the dubious benefit of seeing a graph move in the right direction at the IPCC headquarters in the UN.
BEING LIKE THE COCONUT TREE...There is an entirely Filipino way of looking at this, which may be more universal than the parable referred to implies. Perhaps the right way to deal with global warming is to accept the fact that it may be the inevitable product of the Laws of Thermodynamics, that it is unavoidable unless we want to shun the elementary and tangible benefits of industrializaon and modernizing human societies and communities. In which case, we would want to put more of our efforts into ADAPTATION to a warmer, wetter world. Maybe it means giving up large coastal areas over the course of the next few centuries. Maybe it means living in and conquering the undersea territories of the earth--about two thirds of it waiting to be recovered. Maybe it means bending to the weather and rising to the technological challenge, instead of flagellating ourselves for inventing refrigerators and jet airplanes and lengthening the human life span and building air conditioned cities.
I'm with those who say science and technology ought to lead the way on this one, not the politicians or the prophets of doom of the environmental religion.
Something to keep an eye on too is the possibility that all the planets are warming and that something happening with the sun is responsible for global warming on earth and not human activities. The polar ice caps on MARS have reportedly been shrinking too, over the century since we've been imagining water channels built by Martians there have drained them to supply vast civilizations of err, Rednecks.