Posted by: ericgrimsrud | October 8, 2015

We need either better people or a stiff carbon tax

Now that Pope Francis has gone home, we have to deal with our environmental problems with the cast of characters that live full time in our country – and that will be exceedingly difficult, as I will make clear in this post.

According to the most comprehensive view I have ever heard on the subject of climate change (see this 45 minute lecture at, the only means of significantly reducing CO2 emissions in the current decade would be via changes in the lifestyles of the “most wealthy” among us. They are the ones that emit the most CO2 and the only ones that have the option of making changes.  And who are the most wealthy ones?  Again, according to the scientific analysis cited above, that group is very large and includes almost everyone, for example, who travels via airlines once or more per year and has an annual income of roughly $50K or more.  That includes most of the people I know, including myself.

In discussing the problem of man-caused climate change with almost everyone I encounter, that conclusion is invariably reinforced.   Those discussions quickly come to a point where it is clear that my wealthy friends and I are, indeed, ruining our planet and are not going to voluntarily use the opportunity we presently have to save it from further degradation by CO2-induced warming.  There is a great deal of “talking the talk”, of course, but very little “walking the walk”.

When we reach this point in our conversations, further discussion almost always comes to a close with the following thoughts,  I suspect,  lodged in my friend’s head:   “What’s this?  Change my lifestyle?  I have worked hard during my lifetime.  Don’t we owe these things to ourselves?  Surely, you are joking, Eric.  You don’t seem to know how things are done today?   You are crazy.  Only a few whackos will change their lifestyles to that extent for something that has not actually happened yet. “  And note here that I am not referring to conversations with Deniers of climate change.  I am talking about discussions with people who consider themselves to be conscientious concerning environmental issues.

Furthermore,  I have seen almost no improvements in that discussion over the last 10 years  – the period over which the “wealthy” among us have clearly been called out in scientific reports such as that cited at the top of this post.  The prevailing opinion that we owe a high life to ourselves now seems to be one of the modern laws of human behavior even though it is sure to threaten our very existence.  Humans, as it is said lemmings do, are charging toward the cliffs and are being led by the most prosperous among them.

How this ubiquitous view of the wealthy can ever be overcome, I am not sure.   Maybe this change is impossible because people simply aren’t that good.  Thus, one means of encouraging change might be to heap well-deserved ridicule on ourselves and especially on my own generation of Americans. That brings to mind a joke I heard some time ago when George Bush was running for the Presidency. The joke went like this: “George was born on 3rd base and while growing up, he increasingly came to believe he had hit a triple!”.  I think the brunt of this joke could easily be changed to my generation of Americans.  We were born in a “Goldilocks” era of American history in which everything was “just right” for its youngsters. The Great Depression and the Second World War were behind us and ahead lay an unprecedented period of prosperity and material abundance.  Red carpets of professional opportunities where laid out for all of us in all directions.  But now, as my generation nears or is in retirement, it tends to think that we all “hit triples” during our working years and deserve a high life for the rest of our days.  And if the science tells us that a high life will make life increasingly difficult for our grandchildren – well, we just choose to not think too much about that. After all, maybe “something will come up” or maybe our scientists have overlooked something. That is possible, right? (even though it is exceedingly unlikely after several decades of intense study).  In any case, our plans are to stuff as much of that high life into our remaining years as we can.  We deserve it, right?  So Eric, can’t we please change the subject – as even my close relatives have told me numerous times.

In order for any society to address great problems, some level of leadership among the best educated and wealthiest would be nice to have.  However, we don’t have that in our country today.  In fact, our most wealthy and best educated are leading the degradation of our planet and are not using their considerable influence to change things.  I suspect that ours will be the last generation to pay more attention to the Dow Jones Industrial Average than to the Keeling Curve (and if you don’t happen to know by now what the latter term refers to, you should hit the “Science Basics” tab at the top of this website and read “Point 2”).

There is only one way I can think of by which the “behavior” of people can be significantly improved and that is by the installation of a stiff and steadily increasing, revenue-neutral Carbon Tax. With this additional fee assigned to fossil fuel industries for their use of our communal atmosphere as a CO2 waste dump, needed changes would be expected to follow due simply to traditional market forces.  Again, if you don’t now know what I am now talking about, please have a look at my first post of November 2014 on this blog in which this carbon fee plan was thoroughly explained.  Seems to me that the wealthy should, at the very least, be using all of their influence to get this energy plan in place as well as divesting themselves and the organizations they belong to from the fossil fuel industries.

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