Greenhouse Gas Tax

August 16, 2019

Governor Cuomo recently announced a wind farm off of Long Island. Sounds big. But it made clear to me that we have to turn to a carbon or greenhouse gas tax. Big as that wind farm is, new government wind farms are rare. And government projects somehow have to compete with and make up for all the carbon released by private sources. As the economy improves, private sources just make more. That process has to stop.

Many people altruistically change their behavior. Others would if they could. But inevitably a lot of people take advantage of the freedom of countries like America to do what they please regardless of the harm they cause to others, to the country, our children, grandchildren and civilization. There is no good alternative to a greenhouse gas tax because nothing else affects the private behavior of those who refuse to change their behavior.

A carbon tax has to be universal – no exceptions – everyone and all businesses are involved in the problem and we all have to change. A tax can be revenue neutral with a tax cut to balance the expected revenue. Not only budgetarily neutral, but all of us can change behavior to reduce the impact of the tax on us. But no exceptions for favored groups. Everyone has to do their part or the program will deconstruct. It has to be universal to protect people from unfair burdens and unfair competition. Pogo’s comment that “we have met the enemy and they is us” is unfair to many of us. But we become the enemy if we resist change. Supporting a universal greenhouse tax should be something we do proudly and proclaim publicly, like flying the flag.

We’ve been talking about global warming since the 50s or the 80s depending on what we take as the starting point. Just to indicate how long we’ve been confronted with this problem, I worked with Barry Commoner and scientists working with him in the 70s, listened to James Hansen and major environmental reporters who came to and spoke at Albany Law School numerous times since I arrived here in 1979 – this stuff is not new. You can take that as meaning that the science is well established. Some may find that comforting. I find it terrifying because it indicates how slowly we’ve been moving.

The benefit of democracy is that the people can decide. But the problem of democracy is how difficult it can be to turn the ship of state, to convince everyone that needs to be convinced, and overcome all the people who have an interest in fouling up the works, through lobbying, political contributions and the real fake news, the repeated climate change denials when scientists who are not on the take all around the world have already had time to come together to try to warn us of impending disaster.

Come on folks. It’s time to insist on action. As a crowd of angry people chanted in Dayton, “Do something.” They’re both issues of mass murder. Do something. Now.

 


What we can do to stop global warming

July 16, 2019

Global warming threatens what scientists are calling the sixth mass extinction. But we can just call it mass suicide. You can lend a hand to prevent the suicide of the human race. You can stop the murder of your children and grandchildren. There are steps we can take on our own, and steps we can take through the political system.

Collectively we can do a lot even on our own – not enough to finish the job but enough to get the ball rolling, not only by the direct effect of our actions but by changing the market so that products that cause our planet to warm are less profitable, products that are clean are more profitable, and companies discover they need to shift – quickly.

Web pages on how we can help stop global warming are on the websites of The Natural Resources Defense Council, now known by its acronym. NRDC,[i] The Union of Concerned Scientists,[ii] and Middlebury College,[iii] among many others. The web addresses are in the notes below and on the WAMC website.

The basic principle is to burn less carbon-based fuel.

Save on transportation by living in walking distance from jobs and stores; flying less, and choosing trains, hybrids and fully electric vehicles; keeping cars tuned, tires inflated, and air filters changed.

Save water to save the energy for pumping, heating, and treating the water. The WaterSense label is an EPA program for fixtures and appliances meeting EPA efficiency and performance standards. And of course, you can also turn off the tap and use less.

We can save electricity by choosing a utility that gets at least half its power from wind or solar – NRDC suggests using Green-e Energy for certification of power sources. We can also switch to LEDs for lighting if you haven’t already; and pull the plug on electric devices because many of them drain electricity even when not in use.

We can save energy by continuing to weatherize, insulate and seal homes and buildings to conserve heating and cooling; by claiming federal tax credits for many energy-efficient home improvements; and by using the energy star label to find efficient appliances.

Because it takes energy to produce the food we eat, waste less, and help push farming toward less energy-intensive methods and products by eating less meat (the most energy intensive food you can buy); and encourage farmers to use fewer fertilizers, more sustainable crop rotation and less tilling because it releases carbon.

To help reduce the damage, grow trees, don’t cut them – because they absorb and reduce the carbon in the atmosphere; favor companies that are allies in the fight against deforestation; and buy less of the major drivers of deforestation, beefsoypalm oil, and wood products.

As citizens we can voice our concerns and welcome government efforts to address global warming. Government has three major tools:

  • Regulation can stop unscrupulous business from taking shortcuts that compromise our health and safety, and help stop those unscrupulous businesses from driving out responsible ones.
  • Targeted taxes discourage bad behavior: just as we pay fines for bad driving, all companies should pay a premium for putting carbon into the atmosphere.
  • Government investment can encourage good behavior, by researching effective solutions, kickstarting green-friendly businesses, and providing information to manage the environment properly.

We need them all. So a major step is to vote for people who won’t just talk about but actually help us deal with the problem.

We all have power to make a difference for the environment we need to sustain life –through the market, the politics, and the collective impact of our private behavior.

[i] < https://www.nrdc.org/stories/how-you-can-stop-global-warming >.

[ii] < https://www.ucsusa.org/our-work/global-warming/solutions/global-warming-solutions-reduce-emissions >.

[iii] < https://sites.middlebury.edu/climatechange/2018/05/02/how-to-solve/-global-warming/ >.


Climate Change is Under Our Noses and Our Feet

July 9, 2019

While the Administration in Washington cuts staff at EPA,[1] it’s a good time to reassess efforts to save the climate that makes our life possible.

When we moved to Albany forty years ago people told us winters were hard here. Snow was heavy and stayed. Our yard had two feet of snow piled on it continuously for most of the winter. That hasn’t happened now for decades. Instead we get much more violent storms. I’ve had to console my secretary and others in the office when their towns were largely swept away. That wasn’t the pattern when we first came either. Global warming is right under our noses and our feet. And it’s already changing our lives.

It no longer makes sense to wait and see. People who’ve been studying this for decades are clearly right. The climate is changing, causing damage and will only get worse. Equally clear, we’re a major cause. Whatever else may contribute to the problem, we know the carbon humans produce, and the impact of carbon, methane and other greenhouse gasses, enough to identify the quantity of carbon in the atmosphere and the warming effects on the ground. All the measurement and data are just about confirmation and refinement so that we can model the speed.

Speed – it’s happening fast. The earth reinforces the trend. As the atmosphere warms, we lose glaciers that reflect heat back and we lose forests that absorb heat.

So what does it mean to deny the obvious? For powerful people who should know better, it means they’re lying and pursuing personal gain at everyone else’s expense. Conservatives, and their religious supporters, used to judge candidates by how they treat their families. That never made much sense to me – treating one’s family well can mean treating everyone else selfishly. Our children and grandchildren will be seriously affected by climate change. Maybe the rich and powerful figure they can provide a golf course for all their children and grandchildren. But as the world boils, they too will reap the whirlwind. It’s hard to believe their selfishness toward their own families.

I know I’ve described before my conversation with a very successful engineer whose home is only eight feet above sea level. But I want to drive home how interconnected we are in dealing with climate change. Everybody for himself doesn’t work. This engineer wouldn’t move to higher ground because the city wouldn’t function if the water rose that eight feet. The infrastructure would flood. The roads would be under water. They’d have to move again. Coming upstate where land and homes are hundreds of feet above sea level wouldn’t help. I’d seen the pain Irene and Sandy caused on high upstate ground so I knew that wouldn’t solve the problems of global warming, or from the violent the storms fed by a warming climate. But an eight foot sea rise would make coastal cities unusable, and the refugees from those floods would overwhelm the rest of us, overwhelm us the way Sutter’s Mill in California was overwhelmed after the discovery of gold was announced – Sutter never had a chance to protect his property.

In other words, we’re all in this together, and the best way to care for our own is to care for each other before it’s too late, to slow and stop the warming of the climate. We each have a role – voting for people who won’t just talk about but actually help us deal with the problem; and do our part in smaller ways, in our purchases and daily practices.

[1] https://blog.ucsusa.org/andrew-rosenberg/the-epa-cant-stop-polluters-when-the-trump-administration-cuts-enforcement-staff (Union of Concerned Scientists, September 13, 2018).


Climate Change and Flooding in Shiraz

April 16, 2019

Have you seen the pictures of the flooding in the city of Shiraz in Iran? I spent two years living in Shiraz, in the middle of the Iranian desert. Shiraz is near the ancient capital of Persepolis, its Greek name – the Iranians call it Takht-e-Jamshid, or the thrown of Jamshid. It was the winter capital of the legendary kings of Persia: Cyrus and Darius. It was the winter capital because it was warm, much warmer than their summer capital. My future wife was stationed in Hamadan, which the ancient kings used as their summer capital because it was cool. I visited her there and I can testify to the temperature difference.

Persepolis and Shiraz are in the great Iranian desert. It’s very dry. I’d seen it drizzle but you never needed to worry about covering up from the rain. My friends and I were once invited to an open house at an observatory and that was the only evening on which I remember clouds and a very few drops. In fact, it was so unusual that when we made a wrong turn and ended up in the ammunition dump of the Persian army and told the soldiers we were going to the place where you go to see the stars … sure, a likely story! So that was the time I was held at gunpoint in Shiraz until they called the General who was fluent in English and sent his jeep to rescue us. Except for that teaser, and what they piped down from distant mountains, no, there was no water in Shiraz.

But now I’ve seen photos of flooding in Shiraz. Cars and trucks literally swept along in water several feet deep, floating, pushed by currents of water – I hesitate to say downstream because there was no stream, so what’s down or up?

It’s not nice when it floods in the desert. People aren’t prepared for it. There’s no infrastructure to deal with it. People get carried to their deaths by sudden walls of water. And the water doesn’t stay and do any good. The land can’t soak it up.

The floods in Shiraz are more than a curiosity. They are another reflection of a changing and very unpredictable environment. Sharp environmental changes push people out of their homes, kill others, destroy ways that people earned their livelihood and sustenance. Even now the American military is thinking about the implications. But it’s a worldwide problem and they all need to think about it. People will need protection. Others will become refugees looking for places they might be able to live. Everything is up for grabs.

I once chatted with a very successful engineer about the fact that his home is 8 feet above sea level in New York City. Why not move to higher ground? Because when the water rises 8 feet, New York won’t function like a city; the infrastructure will be overwhelmed. How about moving up to this area where except right next to the Hudson the land is a couple of hundred feet above sea level? Because millions of people from New York City will overrun this area like the gold rush overran Sutter’s Mill in California. A world in climate change will be unpredictable and dangerous.

Maybe we should deal with the climate.

— This commentary is scheduled for broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, April 16, 2019.

 


Environmental Change and The Campaign Season

March 5, 2019

I’d like to start this campaign season by stating one of my primary objectives. Climate change is the rare major problem that has been warning us so that we could have had plenty of time to deal with it. Now in a film titled The Human Element, which is available on podcast, photographer James Balog shows global warming in time lapse photography.

But actually knowing what is going on seems to be a liability. Gore actually knew. He looked deeply into the issue of global warming and he understood. But the public reaction was horror – at Gore. He wasn’t like us. He knew stuff. In the first debate, Bush disposed of one of Gore’s points with a sneer, just calling it “fuzzy math.” I concluded on the spot that Bush was a bully. The American public apparently concluded that they couldn’t share a beer with someone who understood math. They judged sincerity as similarity – if he’s like us he’s sincere. So, if we didn’t study stuff, the president shouldn’t either. God. Try that for your choice of doctors. People got what they deserved except that they dumped it on the rest of us too.

Obama did know what he was talking about. Some of us loved him for it. Others were turned off because a Black man presumed to tell the rest of us what was going on – even if it was a loyal and dedicated Black man trying to save the rest of us from the hell we’re wandering into.

Hillary knew what she was talking about. She spent her life preparing for public office, not going to campaign methods and finance school but studying the public issues a president has to deal with for our sake. But her dedication to serving us, the people, was her apparent undoing. The guy or gal down the block doesn’t do that. So, she must be snooty because she knows stuff and proudly spent her life learning it for us. How bad is that?

Learned Hand, one of the great judges in our history wrote that elections are very hard to know enough about. I want presidents, senators, representatives and members of the Administration who have spent the time to know what they are talking about so that we don’t all fall off the cliff together, pulling our families off that cliff with us. This isn’t about my ego. It’s about survival.

Sincerity means to me that the candidate wants to take care of us, our health, our future, all of us.  Yes, experts disagree, and I spend some of my effort doing this commentary to distinguish between experts who have it right and those whose heads are screwed on backwards. But understanding issues is essential. Beyond what we can figure out ourselves, we have to be able to talk with experts who do understand. Lawyers have to do that all the time, from working with doctors to understand injuries to working with economists to understand how much money will have been lost. Expertise matters. Even to be able to talk with and explain the experts, one has to prepare. How better than by spending the time, energy and midnight oil to get things straight?

In this presidential campaign season, I want candidates who care enough to figure things out. Most important I want candidates who understand the urgency of dealing with climate change. And who build ways of dealing with the dislocations of capitalism by building their solutions onto the opportunities created by effective solutions to climate change.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, March 5, 2019.


What We Can Do About Climate Change

February 12, 2019

This is the birthday of Abe Lincoln who saved the country. It’s our job to keep it safe. My message last week was that government is the key to minimizing world-wide genocide by climate change. And of course, this president is not helping. Now let’s talk about our role.

First, the strongest step we can take is to join organizations that are working to reduce climate change. We can’t turn the ship of state individually, but by joining together we can force government to change. We can force each of the political parties to make a major commitment to the war against climate change.

Second, push industry away from release of greenhouse gasses. One of the best incentives is a carbon tax and every delay in imposing it means the tax has to be exponentially larger. We can strengthen the push for a carbon tax by using our power as consumers.

Third, over the past half-century we have changed agriculture until it is now one of the biggest emitters of carbon and methane, the two principal climate damaging gasses. One of the most important changes is to shift away from beef and other meats. Think about how much carbon beef production releases – initially from the use of power to produce crops whose only purpose is to feed the cows, and then from all the carbon production involved in raising the animals and then the fact that the animals themselves produce huge quantities of methane. And that doesn’t include all the carbon and methane from the transportation of the animals and their feed and the fertilizers used in the process. Farming has gone from relatively clean half a century ago to a major problem now. So cutting down on beef is an important start.

Fourth, we’ve put a lot of emphasis on carbon emissions from transportation but, many of us can improve our health as well as the environment by walking, bicycling or using public transit. Growing up in New York City I had to be a public transit user. One of my happy memories of childhood is standing with my nose pressed against the front window of the front car of the subways and feeling the excitement from the sight and sounds of the train gobbling up miles of track in front of me. Later, I went to work by crossing the Brooklyn Bridge on foot. That gave me a gorgeous two-mile walk to work which was definitely good for my health. Coming to Albany, I wanted to get back to walking so we bought within a two mile circle around my office so I could, and did, walk to work. I fully understand the attractions of the countryside but there are huge advantages to city living, especially for the climate.

Fifth, many of us can make our homes much more efficient with insulation, solar panels and other energy saving methods. Reducing what we buy, recycling what we don’t need, and reusing what can be used again, use much less energy than buying and replacing.

Sixth, one step less talked about is passive solar. Zoning and housing codes would help, but windows facing due south get zero summer sun and maximize winter sun. Once the house is designed that way it pays dividends forever. Add a heat sink inside the house and it will spread the heat around the clock in cold weather.

I’ve added some articles and organizations you can look at on the text version of this commentary. But the point is to take action. We need action above all. It’s that or genocide by climate change.

Recommended articles on climate change:

David Wallace-Wells, UN Says Climate Genocide Is Coming. It’s Actually Worse Than That, Intelligencer, OCT. 10, 2018, http://nymag.com/intelligencer/2018/10/un-says-climate-genocide-coming-but-its-worse-than-that.html

Overwhelmed by climate change? Here’s what you can do, The Guardian, October 8, 2018,

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/oct/08/climate-change-what-you-can-do-campaigning-installing-insulation-solar-panels

Some of my personal favorite organizations which focus on science and the environment:

https://350.org/ co-founded by Bill McKibben

The Climate Reality Project founded by Al Gore

Union of Concerned Scientists founded by scientists at MIT

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, February 12, 2019.


How do you talk about climate change?

February 4, 2019

I’ve been trying to figure out how to talk about climate change. It’s a scary subject. Climate change is likely to injure and embitter people we care a lot about, our children and grandchildren – hurt them with disease, draught, famine, floods and storms, destroying their homes, houses and business too, indeed their towns and communities. That’s scary all right, but what do people do when they’re scared? Fight or flight? But where do you go? Unfortunately a lot of people do neither. They just can’t bear to think about it. But climate change will find them and their children and grandchildren anyway. What they don’t know will hurt.

Climate change is a big problem. The scale of the problem leads people acting individually to come up with platitudes like don’t cross that bridge ‘til we get there. Of course, the bridge won’t wait. If we don’t plan in advance it won’t be there when we want to cross it, and that’s not just a statement about infrastructure.

My hybrid and my solar panels make me and my family feel good but they only make a small dent – of course they’d make a bigger dent to the extent that the example catches on and government organizes a much bigger, more wide-scale reaction. That after all is what we’re trying to do. Our hybrids and solar panels are like very large lawn signs saying “Join us.” Like lawn signs, the signs don’t make the difference but the cultural statement that this is the right thing to do can carry the day.

That’s the kind of problem government is for, the kind of problem that is way beyond our abilities acting individually. Handling climate change requires coordination on a scale that only government can make happen. When government takes charge, those of us trying to do something about climate change become part of a powerful movement, not weaklings and suckers. Even the most ideological free marketeers have a name for situations where only government can solve the problem – they call it market failure.

Government will organize a powerful response when the people make clear with their votes that they demand action. It will happen when people see their personal welfare, not in opposing climate change, but in demanding that government direct opportunities to those whose livelihoods may be injured by efforts to fight climate change. It will happen when the rest of us understand that we are all in this together and demand that we all have to share the benefits and burdens. This is a war against forces that will destroy our families, our country and our world and it’s not a private opportunity to make big profits at everyone else’s expense. This is a shared problem, a shared opportunity and a shared job. In the past we’ve used an excess profits tax to share the burden of war. And to build the weapons of war we spread the factories all over the country.

We can be fair. We can protect and provide for each other. What we can’t be is cowards looking the other way.

As we gear up for the 2020 election, the politicians must declare what they will do to stop climate change from destroying us all. I know some relish the opportunity to be a war president, to be the great leader that pulls us from the brink of disaster. OK then, this is the war we have to fight. Now lead the charge.

— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, February 5, 2019.


%d bloggers like this: