Study Shows Why We Need A Carbon Tax, Not R&D, To Preserve Livable Climate For Our Children

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Originally published on ClimateProgress
by Joe Romm


So there’s this new study in Nature Climate Change, “Intra- and intergenerational discounting in the climate game.”

Sounds too wonky to get many eyeballs, no? That’s why editors at places like Time magazine have jazzed it up with this sort of headline: “Why We Don’t Care About Saving Our Grandchildren From Climate Change.”

Except that isn’t exactly what the study shows, as we’ll see. Indeed, the study design is such that it may not show anything at all relevant to climate change (and so all headlines about it, including mine, need an asterisk).

But if you accept the study,then you ought to accept the study’s own conclusions, which make clear how much more important a price on carbon is than, say, a massive new research and development program in carbon-free energy, if we are to avoid catastrophic global warming.

The study ran a “collective-risk group experiment.” Time has a detailed explanation of it:

Each subject in groups with six participants was given a $55 operating fund. The experiment went 10 rounds, and during each round, they were allowed to choose one of three options: invest $0, $2.75 or $5.50 into a climate account. The participants were told that the total amount contributed would go to fund an advertisement on climate change in a German newspaper. If at the end of the 10 rounds, the group reached a target of $165 — or about $27 per person — they were considered to have successfully averted climate change, and each participant was given an additional $60 dollars…. If the group failed to reach the $165 target, there was a 90% probability that they wouldn’t get the additional payout. As a group, members would be better off if they collectively invested enough to reach that $165 target — otherwise they wouldn’t get the payout — but individually, members could benefit by keeping their money to themselves while hoping the rest of the group would pay enough to reach the target.

The bold-faced sentence above is a buried bombshell, as we’ll see.

Here’s the twist, though: that $60 dollar endowment was paid out on three different time horizons. In one treatment, the cash was given to the groups the next day. In the second treatment, it was given seven weeks later. And in the third treatment, the cash was instead invested in planting oak trees that would sequester carbon — but since those trees wouldn’t be fully grown for years, all the benefit would accrue to future generations, not the current players in the experiment. The difference between that third treatment and the first and second is what’s known as “intergenerational discounting,” which happens when the benefits of an action in the present are highly diluted and mostly spread among many people in the future. Which, as it happens, is pretty much how climate policy would work.

Unsurprisingly, the more delayed the payout was, the less likely the experimental groups would put enough money away to meet the goal to stop climate change. Even among those who knew they’d get the payout the next day, only seven of 10 groups invested sufficient funds, while none of the 11 groups who knew their endowment would be invested in planting trees gave enough money to “stop” climate change.

Unsurprisingly, indeed. Nothing about this study is terribly surprising except the sweeping generalizations made about it. For instance, the news release asserts “A study published today in the journal Nature Climate Change reveals that groups cooperate less for climate change mitigation when the rewards of cooperation lay in the future, especially if they stretch into future generations.”

Except that the groups weren’t asked to invest in climate change mitigation! They were asked to invest in newspaper advertisements urging people to do stuff (details here). One doesn’t have to be very well-informed (or very cynical) to understand that newspaper advertisements are not a terribly good investment if you are genuinely concerned about climate change.

And you don’t have to be highly informed on climate change to realize that we aren’t going to solve the climate problem by planting trees — and this study was done with Germans, who tend to be better informed than most on climate matters.

Time magazine quotes the conclusion of the study itself:

Applying our results to international climate-change negotiations paints a sobering picture. Owing to intergenerational discounting, cooperation will be greatly undermined if, as in our setting, short-term gains can arise only from defection. This suggests the necessity of introducing powerful short-term incentives to cooperate, such as punishment, reward or reputation, in experimental research as well as in international endeavors to mitigate climate change.

In short, we need a price on carbon to have the long-term harm from carbon pollution reflected in the short-term (i.e. current) cost of fossil fuel-based energy. The obvious reward is to return the money collected from, say, a carbon tax back to individuals and businesses, thus rewarding those who reduce their carbon pollution.

Oddly, Time draws the exactly-backwards conclusion:

The Nature Climate Change study also underscores why “win-win” climate policies — like innovation investments that can lead directly to cheap clean energy, rather than policies that make dirty energy more expensive — are likely to be the most effective ones. Barring a species-wide personality change, few of us will be willing to endure present pain so that our grandchildren won’t have to endure an unlivable climate.

To the extent that “innovation investments” mean big, new investments in R&D, then the study suggests that is precisely what won’t work. After all, asking Americans to spend billions of their tax dollars on R&D is “present pain” but the benefits of R&D obviously accrue only to future generations (unless the R&D effort is used as an excuse to delay mitigation even longer, in which case it effectively harms future generation by undercutting urgent efforts to avoid crossing irreversible climate tipping points).

Time does make the case for aggressive deployment of clean energy:

Fortunately, short-term incentives for fighting climate change do exist. It takes decades to benefit from reductions in carbon-dioxide emissions, but phasing out fossil fuels like coal and oil can bring immediate improvements in air pollution. And air pollution has turned out to be even more dangerous than experts thought, with the World Health Organization last week declaring that bad air is a leading environmental cause of cancer, comparable to secondhand smoke.

Precisely. And if we add a revenue-neutral carbon price then we ensure short-term incentives match long-term interests.

We know human beings are capable of making tremendous sacrifices for their children’s well-being. Heck, we are willing to “endure present pain” — by working harder and/or saving money — to pay for higher education that won’t provide measurable benefits to our children for a long, long time.

BOTTOM LINE: It may well be that the study’s design is too narrow to support any definitive generalizations about climate change at all. But to the extent that we can draw larger conclusions, it’s that climate change mitigation efforts require “powerful short-term incentives to cooperate, such as punishment, reward or reputation.” And nothing meets that goal like a price on carbon.

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116 thoughts on “Study Shows Why We Need A Carbon Tax, Not R&D, To Preserve Livable Climate For Our Children

  • Hmm yes, apply a tax to one of the most widely available elements in the known universe, im sure that will help out with global warming.

    • Hummm….

      So you don’t know that the “C” in CO2 is carbon?

      • Ah, but the “O” is oxygen, the breath of life!
        “Gegen die Dummheit kämpfen die Götter selbst umsonst” – Schiller.

      • Lol and your point? We know so little about our planets climate cycles that to attribute one of its many shifts to a single compound is rather naive. What about methane and nitrous oxide, both of which are significantly better at trapping heat when compared with co2, are we going to tax nations with active volcano’s, after all, who knows how much greenhouse gas one eruption holds. This idea of taxing a byproduct of living is simply absurd and any nations that enact such trivial attempts at market manipulation will simply result in damage to their own economy.

        • There are multiple greenhouse gases we need to get under control.

          No one is suggesting we tax “byproducts of living”. No one is purposing to tax you for exhaling.

          That you believe that we have a poor understanding of how greenhouse gases drive climatic heat retention simply demonstrates that you are poorly informed.

          • Is co2 not a bi product of most living processes? correct me if Im wrong? I agree with you that we need to better control the waste we emit, however, that does not mean that some naive tax on co2 will assist in that endeavor. That would be hilarious if someone did try to tax us for breathing, but what I actually fear is the unintended consequences of these “green” projects. Like a lowered economic capacity because renewables are no wear near economical yet. If people cant get clean water, food to eat and shelter from the cold then i would say that is a problem that needs to be addressed first.

          • No, you are correct. CO2 is a byproduct of life. Without an ample amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere the heat we gain from the Sun during the day would escape back into space and the Earth would drop to temperatures at night which would kill off life as we know it.

            For millions of years we’ve had just the right amount of CO2 in our atmosphere to allow life to exist and evolve.

            Take a look at temperatures on another ball of rock that sits very close to us but does not have a heat trapping atmosphere – our Moon.

            Temperatures on the moon are very hot in the daytime, about 100 degrees C. At night, the lunar surface gets very cold, as cold as minus 173 degrees C. 212F in the day to -279F at night. Can you imagine a life form that could survive with those sorts of temperature shifts?

            This wide variation is because Earth’s moon has no atmosphere to hold in heat at night or prevent the surface from getting so hot during the day.

            Those wildly swinging temperatures are due to a lack of CO2 and other green house gases in the atmosphere. Too little of a good thing.

            But while there can be too little of a good thing (lunar temperature swings) there can also be too much of a good thing. Put too much greenhouse gas in the atmosphere and not enough heat can escape.

            For the last 2,000 years humans have changed the natural balance of life and death, of the carbon cycle. Starting with the Industrial Revolution we greatly increased the rate at which we dug up and pumped up carbon from under the surface and turned it into CO2. We’ve now added so much extra CO2 that the Earth’s temperature has shifted to a warmer setting.

            We’ve screwed up. We need to quit doing the wrong stuff and start doing the right stuff. Otherwise we’re going to create a planet on which it will be difficult to live.

          • yes actually, Us. As a great mind once said necessity is the mother of innovation and I can think of no greater need that the continuation of our species. While I think there is hardly any possibility in the near (100-500 thousand years) of our planet turning into a moon esq environment I could see global temperatures return to what they where in the Cretaceous. This is different than the world we evolved into, but still our same blue pearl all the same, we simply must learn to adapt to its changing cycle.

        • “who knows how much greenhouse gas one eruption holds”

          Yes, actually we do know: utterly negligible. All volcanos combined is about 1% of human emissions. And CO2 emissions from volcanos are flat, as opposed to human emissions which have risen sharply over the past 150 years.

          “We know so little about our planets climate cycles”

          And yet, the deniers claim they are SURE that the current climate change that we are witnessing is a natural cycle (aka ‘hand of God’). A firm conviction based on no evidence at all = religion.

          Ignorance as proof. What other deep insights did you bring along?

          • When did I deny climate change, I stated it was part of our planets natural cycle which, if you look at ice core samples you see we are actually coming out of a cold period in our planets history so the warming shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. In addition, im sure mankind has had an impact of the climate just as algae blooms, massive eruptions and other natural phenomena have demonstrated their ability to alter the planets climate, does that make this shift not natural because we exist now to witness it? sounds rather arrogant if you ask me.

          • Actually, the temperature record suggests we were moving toward a distant ice age. The planet was gradually cooling before we overrode the natural cycle with our oil, coal and natural gas use.

            Picture below…

            ” sounds rather arrogant if you ask me.”

            It sounds like you have never observed the amount of coal and oil we burn each day, 365 days a year, decade after decade after decade.

            In 2010 the world burned about 7,994,000,000 tons of coal.

            15,998,000,000,000 pounds. In one year.

            A railroad car holds about 85 tons of coal. 94,000,000 railroad cars of coal burned each year. That is an immense amount of coal, how could it not have an effect?

            Each day the world burns 87,400,000 barrels of oil. That’s 3,670,800,000 gallons of oil burned every day, 365 days a year. Year after year after year.

            The amounts are massive.

            Look around you. Look how much of the Earth’s surface we’ve changed. Look at the cities, farms, road, and other stuff that we’ve created where there used to be the sort of “nature” we now see mostly in our wilderness parks. Even our non-wilderness parks are not natural, the hand of mankind is all over them.

            Humans have made incredible changes to the planet. And some of those changes were not good. Time to fix the problem we’ve created.

          • And? Im by no means saying we have played no part in helping to warm our world, just as algae blooms and extraterrestrial impacts do among other sources. It does not mean we are the driving force in these cycles, we simply either accelerating of decelerating the natural processes. By adding the carbon tax to these hydrocarbon transactions all you do is make energy more expensive to the poorest among us, forcing people to spend more money on energy rather than food or a home. This is bad science, bad economics and bad morality, just a bad idea all around.

          • Actually it appears we have reversed the natural cooling period we were in and are now driving planetary temperatures upward. It might not bother you that people in the not distant future will have to live in a very different climate, a difficult climate, but it does bother some of us. We feel kind of crappy about what we’ve done to those who follow us. Even the younger people alive today who are going to have to adapt to changes unlike anything humans have faced before.

            As for the carbon pricing, the cost of energy and the effect on people’s lives perhaps you could learn a few things here as well. Wind is now almost as cheap as old coal, cheaper than new coal. Solar is rapidly getting there. Increased efficiency is decreasing the amount of energy people need to purchase to maintain their lifestyle. A price on carbon is not likely to have any effect on household budgets.

            Wind and solar are fuel free. We typically cost out electricity generation over a 20 year period. After a 20 year period, when financing is no longer an issue, we should have another 10 -20 years of almost free electricity from wind turbines and 20 to 40/50 years of almost free electricity from solar panels.

          • Lol you lost me at “wind is almost as cheap as oil” except wind energy only works while the wind is blowing and solar only functions when the sun is shining, storage of energy is the real problem with both of these areas and why oil and other hydrocarbons are not going away any time soon. We are coming out of a little ice age, Im not sure as too who your sources are that state we “reversed the natural cooling period we were in” but the average median temperature of our planet is significantly higher than today so once again a rise in temperature would be part of our planets natural cycle. Im all for renewable s when they are ready but they are not there yet. Your arguments are more wishful thinking than a practical solution to the dilemma of climate change. Wind and solar are free? so the cost of the equipment is not included in that? nor the maintenance, nor the cost of manufacturing. Too add most every nation that had pushed these “green” projects are now backtracking them because of the harm being done to their economys. from australia to germany, old hydrocarbon stations are now taking on their old jobs of supplying power to the masses. once again, bad economics, bad science… just an all around bad idea.

          • Bob: “Wind is now almost as cheap as old coal”.

            You: “wind is almost as cheap as oil”?


          • Looks like your keyboard broke right after Me:

          • In either case its still laughable, if such where the case why is Germany, one of the largest builders of wind farms in the world now building new coal fired stations? Because what is not accounted for is the time in which these machines cannot operate, which is too say quite often in places where its windy and cold. Did I forget to mention that when power demand is highest (in the dead of winter when people are heating their homes) the windmills do not spin because if they did they would suffer damage, same with high winds, the cost of maintenance and the materials these machines are constructed out of is not taken into account.

          • Germany’s new coal burning plants are replacing (not adding to) the older plants that either have been or will soon be decommissioned. These new plants were planned and construction was started prior to the decision to close nuclear plants.

            By 2020, 18.5 gigawatts of coal power capacity will be decommissioned, whereas only 11.3 gigawatts will be newly installed.

            Furthermore those plants will be more efficient, releasing less CO2 per unit electricity produced than are the ones they are replacing. And the new coal plants are partially load-following.

            As of November 2013 some 28 power plants with a collective capacity of 7,000 MW – roughly equivalent to the capacity shutdown in Chancellor Merkel’s sudden nuclear phaseout in March 2011 – have been submitted for decommissioning. This would be an 8% decrease in Germany’s coal burning capacity.

            Some will be permanently closed and a few ‘mothballed’ in case they might be needed in the future.

            Sorry, your tired old worn out right-wing talking points get no respect here.

          • Lol and your not too bright, im all for that, but this discussion was on providing an artificial economic environment with the action of a carbon tax, causing prices on cheaper energy sources to be more expensive than they otherwise would be, causing not only a bubble but in the short term forces people to choose between heating their homes or getting groceries. By the year 2020 we may have a man on mars, who knows what things will look like then, thats the problem with left wing politics and central planning in general, the future is dynamic, your not going to predict what it looks like then. on Germany, these where plants that where supposed to be demolished but because of the limits of renewables where called back into service.

          • “thats the problem with left wing politics and central planning in general, the future is dynamic, your not going to predict what it looks like then”

            That’s why left-wingers and central-planners win, because we plan for the future instead of assuming nothing ever changes.

            P.S. Which is more centralized, solar panels on everyones roof or one big power plant?

          • Ugh, and the other thing I dislike about most people with a heavy bias to any subject, they tend not to listen to what is told to them and change the topic at hand. Im all for individual solar panels (assuming we had some way to store the power which we currently lack) so long as we are not manipulating markets and causing more bubbles in order to achieve it. This discussion was on the enactment of a carbon tax, a very centralized idea just as the idea of price setting is a very centralized idea.

          • So a carbon tax is a centralized idea, so you don’t support it, with the result that our centralized power supply remains centralized, when a carbon tax would decentralize our power supply and then go away?

          • Look, nothing personal, but you’re ignorant.

            You assume maintenance costs aren’t built into wind prices. You assume we have no way to store energy. And in both cases you are wrong.

            Try this. Ask questions rather than making statement that you cannot back up with facts.

          • “Lol and your not too bright, im all for that”

            Say no more. Say no more….

          • This part is particularly ignorant…

            ” the cost of maintenance and the materials these machines are constructed out of is not taken into account.”

            It shows that you have no idea how the utility business is operated.

          • And? its one of many more costs that you ignore, is it cheaper to maintain one of hundreds of structure’s 40 meters in the air, ground level station that requires only the trains run on time. Why are you so set on wind anyway? especially ground based wind power, or chicken slicers as ive come to know them as. All your doing by the introduction of a carbon tax is an attempt at market manipulation.

          • “All your doing by the introduction of a carbon tax is an attempt at market manipulation.”

            You mean like the Thirteenth Amendment?

          • Why? Because onshore wind is not the cheapest way to bring new capacity to the market in the US.

            And because it is replacing climate-destroying fossil fuel generation.

          • Is, Bob, onshore wind IS the cheapest way.

          • Lol

            You don’t know how grids operate.

            You can’t read a temperature graph.

            You spread crap like “Too add most every nation that had pushed these “green” projects are now backtracking them because of the harm being done to their economys.”

            I have a feeling I know your sources of misinformation.

          • Actually, Harvard Medical did a study showing the externalized costs of coal (asthma, sickness, cancer, missed days of work, brain damage in children….etc.) were so high that if you actually accounted for them, coal would cost 3x what wind power does. Energy storage is a minor obstacle. We can solve that, and many great companies are working on it. But as long as we allow the costs of coal, oil, gas, etc., to be hidden in public health costs, it will be harder (though still not impossible) for wind and solar to compete. See my economic analysis here:

          • Its not hiding a price, its essentially a straw man argument, Harvard has an extremely left wing bias in many of their “study’s” that often times look only at minor aspects (such as healthcare) rather than the entire cost of production (cost of construction, maintenance of facility’s and public relations). This further annoys me because it is playing a political game with people who are truly suffering, while ignoring ways of making a readily available source of easily stored fuel more efficiently used (most of what your study cites is unspent fuel from inadequate facilities) but because of excessive regulation its become nearly impossible to invest in new coal or hydrocarbon tech without being hit with a massive bill. Im all for clean tech, but as your well aware we do not have anything that can store the power necessary to keep a city of 100,000 going let alone the planet.

          • So left-wing bias is talking about all the costs big business fobs off on the taxpayer?

            Why are right-wingers supposed to be the fiscally responsible ones again?

          • All the cost? you cite only the potential cost of one study that is produced by a well known left leaning organization. Im by no means right wing, just as you are by no means a libertarian but did you factor in the cost of maintaining a power station that does not produce any power? that’s in addition to the storage problem must be addressed.

          • “but did you factor in the cost of maintaining a power station that does not produce any power? that’s in addition to the storage problem must be addressed.”

            Yeah that’s the problem that destroys nukes, but we’re talking about renewable energy and coal here.

          • lol and you think the wind always blows at just the right speed so as to not snap the turbine blades? or when its bellow freezing and the mechanics of the machines begin to lock up and freeze and they must stop turning to once again, keep from damaging the machine. Most renewables are notoriously difficult to rely on because they rely on natural forces that are not constant (the exception i think is only geothermal and tidal) which is why energy storage is really the keystone to economic use of renewable energy.

          • “lol and you think the wind always blows at just the right speed so as to not snap the turbine blades?”

            Yes, pretty much always,

            “or when its bellow freezing and the mechanics of the machines begin to lock up and freeze and they must stop turning to once again, keep from damaging the machine.”

            This is a big problem where exactly?

          • Right….. do you know where europe is on a map, think about the weather there and use your critical thinking skills. at any regards do some research and come back to me with something not easily countered. night

          • Is “critical thinking” like “common sense”?

            You know, facts are stupid things so ignore them.

          • The findings in the Harvard study have been supported by follow up studies.

          • Such as? too add, the study itself is very questionable as it is drawing large assumptions on relatively small sample groups. Alot of wealthy politicians and businessmen go to Harvard, is it really so surprising that they would want to push policy that could benefit their own individual agendas.

          • You wouldn’t know a small sample if it bit you in the butt.

            Quit trying to talk about things you know nothing about.

          • Lol well it seems your beyond rational conversation so I will have to leave things here.

  • I’ve be thinking about carbon tax lately wondering how to move it forward and the best way to distribute what is collected. There has been a lot written about how to collect domestic and on imports.

    I want to talk about what to do with the funds. I like the idea of returning 75% to individuals as a fully refundable tax credit a constant amount per decidable. The other 25% should be used for a First Fuel Fund (FFF). The FFF would work as follows: it would provide loans for energy efficiency projects. Interest rate by group would be: public (0%, group A), education/health/environment non-profits (0.5%, B), other non-profits(1%, C), individual (2%, D), corporations(3%, E). The reason they are loans not grants is so that each year the FFF grows in size and therefore impact. The length of the loans is based on energy saving payback time (X). Loan length is Min(Max(X+2, X*1.5), 10) rounded up to nearest quarter, paid in equal quarterly payments. This way every project starts saving from day one. When judging which loan goes first, it is based on energy pay back time, but the groups are scaled. A*1, B*1.5, C*2, D*3, E*5. The scale only impacts judging not loan period. Yes there would be credit/verification safe guards required. To leverage the funds even more could sell FFF bonds, they pay 3% tax free. The beauty of the FFF is it not only reduces the amount of energy needed by the country, but it is also a jobs bill. All the efficiency projects are going to be implemented by tax paying US citizens. Making our public building more efficient means less money (taxes) need to support them.

    How do we move the carbon tax conversation to the front page?

    • You don’t

    • Make it simpler.

      Tax carbon as it comes out of the ground. Use the revenue to lower end-user electricity costs.

      That would make coal and natural gas more expensive choices for utility companies speeding their transition to renewables and storage. And it would not damage the economy by increasing the cost of goods or decreasing household spending power.

  • The size of the problem and scale of what has to be done is enormous in order to make any substantial difference. Little incremental things do not stop global warming. I takes a energy revolution hat requires a political sea change -and this is not happening. Caltech’s professor Nathan Lewis has a good talk on the scale of the problem, , it is quite sobering.

    • Your presentation is a decade old. Don’t linger in the past, but update your knowledge to the present. Your pessimism is unfounded.

      Technology-wise, the pieces are mostly there (with perhaps only storage lagging behind a bit). Grassroots action is beginning to have an effect. We see lots of people installing PV, buying plug-in cars, insulating their homes, speaking out against coal plants, Keystone XL, fracking, etc.

      But yes, what we mostly need are governments that help pushing in the same direction. But it can be done. Oh yes, definitely.

      • Show me the data

    • European and US CO2 emission levels have been falling for a few years (Europe longer than the US).

      That was achieved by doing a lot of “little” stuff like making appliances and cars more efficient, improving power plants, utilizing renewable energy, ….

      • Look at the total picture, the little stuff is not enough -big changes must be done globally. While EU has dropped CO2 emissions somewhat, China, the global warming elephant in the room, is greatly increasing its CO2 emissions. I don’t oppose the little stuff but it is often delusional.

        • OK, explain what the “big stuff” is. And, if you can identify it, how we make it happen.

  • Romm: “We aren’t going to solve the problem by planting trees” . Since deforestation is one of the major contributors to greenhouse gases, reversing it is part of the solution. Planting more trees, on an enormous scale, is vital.

    Besides, there is no practical way to cut one’s emissions from air travel without stopping flying, so we have to offset. Tree-planting is a very good way to do so. A single forest tree will take about a tonne of carbon out of the atmosphere as it grows to maturity – 40 years or less in the tropics. If the wood is used as timber, it can stay out of circulation for centuries.

    I planted an ipê tree in Brazil this summer on my in-laws’ land and plan to do a lot more. It will take 10 trees a year to offset our return flights. The Nature Conservancy is one of several charities you can support that do this on a large scale:

    • We can’t plant trees fast enough and in large enough numbers to allow us to keep burning fossil fuels as we have been doing. Joe is right to that extent.

      Trees and other plants are the best ways we have right now to take carbon back down from the atmosphere. Not all trees (and other plants) are created equally when it comes to carbon re-sequestration. Some plants such as switchgrass put a lot more carbon underground than do many other plants. And it’s possible that we will be able to engineer some plants to be super-sequestering factories.

      Thanks for planting the ipê tree. That helps offset my use of ipê wood for my decks and wood stove surround. Ipê has the fire rating of concrete. I threw a scrap in my wood stove and after several days of hot fires it emerged intact, only dirty.

      • I agree entirely. Reforestation is a complement not a substitute,

        In Brazil, which is ca. 80% renewable with massive (some say over-massive) hydro plants and a huge bagasse ethanol industry, deforestation is the biggest carbon problem. The sustainable value of wind and solar (Brazil has huge resources, conveniently where the population lives on the Atlantic coast) is to make new forest-busting megadams in the Amazon basin unnecessary. Belo Monte on the Xingu, approved against stiff opposition, is looking increasingly a whit elephant and wlll hopefully be the last of its kind. New wind farms get PPAs under $50/Mwh.

        The ipê is a beautiful tree as well, The common type has clouds of yellow flowers, and there are also white and pink varieties.

    • Planting trees is only compensation for the trees we cut down previously. It can not be compensation for the ‘CO2’ we dig up from deep in the Earth’s crust and inject into the loop above ground. Once it’s in the loop, it’s in the loop.

      Planting trees might be a solution if there is an additional plan to harvest the carbon from those trees and remove it from the loop, indefinitely. Reburying the fossil fuels underground.

      • That’s something we could do. We could grow plant crops which we raise and harvest with renewable energy and then turn into biochar which would be incorporated back into the soil. By selecting/developing plants which fix larger amounts of carbon via their root structures we could increase the amount of carbon re-sequestered.

        We can’t offset our carbon fuel use, nor could we remove the extra carbon we’ve pumped into our atmosphere rapidly. But a large scale effort could help blunt the worst of what is headed our way.

    • How much of historical deforestation has been to clear land for agriculture and how much of that can we reverse with reforestation?

      I have to admit that reading about someone planing trees to offset the carbon of their flights to/from Brazil (I’m assuming intercontinental?) seems a bit “have cake; eat cake” and I have to question just how much timber construction can we undertake in the name of carbon sequestration.

  • Just like the gasoline taxes never quite make it to being used on roads as they were intended, a Carbon tax would just be another slush fund for politicians to play with. It’s amazing to see how many are naive enough to believe otherwise.

    Let’s burden our overtaxed businesses while we watch China continue to grow its Emissions. Sounds like a well thought out plan.

    • Jam on a carbon tax. Nice big fat one. ‘Algore is fat’ big fat.

      Do that and our “overtaxed” businesses will work harder to be more energy efficient. They’ll install more solar panels. They’ll push to get more wind farms built. They’ll start purchasing their energy from companies that sell green electricity. They’ll install storage so that they can purchase cheaper off-peak power and use it when rates are higher.

      Businesses will be just fine and we’ll all be better.

      Except those who make money off fossil fuels….

      • Bob, you seem to have a problem with large scale business, but no problem in large scale govt.

        I can’t reconcile that given how our centralized govt agencies continue to demonstrate ineffectiveness at most things they attempt

        • I’ve got no problem with large scale business. As long as they are doing “good stuff” and not “bad stuff”.

          think our climate problems will get solved, if they get solved, by
          large businesses emerging out of our present wind, solar and other
          renewable generation/storage industries and destroying the fossil fuel

          all for Tesla becoming a huge business and I’m perfectly content to see
          any other vehicle manufacturer grow fat marketing EVs or whatever form
          of personal transportation gets us off oil.

          “I can’t reconcile that given how our centralized govt agencies continue
          to demonstrate ineffectiveness at most things they attempt”


          The Post Office has been a huge failure. As has been the interstate
          highway system, rural electrification, eradication of small pox and
          control of other major diseases, the space program, safe air travel,
          food and drug safety, Medicare, Social Security, public education, public universities, universal education, public libraries, water and sewage systems, the Panama Canal, Boulder Dam –
          failures all.

          • “Yeah, Dad. I flunked the last several tests, but I did really well last year”

            Most of those successes mentioned came at the state and local level. And I hope we would have some successes considering we spend 20-25% of our GDP every year at the Federal level.

            Just because govt hasn’t been a complete failure doesn’t mean that our tax $ are spent at all effectively or that a Carbon tax would be useful for furthering a lower Carbon agenda.

          • OK, let’s sort them out…

            Purely Federal:

            Post Office
            Interstate highway system
            Rural electrification
            Eradication of small pox and control of other major diseases
            The space program
            Safe air travel
            Food and drug safety
            Social Security
            The Panama Canal
            Boulder Dam

            State and local with federal assistance. Often because state and local governments were forced to provide by federal legislation and often supported by federal funds:

            Public education
            Public universities (Land grant universities)
            Universal education
            Public libraries
            Water and sewage systems

            What is a total failure is the attitude of those who think it in their best interest to destroy the government. They need to spend some significant time in a country with a truly flawed government.

          • Sigh. I just want to see us get to a 100% renewable economy within 30 years. I have no illusions of seeing an honest politician or CEO of a large monopoly ever.

          • I would add air and water into the list. How short some memories are. Nice unburdened companies gave us air and water pollution as bad a in China today. Don’t you remember rivers burning, acid rain, LA when you couldn’t see a block.

          • Matt, the government should regulate free goods like air and water that we all must share and there is now owner of. When the govt moves beyond playing that protective role, it usually ends in tears.

          • I advocate that a Carbon tax is a bad idea for the reasons listed and you extrapolate that I “want to destroy government.”

          • It’s kind of easy to figure out your attitude toward the government. You post it openly.

            “I can’t reconcile that given how our centralized govt agencies continue to demonstrate ineffectiveness at most things they attempt”

          • Informed skeptic: yes.

            Intent on destroying govt: really?

            And I think that the 100,000 employees working at the Dept of Agriculture would agree.

          • Well, they’re only charged with keeping America from starving, so obviously not that important.

          • How many people do you think would starve here if there were only 50,000 people working at the Dept of Agriculture?

          • That all depends on what jobs are being cut, now doesn’t it?

          • So you actually believe that there at certain key people and/or a critical mass of people at the AG Dept without whom we would see people starving in the US? Did I get that right?

          • You: “How many people do you think would starve here if there were only 50,000 people working at the Dept of Agriculture?”

            Me: “That all depends on what jobs are being cut, now doesn’t it?”

            You: “So you actually believe that there at certain key people and/or a critical mass of people at the AG Dept without whom we would see people starving in the US? Did I get that right?”

            Me: ???!!

          • “Just because govt hasn’t been a complete failure doesn’t mean that our tax $ are spent at all effectively or that a Carbon tax would be useful for furthering a lower Carbon agenda.”

            You really think private business has things that well under control?

            50% of all businesses fail in the first four years.

            You really think there’s something magical about CEOs that makes them worth millions of dollars a year? That businesses don’t waste money?

            You really think that putting a few pennies tax on electricity coming from coal and natural gas plants wouldn’t drive more activity in renewables and storage? That’s the sort of thing one should learn in the first week of Econ 101.

            Just make the cost of coal-electricity more expensive and watch renewable boom. Raise the cost of natural gas generation and watch the storage industry boom.

            We’d even see some of our financially troubled nuclear reactors survive a while longer.

        • “I can’t reconcile that given how our centralized govt agencies continue to demonstrate ineffectiveness at most things they attempt.”

          The only reason that you think that is because the failures in companies are swept under the rug and kept from publicity.

          All government failures are there to see for everyone. And boy, are there a lot of people that like to make a living talking only about the failures.

          Politics, Steeple. You have still a lot to learn.

          • Arne, name a recent success please. All I can see of late is a govt that will likely screw up my health care plan, is monitoring my Internet and phone activity, and seems to be perpetuating class warfare. And the Feds want to tell our schools how to manage themselves, even though the taxes supporting the schools are raised by local property taxes.

            Private industry culls its failures by causing people to go out of business. Name the last large scale Fed program or agency that has “gone out of business”? For gosh sakes, the Postal Service has tried and they aren’t even allowed too!

            Since most of the successes people parrot occurred at least 40 years ago, perhaps you could remind me of some recent successes. It’s not like we aren’t spending $3+ Trillion every year?

          • Yes, basically geography allowed us to come out of WWII with all our factories in one piece. By giving out loans to the rest of the world to help them rebuild, with a small clause saying they must buy only from our factories, we capitalized on it.

            Ever since we have been slipping from number one in the world to something else. It is hard to find an industrialized nation that does not have a better government.

            At some point we will have to earn our own way in the World. At that time it will be very very good to be energy independent.

      • If you wish to ensure that businesses do not simply seek a path of less resistance, best make certain that your carbon tax includes imports and not simply domestic production. Otherwise you will just be squeezing a balloon.

  • Google ‘conenssti energy’ to discover what has driven average global
    temperature since 1610. Follow a link in that paper to a paper that gives an
    equation that calculates average global temperatures with 90% accuracy since
    before 1900 using only one external forcing. Carbon dioxide change has no significant
    influence. The average global temperature trend is down.

  • Nicely written article. Who wrote it? Scrolling up…hey Joe Romm wrote it. Climate change communication may be the root cause of our problem. We’re educating many college kids these days in the art of communication. The art of communication is to get read or heard. Given that big media is crumbling, many communicators have to scrap to get read or heard. The easiest way is to purvey ideas is to cater or pander in our basest of instincts, i.e. the thing that makes up 30 percent of internet traffic. The second is to write stuff that alleviates our fears and confirms our hopes and dreams. Climate change acceleration and all that’s necessary to deal with it is a bummer.

    Time magazine is read mostly by old folks now. It was an essential weekly read only 10 to 15 years ago. Time’s readers don’t want to read about climate change or anything that could upset their retirement accounts. Frankly, New York Times does this as well. It’s readers skew old. Even well educated retired baby boomers don’t really want to think about climate change. So NYT and Time don’t talk about climate change much or will distill the science into well written entertaining nonsense. It’s a tough business to communicate to subscribers that they helped cause and are part of the problem. And their wonderful grandkids could be screwed. There’s a lot of money sitting in retirement accounts. Old media is comforting. Especially in a doctor’s office waiting room.

      • From the article “Today 4 workers support one retiree in the European Union; by 2060, the number of such workers will drop to just 2.”

        Why are ponzi schemes, like the above, legal when our governments use them? And why are we surprised when they fall apart? We need sustainable renewable energy and we need sustainable renewable retiree policies!

        • Pensions are in no way “Ponzi Schemes”.

          • When the money you put into a pension is either spent by the government or spent by a few retirees having nothing to do with your money what do you call it if not a ponzi scheme?

          • “When the money you put into a pension is either spent by the government or spent by a few retirees having nothing to do with your money what do you call it if not a ponzi scheme?”

            What are you talking about when you say “spent by the government” and “spent by a few retirees having nothing to do with your money”?

          • You seem to be out of context. The context is from the article Steeple copied in above. That is mandatory programs like our social security system which people pay into their whole life. They expect to get back what they put in with interest. Not counting people who died off before they could collect anything or everything. Instead all governments seem to use it as a ponzi scheme.

          • Are you claiming that Europe’s economy won’t grow by at least 100% in real terms by 2060?

          • What does that have to do with the number of workers having to support the number of retirees? You still seem out of context. And I have not claimed anything. Where are you coming from?

            I’ll play along though. Why is it important for the European economy to grow by at least 100% by 2060? (That’s only a 1.5% average annual growth rate.) Go ahead and put more words in my mouth and then lower the boom on me.

            You probably won’t be happy until you do.

          • If the economy grows that much, then pensions remain the same.

            Are you going to explain what you meant now?

          • Explain what? Going from four workers supporting each pensioner to two workers supporting a single pensioner?

            It’s like our own social security system. When the number of workers paying in each year to the SS system was much more than what the pensioners were taking out that year our government loved it. They showcased the pensioners and said what a great system we provide for the elderly. While pocketing the money they were suppose to be putting aside for the people currently paying into the system. That has gone on for decades in most countries since WWII. Now however the amount of money going into the system is about equal to the amount of money being paid out because there are a lot of pensioners. It’s the baby boom generation going into retirement. Now our government is saying social security is a burden that should not continue. They say this because they did not save the money that was paid into the social security system since WWII like they promised. When in the near future the SS paid in on a yearly basis is less than the amount that is suppose to be paid out these pensioners’ lives will be rudely altered. Regardless of annual growth rate. And if like the article says only half as many will be paying in by 2060 the system will have likely gone away. Like all bad ponzi schemes leaving the people who paid in at the bottom holding nothing.

          • “Explain what?”

            Explain this “When the money you put into a pension is either spent by the government or spent by a few retirees having nothing to do with your money what do you call it if not a ponzi scheme?”.

            If each worker produces twice as much then going from a 4/1 worker/retiree ratio to a 2/1 ratio doesn’t change the pension level at all.

          • “If each worker produces twice as much then going from a 4/1 worker/retiree ratio to a 2/1 ratio doesn’t change the pension level at all.”

            That’s as absurd as saying 1+1 = 11. Maybe though you are really confused by it. Lots of Americans are and the politicians love to use it. Here’s a little test for you. Our real annual growth since SS started has been about 3.5%. It is 13x more than in 1937. You can look it up here.

            Now look at the age distribution in the united states of people over 65 in 1930 vs 2010 which is 5.4% vs 13% respectively. See

            So 1300% more efficient now has to cover 300% more elderly people. Based on your view of the world our social security should be rolling in over 5x the profit it had in earlier years. However it is just the opposite. It is having severe problems and a major political problem.

            It’s very simple really. They are not taking in enough yearly to pay for all those people that have been paying in all their lives and now expect to get it back with interest. And when the ratio doubles in a bad way by 2060 there will have to a lot of money printed to cover it… I hope you now see how bad your logic is. I’ll be back tonight.

          • That’s income inequality.

            Are you going to explain this “When the money you put into a pension is either spent by the government or spent by a few retirees having nothing to do with your money what do you call it if not a ponzi scheme?” or not.

          • Not. I can’t explain everything to you.

          • So you admit social security isn’t a Ponzi Scheme?

          • No, I have admitted to giving up on trying to explain things to you.

            Social Security is clearly a Ponzi Scheme.

          • So your argument is “Social Security is clearly a Ponzi Scheme. What do you mean how? It just is!”?

          • I know what a Ponzi Scheme is, that’s why I say Social Security isn’t one.

            Now are you going to explain what you mean or are going to keep refusing?

          • Assuming the projections are accurate then in approximately 2037 Social Security benefits will be cut to 75% of current levels.

            The projections assume among other things that income inequality remains the same, no lifting the cap on taxable income and pitiably low economic growth.

          • I’m very aware of how Social Security is structured and I understand what Ponzi schemes are.

            Social Security is not a Ponzi scheme. There is no defrauding. No person(s) or agency is raking off the revenues and using them for personal gain.

            Social Security is a ‘pay it forward’ program in which working people help support elders with the expectation that as they age younger workers will, in tern, assist them.

            Are we going to need to adjust Social Security from time to time to make it fit current realities? Of course we will. Pretty much everything has to be adjusted.

            Is Social Security in deep trouble? No, it is not. That is a falsehood spread by those who wish to destroy our safety net programs.

            Now, might we get back to relevant topics?

          • Totally disagree about it not being a Ponzi Scheme but I’m all for getting back to relevant topics.

          • If we look at how many hours we work per day/year to obtain what we need/want to live costs are dropping. We work far less for food, cars, etc. as we become more efficient.

            With less of our hours going to purchase food, etc. we free up hours that can go to support others. And the cost of supporting others is decreasing at the same time.

            Will Social Security payouts change to any great deal? I suspect not. Older people vote at much higher rates than do younger people. At most we might see SS income taxed at a higher rate for higher income people. (It already is taxed if you make more than the minimum amount in other income.)

          • For most investors, bonds issued by their national governments are good conservative investments. Why does a broad-based government sponsored retirement program like Social Security change this? Sure, it would be better if the money were invested in much needed repairs to infrastructure rather than in tax breaks for the rich who then either buy back the stocks in their own corporations, gamble in short term speculation in financial markets, or spend on luxury consumer goods they don’t need.

          • This is not the forum for such conversations. If you want to take it to some other place I might follow.

          • I followed your link to Wikipedia further down and have concluded that everyone knows what is going on with Social Security well enough that while it might be considered a pyramid scheme, it is NOT a Ponzi scheme. Pozi schemes are definitely criminal; Social Security is backed and enforced by the federal government–that makes it at worst, part of the social safety net.

          • Social Security is not a pyramid scheme. One doesn’t increase the size of their SS check by getting other people to sign on to the system.

            Social Security is us helping ourselves.

            “I’ll help the oldies today, you help me tomorrow and the next generation will help you. After all, the oldies built our roads, schools and even the hospitals we were born in. It’s only fair to pay them back for what they gave us.”

          • I was trying to answer Ivor O’Connor’s complaint that I was off topic. Actually Social Security is some help to the currently working generation in providing income to the retired parents of the currently working generation so they can concentrate on raising their children–the grandchildren of the retired parents, and not have to worry so much about their retired parents.

        • Bingo

          If one suggests that we have to modify these schemes because the ratio of those receiving vs those contributing is changing, or because we are living longer, be prepared to duck as the abuse will come quick and hard.

    • Hummm….

      I see someone speculating about what the EPA might or not might not do based on a leaked draft.

      What I suspect I see is what one someone commonly sees on Seeking Alpha – a pump and dump article by someone fleecing the rubes.

  • I suspect that with 50% short term health benefits and 50% long term agricultural benefits, it might be possible to find enough good enhanced geothermal system sites to keep otherwise soon to be idle drilling/fracking crews busy and persuade the fossil fuel firms now hiring the crews to make enhanced geothermal systems to sell heat brought up by them to electric utilities as alternative to coal. If federal government would by a bunch of Global Thermostats to capture CO2 to store by using it as fracking/hydraulic/heat-transfer fluid, and put pressure on utilities with hard declining greenhouse gas emissions caps, and gave utilities an out by offering to sell them CO2 to store in enhanced geothermal systems as insurance against failing to meet the declining caps to avoid having to pay the social price of carbon as a fine if they fail to meet the caps, that might get utilities to buy a little of the CO2 captured by Global Thermostat to store in enhanced geothermal systems. The CO2 should be stored in enhanced geothermal systems anyhow–but if utilities fail to buy it, it counts towards cleaning up past greenhouse gas emissions in general rather than that utility’s emissions in the year that buying CO2 at $25/ton to avoid a fine would make the difference.

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