Sunday, September 21, 2014

Progressive policy roundup - pricing pollution for climate change

I'm trying something new: a weekly roundup of interesting progressive policies, insights and ideas. This inaugural post is about climate change.

Failure to price pollution causing huge costs for everyone else - big opportunity to fix it

There are 100,000 people marching in New York today before the United Nations Climate Summit on Tuesday, urging governments to shift from coal, oil and natural gas to renewable energy like solar and wind.

Pollution is priced too low, since few governments put a fee on pollution to cover the costs of the global warming (like Hurricane Sandy that shut down Manhattan, more droughts that raise food prices, etc). The big battle is pricing pollution correctly so there will be less of it and thus a chance to slow down global warming. A report out today shows emissions increased by 2.3 percent last year when we need emissions to reduce, not increase.

This is a big opportunity for state and local leaders to price pollution in their communities and shift away from coal, oil and gas. There's a good site from The Solutions Project on how each state can transition to 100% renewable power. As an example of the size and scope to do this right, they calculate Illinois can generate 60% of electricity needs from wind power that would take up 7% of the entire state's footprint. Big proposals to avoid paying big climate change costs.

A big way to access the capital to build a renewable economy is from public pensions. In the US, the top 100 public pensions funds own $1.1 trillion in corporate stock. Local and state governments should direct these funds to change corporate policies (almost all pollution comes from publicly-traded companies) to dramatically reduce pollution. Here's a post on that topic with a bit more detail.

What can I do?

Eat less meat. Animal-based diets cause a lot more pollution than plant-based diets. Public policies to encourage plant-based diets would help. So skip the steak.

You can email the Environmental Protection Agency to support their initiatives to reduce pollution (every single email from an American voter helps the Obama Administration justify their actions in the face of hostile opposition).

Culture versus cost

I think lots of people feel threatened by the idea that eating hamburgers, using coal for electricity and oil for their cars has to change. They feel targeted like they are personally doing something wrong. I don't think right and wrong are the terms we want to use to convince people to support climate action.

I think cost rather than values makes more sense to approach the undecided. You break it, you buy it. Every hamburger should have a nickel fee on it that covers the cost of climate change (droughts, floods, hurricanes, etc.). You want to eat a burger? Fine. But pay for it. You want to keep a coal plant? Fine. But pay for it. Every kilowatt hour of electricity from coal should have that same nickel fee that goes to cover the costs of climate change.

Right and wrong and moral and immoral are pretty fixed in most minds. I don't want to convince people they are wrong to do what they do. I'd rather make an argument that fits in with their moral code. Most people think -- and feel -- that they ought to pay for what they use. Most people don't want to be a freeloader. So if we're not attacking a way of life or saying that they are immoral or wrong but rather asking them to support a new fee so they will pay the full price for the damage they cause, I think we're more likely to convince people to go along with a carbon tax.

Pricing pollution is the mega step in solving climate change. I'm convinced we can convince more people to support paying the price of pollution without making them feel attacked.


Well, that's my first experiment. I'm going to get these out weekly for as long as this experiment lasts and if you'd like to get on the email list to receive these directly in your inboxes every Sunday, you can sign up here. Please do!