Lowering the Heat in the Climate Debate

Jan. 18, 2012
Maintaining a balance, and our dignity, too.

Reading The Climate Fix: What Scientists and Politicians Won’t Tell You About Global Warming, by Roger Pielke, Jr., (2010, Basic Books) could start a rabid, climate change denier on a road to accepting and understanding the need for a reasonable approach to what will soon become a significant carbon dioxide problem.

This is precisely the reaction that Pielke seeks, but also one that he’s found so elusive: a reasonable and rational solution to the man-made elements of global warming. Yes, they’re out there, he says, but not to the extent we have been led to believe. And a solution is out there, too, one that doesn’t involve closing factories or walking to work. One of those is a low carbon tax to raise revenues for investments in innovation, not to change behavior or restrict economic activity.

The Climate Fix —by a leading political scientist and professor in environmental studies at the University of Colorado — is rich in facts that document where and how the global warming debate has gone astray, to the discredit of both scientists and politicians. While global warming defenders were guilty of their own missteps — such as scheduling a hearing in Washington, DC on the hottest day of the summer, and shutting off the air conditioning; or hiding unfavorable emails — warming's detractors in the halls of politics have been guilty of their own stonewalling, foot-dragging and lack of will.

At the heart of the book is the concept of “decarbonization,” which is in direct conflict with the fact that the world needs “vastly more energy.” How much energy is dependent on the growth of the world economy, the types of growth (manufacturing v. services), and the efficiency of those activities. Hence, the need for decarbonization, which is basically emptying the atmosphere of carbon at a greater rate than it's produced (imagine a bathtub filling up, with a drain that empties the tub at half the pace of water input).

The Climate Fix is rife with data documenting historic carbonization, more than I care to read. My interest is in Pielke’s statements that we have to get to a point where truth, diplomacy, and rational thought rule the day.

Some key passages:

  • “A common sense approach to climate policy must begin with recognition that carbon policy is not the same thing as climate policy, despite the conflation of the concepts in popular and often in technical, discussions.”
  • “The challenge facing climate policy is to design policies that are consonant with public opinion, and are effective, rather than to try to shape public opinion around particular policies. Thus far, advocates of climate policy have failed in policy design, given that there has been strong support for action, albeit at a low intensity.”
  • “It is, of course, possible to design policies that force trade-offs between the economy and the environment. But must it necessarily be so? According to many in the climate debate, the answer is yes. Here I suggest that not only can the answer be no, but it must be the case if effective action to decarbonize the global economy is actually to occur.”
  • “The need to focus on decarbonizing the energy supply results from the simple fact that under all scenarios of future energy demand, even those based on relatively modest economic growth, the world will need a vastly larger energy supply. Whether that need is 30%, 50%, or 100% more than today’s supply does not alter the basic calculus that to reach low stabilization targets implies a massive transition to a nearly carbon-free global energy supply.”
  • “It is important to understand that the technologies of the future are almost certainly going to be technologies of the present, only better. Breakthroughs that lead to fundamentally new sources of energy — such as nuclear fusion — while possible, are unlikely.”

Pielke proposes something like a $5 per metric ton tax on carbon dioxide, which, he says, “would have a relatively small effect on fossil fuel prices, with the exception of the cheapest forms of coal, and would raise as much as $150 billion per year — about $30 billion in the United States and China…”

Or, it could be a $3 or $10 tax. But ultimately, the tax must be implemented at the highest price that is politically possible. In Pielke’s view, politicizing the amount of the tax trumps a theoretical best guess at what the tax should be, such as trying to estimate the “social cost of carbon,” which relies too much on future trends.

Pielke believes that focusing carbon policy on decarbonization, and adaptation on technology development is the right way to go. None would be “forced” to do anything based on misinformation and hysteria. A reasonable tax would be, well, reasonable. Technology “winners” would be supported based on feasibility and affordability, and human dignity and democratic ideals would remain at the center of climate policies.

About the Author

Terry McIver | Content Director - CB

A career publishing professional, Terence 'Terry' McIver has served three diverse industry publications in varying degrees of responsibility since 1987, and worked in marketing communications for a major U.S. corporation.He joined the staff of Contracting Business magazine in April 2005.

As director of content for Contracting Business, he produces daily content and feature articles for CB's 38,000 print subscribers and many more Internet visitors. He has written hundreds, if not two or three, pieces of news, features and contractor profile articles for CB's audience of quality HVACR contractors. He can also be found covering HVACR industry events or visiting with manufacturers and contractors. He also has significant experience in trade show planning.