Foreign Policy Blogs

A Tidal Wave of Greenhouse Gases

Andrew Revkin had a sobering article in the "NY Times" on Sunday – As China Goes, So Goes Global Warming.  First of all, with all of the hoopla surrounding the meetings in Bali, Revkin puts it nicely in perspective:  "The Bali achievement? Two more years of talks."

More to the point, though, is the fact that we really do seem to be in a headlong rush towards the cliff internationally with our GHG emissions.  Revkin writes:  "Richard Richels, an economist at the Electric Power Research Institute, helped produce an ominous forecast: even if the established industrial powers turned off every power plant and car right now, unless there are changes in policy in poorer countries the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could still reach 450 parts per million ‚ a level deemed unacceptably dangerous by many scientists ‚ by 2070. (If no one does anything, that threshold is reached in 2040.)" 

What that means is that if China, India, Brazil and the rest of the very rapidly industrializing world don't find a better way, then we are in for the direst of futures.  As Ross Perot might say:  "End of story." 

What's the answer?  Answers , plural , is more likely.  Leapfrog technologies and technology transfer are two approaches.  I've mentioned "leapfrogging" here and here, and Revkin references the importance of R&D and "transferring" new technologies to developing economies:  "That is why several dozen top-flight climate and energy experts sent a letter this month to members of Congress and the presidential candidates seeking a tenfold rise in the federal budget for energy research, now about $3 billion a year."  (See also Revkin's terrific blog, DotEarth.)

I've also mentioned "price signals" such as the cap-and-trade approach and the carbon tax at numerous points along the way here.  See several posts at Business and Economics.

Here's another take on this , and it seems very promising to me, unlettered as I may be as an economist , from Yale professor Judith Chevalier:  a tax on carbon consumption.  So, if you can't get China or some other recalcitrant to restrain GHG emissions through some international protocol (to which the Bali meetings were supposed to point the way), then take it out of their exchequer by creating barriers to products created in high-GHG economies.  Reward the producers who make products that are more earth friendly.  Given the manufacturing output now, and the fact that some of these economies will be exporting bigger, higher value products, like cars, before long, then this is a serious incentive to lower their GHG output.  An economic policy analyst at one of the leading environmental organizations, Environmental Defense, called this a good idea.  See A Carbon Cap That Starts in Washington.  She references particularly the work of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in this regard.  This is a deep-thinking group of folks working on climate solutions. 



Bill Hewitt

Bill Hewitt has been an environmental activist and professional for nearly 25 years. He was deeply involved in the battle to curtail acid rain, and was also a Sierra Club leader in New York City. He spent 11 years in public affairs for the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, and worked on environmental issues for two NYC mayoral campaigns and a presidential campaign. He is a writer and editor and is the principal of Hewitt Communications. He has an M.S. in international affairs, has taught political science at Pace University, and has graduate and continuing education classes on climate change, sustainability, and energy and the environment at The Center for Global Affairs at NYU. His book, "A Newer World - Politics, Money, Technology, and What’s Really Being Done to Solve the Climate Crisis," will be out from the University Press of New England in December.

Areas of Focus:
the policy, politics, science and economics of environmental protection, sustainability, energy and climate change