Any of y’all who think human-made climate change is a hoax should probably just click away to somewhere else right about now.
Cause it’s very, very real.
And accepting that is kinda necessary for this discussion.
TL;DR: as Bender would say:
I’m not going to go into details right here, since they aren’t really relevant and they can change pretty quickly. You should go read the reports at the IPCC or read the Wikipedia page if you want that.
No, today I want to talk about how we get a solution.
See, climate change is one of those problems that is going to be solved: either we solve it ourselves by dramatically reducing our emissions, or it will solve itself by wrecking our systems so badly that our emissions drop on their own.
I’m pretty sure most of us would rather deal with some inconveniences now, rather than wait for ecosystem collapses to reduce our population far enough to mitigate our impact …
It’s just a question of how much damage will happen on the way.
The basic issue in climate change is really simple:
more emissions => more damage => bigger disruption
Obviously, the earlier we manage to reduce our emissions and the bigger the reduction we make means the better off we’ll be.
The logic from this point isn’t complicated either.
Here are the steps:
- figure out how much temperature rise we will target (0 is sadly no longer an option)
- figure out how much emissions will create that rise
- figure out over how many years we will implement this
Now we have an outline of the CO2/methane/etc emissions we’re going to aim for each year.
So, what do we do with that?
So far, not much which is kinda the problem at this point.
Pretty much every government in the world has some idea of what their region is emitting and how that needs to change, but few have done anything about it and none have done enough to achieve much. Mostly they’re dinking around with tiny projects and hoping someone else comes up with something big enough.
It’s well past time to give up on that hope.
This is where the “cap” comes in.
The next step is going to have to be establishing a cap on emissions and having some way to enforce it, probably quite strictly.
For the moment, let’s just talk about emissions that are the direct result of a single action by an identifiable person or group.
To calculate the annual cap that we need for an individual, we can subtract all the known other emissions from our global cap (things like cow farts and forest fires) and divide that by the population. This gives us a number of tons of CO2/methane/etc that each person can cause to be emitted into the atmosphere in a year and still be on target for whatever our acceptable amount of climate change is.
This is where the “trade” comes in.
So we put that number into an account, for each citizen and legal resident in the country managed by some part of the State that already does that sort of thing (hello Social Security Administration; I bet you didn’t know you could help) and then debit that account each time that person engages in an activity with a direct emission.
Buy a gallon of gas, debit the account.
Buy a cord of firewood, debit the account.
Buy gas for your furnace or stove, debit the account.
And so on; it’s not really complicated.
But what about the businesses?
Shipping companies need gasoline too, and restaurants need gas for the stoves. Electric companies need to do lots, and lots, and lots of burning.
And so on; you get the point.
Well, “trade”, silly.
They can buy emissions credits on an open market from people who choose to sell some of theirs.
This has the benefit of eliminating a lot of what are called externalities because it would establish a price for emissions and a cost of doing business for them and would result in that cost being reflected in the price to the consumer. This results in a fairer distribution of costs and impacts, since the cost would ultimately be borne by the person who ultimately benefits from the emissions.
It also has the benefit of rewarding people who do more to reduce their personal emissions, since it would free up credits they could the sell on the market to people who don’t or can’t reduce their own.
This is not a perfect system.
For one thing, its effectiveness depends on identifying emitting activities and tying them to a commodity or transaction; do that badly, or miss too many emissions and the reduction will be smaller than you need to meet your target.
I personally find it kinda distasteful, since it’s a market-based solution that would absolutely work but could give the impression that market solutions in general work, which is absolutely not true,
But it would work.
And it’s well within our technical capabilities to implement quickly.
Given that “cap and trade” has generally been the business community’s approach to environmental issues, it’s probably within our political capabilities too.
All we lack is the will.
(And a political system by which to express it.)