Low Carbon Future Will Be Less Pain and More Gain Than People Think: Sierra Club Exec. Director

Green jobs rally in Vancouver, Canada. Photo: Green Jobs Now

The Sierra Club is a regular guest poster here at TreeHugger, mostly recently writing about the Dark Days For King Coal, and on how you can get in on green volunteer activities. Well, over at Yale Environment 360, Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope has a new piece on how well-designed market reforms can lead us to a prosperous low-carbon future. Here are some highlights:Reducing US Emissions Will Increase Economic Productivity
Pope addresses the notion that the costs of shift to a low carbon economy will be too extreme to bear:

The assumption that the costs of climate recovery will be prohibitively high simply does not stand up to scrutiny. A study by McKinsey & Company last year documented large opportunities to reduce U.S. emissions by 2030 that could be achieved with a negative cost — meaning that these represent investment opportunities that would increase the productivity of the overall U.S. economy. Less speculatively, experts at the University of California-Berkeley recently documented that more than 1.5 million jobs were created in California by relatively aggressive clean energy policies adopted by the state between 1972 and 2006. And other studies show that in the long run, energy costs are lower under a high efficiency and renewable energy scenario.

The amount of sacrifice involved in reducing greenhouse gas emissions can be vastly reduced by conscious action to access the cheapest, cleanest energy. California has held per capita energy use constant since 1974, while it has increased 50 percent across the rest of the nation. It made no significant lifestyle concessions to accomplish this, nor did it just stumble onto it: California successfully planned and executed progressive energy efficiency and renewable energy development.

Setting Carbon Price Key
Saying that a transition to a low-carbon economy, nevertheless, will be neither free nor painless, Pope elaborated,
There will be substantial transition costs and the new economy will not leave all actors as well off as they were in a carbon-dependent world. To achieve the necessary pace of emission reductions required to meet the demands of global warming science, we will no doubt be compelled to accelerate the transition in ways that will have a significant price tag.

And price is important: Making those who emit carbon pay for the use of the atmospheric, terrestrial, and marine carbon sinks they appropriate with those emissions — and for the costs of the climate disruption they cause — will both accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels and make the overall global economy fairer and more efficient.

Invest in Cheapest, Cleanest Options First
After discussing different viewpoints on how to spend the funds generated by auctioning carbon permits, Pope went on to say,
We need to use the revenue from carbon permits to aggressively pursue the shortest and cheapest distance between two points. It is the oblivious assumption that energy markets will necessarily perform in the public interest that has gotten us into this difficulty to begin with.

In addition, sequence matters. We must invest heavily in our cheapest, quickest, and cleanest options first. Spending billions on power plants that are too expensive, take too long to complete, and overpay for carbon reductions freezes us into a less advantageous economic position. We should first pour public investment into solutions like energy efficiency, both gaining carbon reductions and reducing energy demand so that we can then choose the options that make the most sense for a decarbonized future.

So how do we do this? Pope proposes a national carbon cap, "initially set at current emission levels, with the number of permits reduced rapidly to meet the US goals mandated by global warming science." These permits would would be required from those who introduce carbon-based fuels into commerce, with only fossil fuel producers or importers having to pay.

Plenty of people advocate a national carbon cap and auction of permits, but how does Pope's suggestion differ? Read Moving the US Off Carbon With Less Pain, More Gain to find out.

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Tags: Carbon Emissions | Energy Efficiency | Global Warming Solutions | United States


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