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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Movement on Decarbonization

Serious Step Forward Thwarted in Oregon

The Senate Republicans evidently thought it was a good idea to hide in Idaho. Photo: Sebastian Bergmann, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA 2.0 Generic

J. D. Kaplan

“Send bachelors and come heavily armed,” says one Oregon state senator to taunt his governor, Kate Brown. She literally sent the police over to nab him and the rest of the Senate Republicans hiding with him in Idaho. Gov. Brown wanted a vote on her climate bill, but their absence prevented the achievement of a quorum. No lawmaking can take place without it. Other threats of violence volleyed over this proposal and it folded at the end of June 2019.

It would have addressed, as best a government can, economic incentives that have led us into the climate-warming trend. A well-designed carbon market can rework those incentives in an economy, so that it releases much, much less heat and carbon, given a few decades and sane, amenable politicians.

If there is any good chance, we survive the heating of the Earth, detailed in this issue on page 27 of G.E.T. by Dr. Hansen’s thorough contribution, it’ll be from our slow rotation of the world’s ship of industry and land use from dependency upon carbon emissions and toward a mostly decarbonized industrial world. We will produce some small fraction, yearly, of the CO2 and other greenhouse gases (GHG) that humanity releases now, and probably scrub that remainder on the fly, in the intended, stable result.

Civilization can, in this way, be carbon-independent by design. If we make that transition in time, it will have been from commitment to major, thorough policy initiatives like the one narrowly avoided in Oregon this past month.

Democrats in Oregon tried to pass a bill that would have added one to the number of U.S. states abiding a cap-and-trade system of account for carbon release across its whole economy. A carbon market of this kind allows a government to prod the economy to phase out continual release of CO2 by anybody within its boundaries. Other gases can be targeted and, on a hundred-year time scale, eliminated as well; nothing need be made illegal or contraband to make it work. You’d still be able to fill a tank with available fuels and burn it, or make your own biofuels and burn them with impunity. It’s a system of taxation and does not target any industry or business directly for punishment. When well-conceived and executed, in fact, no group should suffer inordinately—not even distance commuters.

This is decarbonization. It took some ambitious plans by the governor and her team to assemble; it is not clear to me why these plans shriveled up the Republican will to participate in legislative session, but this is the effect that it had. Oregon already has climate-concerned machinery in place and operating. In fact, the first American law to target carbon output was passed there in 1997.

To move toward a modern industrial world that is yet decoupled from carbon, many engineering options and a wide variety of policy tools will be tried. It is always sparked by one essential change on the playing field, though, one fundamental weight added into the political economy (http://bit.ly/Oregon-CAP). This is the introduction of a cost, a real monetary value necessary for exchanges we make with Mother Nature, as we do anything that releases carbon into the atmosphere, or ends up doing so. A value has to be attached to carbon in the unit of exchange, the local currency, so that our impact can be quantified. Carbon release is tied to just about everything we do to build the world we make for ourselves—modern, comfortable, and technocratic.

However, it doesn’t have to pull these goals apart nor should it pull our standards of living down. It is important that our politicians understand the situation facing them, though, in the political landscape, whatever your perspective on the advance of decarbonization policies. They are appearing all over the world, implementing strategies, policies, taxes, incentives, funds, education and all manner of support for changes of substance toward this goal. The appearance of these initiatives, these motivated policies might be called ‘political climate,’ as opposed to the political weather, per se, which can appear rather senseless, to say the least.

They have varying timelines and a wide range of goals—it isn’t all CO2, for example, even among GHG-focused programs. But the economic machinery working toward carbon reductions in the atmosphere has been in bloom, of late, despite the political will to turn one’s back to it.

I would like to point G.E.T. readers to some useful pages in watching this phenomenon which may help to de-cloak the economic instruments that appear within decarbonization activity. The World Bank’s carbon pricing dashboard link is https://cpd.worldbank.org.

J. D. Kaplan is a certified remote pilot and a former member of the I.T. crowd. He is a reader in the areas of bioelectromagnetics and cryptocurrency. For G.E.T. readers, Mr. Kaplan intends to profile “natural climate solutions,” those dependent upon forestry and land use. He lives and works at or above sea level near Boston.

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