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Peter Barnes: Towards a Fair Climate Policy

Peter Barnes, author of Climate Solutions: A Citizen’s Guide and senior fellow at the Tomales Bay Institute, presents the basic principles of a cap-and-dividend climate policy. In easy-to-understand terms, he presents the problem (“the biggest market failure the world has ever seen”), as well as a common sense, truly fair solution that won’t place the financial burden disproportionately on the poor.

Many economists (and others) from a wide range of political viewpoints are coming to support the idea of cap-and-dividend or tax-and-rebate as the most sensible way to address climate change. It’s important to note that the two approaches (cap or tax) are functionally equivalent. Both policies are intended (1) to raise the price of the carbon emissions that cause global warming, thereby discouraging those emissions and encouraging alternatives, and (2) to do so in a way that does not place the burden of adjustment disproportionately on the poor.


If we don’t understand a problem, it’s unlikely we’ll be able to fix it. So let’s begin by asking, with regard to the climate crisis, what is the problem we need to fix? Often in public policy, the problem we need to fix isn’t immediately obvious. Sometimes we see symptoms without seeing the underlying problem. Other times we see part of the problem but not the whole. On the surface, climate change appears to be an environmental problem, or perhaps a technological one. But deeper down, it’s a result of two economic and political failures.


The first of these is a market failure. Humans are dumping ever-rising quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere because there are no limits or prices for doing so. There are, however, huge costs — costs that are shifted to future generations. When people don’t pay the full cost of what they’re doing, but instead transfer costs to others, economists call this a ‘market failure.’ Nicholas Stern, former chief economist at the World Bank, has said that climate change is “the biggest market failure the world has ever seen.”


The second cause of global warming is misplaced government priorities. Because polluting corporations are powerful and future generations don’t vote, our governments not only allows carbon emissions to grow, but subsidizes them in numerous ways. Thus, despite all we know today about climate change, about two-thirds of US federal energy subsidies currently go, for example, to fossil fuels.


It’s important to recognize that these twin failures permeate our entire economy. They’re not problems of the electricity sector, the automobile sector or the building sector; they’re problems of all sectors and must be treated at that level. They distort the behavior of all individuals and businesses. No matter how ‘responsible’ any of us may be, our separate actions can’t overcome what these twin failures make most of us do most of the time. What’s required are fixes for both system failures. We need to limit and pay for atmospheric pollution, and we need to shift government’s attention from dirty fuels to clean alternatives. If we don’t do both of those things, we won’t stop climate change.

Read the whole article here.


Chelsea Green: In the Media 2016

Oh, 2016. Where did the time go? Each year, Chelsea Green receives hundreds of mentions (well over 1000 in 2016) in the media both big and small. From interviews, to excerpts, to opinion pieces by authors we’re always working to make sure that the mission and message of each book is spread far and wide. […] Read More

Yes, America We Can Make It … Really

Uncertainty got you down? The political world may seem like it’s crumbling around us, but this we know: We can make it, America. Literally, we can make things. Houses. Gardens. Food. Below we’ve selected some of our classic how-to and DIY books (and some new favorites) to help you sustain your self, family, and community. […] Read More

Chelsea Green on Instagram: Our Most Popular Photos of 2016

What a year for Chelsea Green on Instagram! We began the year with 500 followers and are now fast approaching 4,000 photo-loving brewers, gardeners, cheesemakers, permaculturists, foodies, seed-savers, homesteaders, foragers, and more. Our most popular posts of 2016 say a lot about what makes you happy: mushrooms, innovative garden designs and techniques, tiny cabins, and […] Read More

Slack and Taut: Defining a System’s Resilience

A resilient future (or a resilient present, for that matter) needs to be slack, not taut. What do we mean? Core to the concept of a Lean Economy is understanding the need to move toward a “slack” market rather than one that is “taut.” When British economist David Fleming died unexpectedly in 2010, he left […] Read More

What’s a Carbon Sink?

World leaders met in Marrakech this month as part of COP22, to discuss the next steps to reducing global climate emissions. One of the solutions being discussed is carbon farming. Author Eric Toensmeier participated in COP22, in part, because he literally wrote a book on it. First off – what is carbon farming? It’s a […] Read More
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