A Tale of Risk and Calculus on the Front Lines of the Disrupted Global Economy
"Can keepers of the fossil flames ever be persuaded that we're all imperiled if we don't de-carbonize? Is it delusional to imagine building monetary bridges to a cleaner future, so that civilization—at least the civil parts of it, including everyone's job—might survive if we did? Is any government actually still in charge, as we face what's surely humanity's greatest challenge? We can be grateful that Mark Schapiro has navigated some dreaded territory—the arcana of global finance—to show with blessed clarity exactly where we are so far, what's failed and why, what might work, and where surprising hope lies."
—Alan Weisman, author of Gaviotas, The World Without Us, and Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth?
How Carbon Is Changing the Cost of Everything
As the world moves toward making more and more polluters pay to emit carbon, a financial mystery unfolds: What are the costs? Who has the responsibility to pay for them? Who do you pay? How do you pay? And what are the potential impacts?
These are the questions veteran journalist Mark Schapiro attempts to answer as he illuminates the struggle to pinpoint carbon's true costs and allocate them fairly—all while bumping up against the vagaries of the free market, the lobbying power of corporations, the political maneuverings of countries, and the tolerance of everyday consumers buying a cup of coffee, a tank of gas, or an airplane ticket.
Along the way, Schapiro tracks the cost of carbon through the drough-tridden farmland of California, where higher temperatures are driving up the price of the food we eat, the prices farmers pay for crop insurance, and the impact on taxpayers. Through the jungles of Brazil, where foreign polluters pay to keep trees standing—as offsets to absorb CO2—at a fraction of the cost they are worth to the struggling communities around them, who engage in logging or other uses. Through the world's greatest manufacturing center, asking who should pay for the pollution generated there—the Chinese who operate the factories or the Westerners who consume the goods they produce? Through the skies, where recent efforts to put a price tag on the carbon left by airplanes in the no-man's land of the atmosphere created what amounted to a quiet but powerful global trade war. Through the carbon-trading capital of Europe, where economists try to establish a price for a bizarre new commodity—a ton of carbon that will not be emitted—literally selling the air in an effort to curtail emissions. And, finally, through the high-tech crime world the new carbon markets have inspired, and the emerging nations that—as they amp up manufacturing, put more cars on their streets, and up their consumption—teeter on the brink of this wild, new carbon economy.
For almost two decades, the primary topic of global climate negotiations has been to find a way to pay for the costs of carbon, slow greenhouse gas emissions, and stimulate a shift away from fossil fuels in order to shrink the earth’s carbon footprint. The key tool to date—the international carbon trade—has foundered in a sea of questions deftly explored by Schapiro, and in the turmoil of a global recession. As we approach the next climate negotiations in 2015, will nations stick to business as usual? Or will the world come to terms with the real price for carbon, and figure out a sensible way to pay for it?