Chelsea Green Publishing

Chelsea Green Blog

Peter Barnes: The Atmosphere Is a Commons

The following is an excerpt from Climate Solutions: A Citizen’s Guide by Peter Barnes. It has been adapted for the web.

In 2006, NASA’s top climate scientist warned that we have at most a decade to turn the tide on global warming. After that, James Hansen said, all bets are off. Temperature rises of 3 to 7 degrees Farenheit will “produce a different planet.”

If Hansen is right—and most scientists think he is— then every year lost is a year closer to the precipice. In more positive terms, we have one last chance—but only one chance—to save the planet.

This guide is about that last chance. Its two premises are:

  1. the climate crisis must be solved now, and
  2. popular understanding is a pre-requisite to getting a solution that actually solves the problem.

We have one last chance—but only one chance—to save the planet.

What’s the problem? For many decades, human emissions of greenhouse gases have exceeded the atmosphere’s capacity to safely absorb them. We need an economy-wide system to reduce those emissions
steadily and surely. If a policy doesn’t create such a system, it may be helpful, but it won’t be enough.

The atmosphere itself is a commons—a gift of creation to all. It performs many vital planetary functions, including climate maintenance. The trouble is, we humans—and especially we Americans—are disturbing it with our pollution. Even though we know we’re doing this, we don’t stop. Indeed, we can’t stop as long as our current system for using the atmosphere persists.

That system—first come, first served, no limits and no prices—is clearly dysfunctional. One alternative is rationing—limit total use and give everyone equal usage rights. Rationing worked during two World Wars, but we’re loath to use it again—we prefer market mechanisms to government chits. Such a preference is fine, but it doesn’t change the fact that we need an economy-wide system to reduce atmospheric disturbance. The design of that system is what the debate is about.

Here are a few principles that can help us think about that design:

  1. The simpler a system is, the more likely it is to work.
  2. The fairer a system is, the more likely it is to last.
  3. In the future, polluters should pay for the right to pollute.

That third principle is particularly important because, when all is said and done, the debate about system design is a debate about who will pay whom.

Many large and powerful companies—what I call the legacy industries—are happy with the arrangement in which polluters pay nothing. But pollution has real costs, and if we want to fix the climate crisis, someone must pay them. If polluters don’t, the rest of us will. We’ll pay them in the form of higher energy prices, and the extra money we pay will reduce our disposable incomes substantially.

Related Posts:


How to Make Biochar

Doing some spring cleaning around your property? By making biochar from brush and other hard-to-compost organic material, you can improve soil—it enhances nutrient availability and also enables soil to retain nutrients longer. This excerpt from The New Farmer’s Almanac, Volume 3, explains how to get started. To make biochar right in your garden, start by […] Read More

The 10 Steps that Establish Your Baby’s Microbiome

Research is emerging almost daily on the role of the microbiome in human health. But how do we acquire this mysterious community of microbes and more importantly how do we make sure the good bacteria outnumber the bad? According to a new book by Toni Harman and Alex Wakeford, Your Baby’s Microbiome, it all starts […] Read More

Prepare! Keep a Grab-n-Go Survival Kit Handy

Are you prepared in the event of a sudden emergency? Blizzard, earthquake, insurrection after the inauguration? We know a lot of people are wondering what’s coming next in the US, as well as the world, given terrorism, politics, and global warming, among other threats. In this excerpt from When Technology Fails, a popular book on […] 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
+1
Tweet
Share
Share
Pin