Year 3, Month 11, Day 15: Looking Through A Bent-Backed Tulip

The New York Times has an Op-Ed from a guy named Dieter Helm, who argues for a Carbon Tax:

Europe’s “answer” to global warming is wind farms and other current renewables. But the numbers won’t ever add up. It just isn’t possible to reduce carbon emissions much with small-scale disaggregated wind turbines. There isn’t enough land for biofuels, even if corn-based ethanol were a good idea (a questionable proposition). Current renewable-energy sources cannot bridge the gap if we are to move away from carbon-intensive energy production. So we will need new technologies while in the meantime slowing the coal juggernaut.

There are three sensible ways to do this: tax carbon consumption (including imports); accelerate the switch from coal to gas; and support and finance new technologies rather than pouring so much money into wind and biofuels.

Putting a price on carbon is fundamental. If consumers and businesses do not bear the cost of their carbon pollution, they won’t do much about it. This carbon price should not discriminate between locations: global warming is global. If China does not put a price on carbon, and Europe does, then China will effectively receive a huge export subsidy.

The good news is that many new energy technologies are coming down the track: next-generation solar, geothermal and even nuclear technologies, and methods to harness the energy of gravity via the ocean’s tides. There have been major breakthroughs in solar. Work is also under way to develop better energy-storing batteries, smart grids and electric cars. All of those advancements will need public support.

What is missing across Europe, the United States and China is a global agreement on a proper carbon price. More than any other measure, a tax on carbon consumption is what’s needed to slow the warming of the planet.

Anyone listening? Sent November 12:

At the beginning of the twentieth century, horses provided much of our local transportation. The early adopters of automobiles faced ridicule, absurd legal constraints, and an economy that was slanted against the needs of drivers. But eventually equestrian transport moved from a cultural default setting to something far more specialized, and now a ride in a horse-drawn carriage is a secular ritual for important or sentimental occasions. Naturally, it’s more expensive than it was a century ago.

Similarly, consider coal. For centuries our civilization has been burning these conveniently flammable rocks with profligate disregard both for their antiquity and their damaging effects on our health and our planetary environment. It is time for us to offer coal an honorable retirement, and focus on energy sources of our own time rather than the concentrated sunlight of the Carboniferous Era. A carbon tax is a great way to begin this transformation.

Warren Senders

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