Carbon Markets Clear the Air

CC_logo_small.jpgAs the public debate continues on whether greenhouse gases contribute to global warming or whether we are going through a natural cycle, enormous political pressure and investment dollars are streaming into the solutions aspect of the debate. Discussions in North America on environmental policy and economic benefits are steaming ahead at all levels of government and in the corporate board room.
Putting the debate aside, creating a carbon market that stimulates activity to address climate change provides everyone an opportunity to participate. Whether it is cap and trade, carbon taxes or carbon tariffs, a business case will drive change especially if the end consumer does its talking with its wallet.

Remember the 1980’s acid rain directives and its positive effect on our environment? A call to action not only addressed the pressing issue of air emissions particularly in the Great Lakes region, but presented a solid business case to corporations. This movement, like climate change, drove companies to become more efficient in their operations, leading to improved environmental performance overall. Significant economic gains were made asl well dueto technological solutions.
The same opportunity can be seen with the climate change movement. Not only can we reduce greenhouse gases but many of the technology solutions and behavioural changes in our day to day activities that are encouraged by a carbon-constrained economy will also reduce criteria air contaminants (CAC). This category includes some nasty emissions, such as lead and other chemical soups with names that I don’t dare to attempt to say or spell! These chemical contribute to smog, respiratory issues and various illnesses and discomforts.
The buck stops when the consumer’s awareness and behaviour means they are being more selective. If climate change and carbon markets are the mechanism to address GHGs but also directly reduce other air pollution contaminants we face as a society, I say “I’m all in”.
Don’t let the public debate and political posturing cloud the issue. An economic stimulus is required to invoke significant change that will have widespread environmental benefits beyond greenhouse gases. Carbon markets fit the bill.

2 responses

  1. “the public debate continues on whether greenhouse gases contribute to global warming or whether we are going through a natural cycle”
    Is there really any debate? The greenhouse effect (which is not the same as global warming) is a simple physical effect whose properties are well understood and have been for centuries. An 18th century chemist who noted that his countrymen were “evaporating their coal mines into the air) made a rough calculation of what would happen to temperatures globally if atmospheric CO2 levels doubled.
    Today we have excellent evidence from ice cores that CO2 and temperature correlate closely, and every simulation indicates that CO2 leads to warming. In more recent years we have found that the fraction of man-made CO2 being absorbed by forests and oceans is declining, and that the oceans are beginning to acidify from the CO2 they have absorbed. Natural cycles happen on the scale of thousands and tens of thousands of years, not decades.
    Not to mention that the economic potential of non-fossil fuel energy is far greater than anything fossil fuels have ever offered. There is six times as much energy the the world’s uranium reserves than in all its remaining fossil fuel reserves. There is 3 times as much energy in the world’s thorium reserves (which could be accessed with reactor designs similar to those which use uranium but which could use a fuel cycle producing much less nuclear waste) as in uranium reserves. If and when we achieve a self-sustaining fusion reaction, we could make use of the world’s deuterium, which is more abundant still.
    And consider this: buildings cover about 3 percent of the earth’s land surface. This means that averaged over a year, about one petawatt of power is landing on our homes and businesses. If we covered all of our buildings with even 10% efficient solar cells (most home systems today are 20% and commercial solar thermal electric systems can reach over 40%) , and if we turned it all into hydrogen by electrolyzing water at 50% efficiency (and we can easily achieve 70% with existing technology) and use the hydrogen in 50% efficient fuel cells to power our homes and cars and trucks (current car fuel cells are already 60% efficient), we would have 25 terrawatts of electricity available. Current world electricity consumption is under 2 terrawatts, leaving more than enough extra fuel hydrogen to power our vehicles (which today consume only another 2-3 terrawatts, after you account for the inefficiency of gasoline and diesel burning the way I have accounted for the inefficiency of hydrogen production and use). We would have 5 times as much energy as we currently need. Every number here is a conservative estimate based on proven, extant technologies. And as time goes on the technology can only improve and get cheaper per watt, so that without devoting even one square meter of additional land to power production, we can have as much energy as we need or want for the foreseeable future.
    The economic and technological problems that stand in the way of us are not that difficult. The potential for economic advancement is much greater than anything we have ever seen before. It is mostly political complacence and inertia, and the ability of spin by governments and companies to affect what we believe, that stand in our way.

  2. Without going line by line on this, I think it is safe to say that we agree on most points. That said, there does seem to be some remaining debate. For instance, The Heartland Institute puts a lot of money and time towards positioning climate change as an alarmist issue. We are also likely to continue feeling the effects of the millions of dollars Exxon put into organizations designed to engender doubt of climate change science long after that money ceases to be allocated. The point is, do not consider the fight over just because the science is in. The additional point of this blog is that the science matters less than potential benefits of carbon-constraining policy. The upside is so large and multi-faceted, it appears to justify itself.

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