As an economist, I have a jaundice view of the COP21 agreement in which the world’s nations agreed to reduce climate changing pollution. My skepticism ties to a lack of price signals included in the agreement. My question is: Can the world can realize a green economic revolution that delivers less pollution plus economic growth without including the cost of pollution at the cash register, meter and pump?
However, the price of regulation is consumer disenfranchisement from the decision-making process. Consumers often view regulation as an intrusion by big government. With regulation comes complex rules that most consumers do not have the time or interest in understanding. The result is the questioning of regulation's efficiency and benefits by consumers and voters.
Most critically, regulation does not achieve consumer buy-in because consumers do not “own” the procurement decisions being made for them by government. Rather than being given pricing signals that allow consumers to evaluate more harmful products against less harmful products, the consumer is disenfranchised by regulations that mandate their decision. Using regulation rather than price signals to influence consumer procurement can generate consumer mistrust of business and government.
This is a reason why companies like BP, clean-tech innovators like Elon Musk and consumer product companies like Unilever all call for the price of goods and services to include a cost for carbon pollution. Today, selling less polluting goods and services faces a huge competitive disadvantage when goods and services with higher levels of pollution also have a lower price because the cost of their pollution is not reflected at the cash register, pump or meter. Companies with less polluting fuels, cars or soaps are at competitive disadvantage when their externality benefits are not price obvious when consumers are price comparison shopping.
Disastrous consequences are the result (like climate change or an obesity epidemic) from consumers not buying the goods or services that are best for their health, the environment and our economy because more polluting or fattening products have a lower price.
Economists are famous for using assumptions to remove an elephant in the room that retards their economic argument. I admit to doing so with this proposal. The political leadership of states that benefit from a carbon-intense economy would not support carbon pricing.
But the time may be on us where carbon-intense economic development has hit its growth wall. If a political consensus develops that ties job and economic growth to low-carbon innovation, then the door will open for the pricing of emissions to generate jobs and economic development.
Imagine the potential for economic growth, job creation and human health if the U.S., along with China and the European Union, agreed to a common pollution tax on all the products sold in their countries. Products that polluted more would costs more. Products that polluted less would cost less. With these three economic giants having a uniform and unified carbon price, no economic gains would be created or loss between these respective countries. No nation wishing to sell goods and services in these countries could ignore or discount their pollution to gain price-competitive advantage for their imports.
This single pricing step by the three economies that define more than 60 percent of the world’s annual gross domestic production would convey sales advantage to goods and services that pollute less and sales disadvantage to goods and services that pollute more. This would drive the world’s business community to massively re-gear around technology innovations that deliver price competitive, less polluting products. Consumer decision-making would shift as they see at the pump, meter and cash register the real price of products, including their pollution costs. The world, and the U.S., would be on an accelerated path toward a $250 trillion green economic revolution -- delivering more jobs, less pollution and a growing economy.
Image credit: Flickr/tales of a wandering youkai
Bill Roth is a cleantech business pioneer having led teams that developed the first hydrogen fueled Prius and a utility scale, non-thermal solar power plant. Using his CEO and senior officer experiences, Roth has coached hundreds of CEOs and business owners on how to develop and implement projects that win customers and cut costs while reducing environmental impacts. As a professional economist, Roth has written numerous books including his best selling The Secret Green Sauce (available on Amazon) that profiles proven sustainable best practices in pricing, marketing and operations. His most recent book, The Boomer Generation Diet (available on Amazon) profiles his humorous personal story on how he used sustainable best practices to lose 40 pounds and still enjoy Happy Hour!