Rising concern on climate change
By Editorial Board,
RISING SEA levels threaten to inundate low-lying roads in Louisiana, costing billions in port activity, The Post’s Juliet Eilperin reports. Northrop Grumman sees potential damage to billions in shoreline defense infrastructure, such as the imperiled drydock in Hampton Roads built to construct the next generation of aircraft carriers. Other factors are also at work in these examples of rapid coastline loss. But Louisiana and Virginia offer a picture of how further sea-level rise and higher storm surges — just one set of climate-related risks — could seriously disrupt human activity.
America, meanwhile, is fixated on . . . paying an extra buck per gallon at the gas pump.
A recent report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) underscores how myopic the country’s energy debate is — and, consequently, how delinquent the United States has been in leading the world. The organization calculated that the world is on course to increase its carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2050. That’s because global energy use will increase by 80 percent by mid-century, with 85 percent of the energy mix coming from fossil fuels. That would likely raise global temperatures well past the target of 2 degrees Celsius, beyond which scientists say climate change could be extremely dangerous. It would also produce lethal amounts of air pollution, manifested in more heart attacks, asthma and other maladies.
Such a large problem sounds difficult to fight. It is — but more because of politics than a lack of clarity on what the right policy is. Carbon taxes or simple cap-and-trade systems encourage businesses and consumers to pollute less and to find alternatives, without the spectacle of government trying to pick which clean-energy technologies should win out. Ending fossil fuel subsidies would also save treasuries money and discourage pollution.
There will still be transition costs associated with these policies, which the OECD reckoned will increase over the course of this century. But the OECD is only the latest reputable, nonpartisan organization to explain that pricing pollution is more efficient than governmental micromanagement — the current policy, explicit or implied, of both political parties — and, given the wide range of risks and high uncertainty, much more attractive than doing nothing. The report noted that global warming could reduce average yearly consumption by 2 percent to more than 14 percent across the world this century — but, a spokesperson said, the estimates on the upper end of that range are more comprehensive, and the possibility of extreme or even catastrophic events argues that policymakers shouldn’t risk finding out what the exact figure is.
Timing also matters. The OECD reckons that continuing to slack on cutting emissions through 2020 — the current plan — would result in 50 percent higher costs in 2050 and could also enhance the risk of permanently damaging the environment.
Yet the only energy debate America seems capable of having during this election year revolves around whom to blame for higher gas prices and who can bring them down again. Neither of those is the first, second or even 10th question we’d ask of America’s leaders on energy.