Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Going post-carbon: just do it, already!


Last week I wrote of the simple math compelling us to transition from our current, carbon-based lifestyle to a carbon-free economy, as soon as possible. The bad news is we’ve already found more than enough fossil fuel reserves to push our climate far past the red line, if we extract and burn them all. The good news is we are perfectly capable of transforming our energy supply to a better one, just as we have done many times in the past. We need only decide on a course, commit to it, and invest our resources accordingly.
First we must resolve not to dig any further into the hole we find ourselves in now. That means not locking in further fossil burning with new infrastructure like pipelines or refineries. It means companies like Exxon, which alone spends $100 million every day unearthing new fossil fuel reserves we must never burn, need to shift their investment strategies and become energy creators rather than fossil fuel extractors.
Although we can’t change the climate math which prohibits burning all this fossil carbon, we can change the economic math that encourages it. Right now, unique among industries, coal, oil, and gas companies are permitted to dump their waste into our air for free. So why wouldn’t they? Yet with a fee on carbon emissions, their bottom line analysis would change. Suddenly the efficiency with which they extract or process fuel would become more important to their profits, and finding carbon-free ways to provide energy would become more lucrative. Renewable energy like solar, wind, deep geothermal or wave power would be able to compete on a level playing field, instead of requiring “green” subsidies to offset the massive subsidies ($1.9 trillion per year) the fossil fuel industry enjoys world-wide.
And as I’ve written before (and British Columbia has proven), a carbon fee does no harm to the economy, so long as it’s returned to us through tax cuts or a citizens dividend. Each industry that feels a pinch is balanced by another that gets a boost, while innovation and job-creation expand overall.
Another measure we can adopt is divestment. Pension funds and the endowments of public institutions like colleges and churches typically hold a generous share of fossil energy stocks. By using our influence as stakeholders, we can demand those overseeing our future financial security stop investing our money in industries threatening our future health and food security. Studies have shown this needn’t reduce returns, and in fact the growing consensus toward carbon fees means these stocks won’t be such a good investment in future anyway, so offloading them now is a wise step to reduce financial and climate risk.
What can you do? Remove fossil fuel companies from your own savings. Visit gofossilfree.org for tools on how to persuade your church, college, or public pension to divest. And support politicians at all levels who stand for putting a fair fee on carbon and returning the money to taxpayers. Together, we can build a secure and prosperous carbon-free future.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner under the title "There are ways to create carbon-free future". And, inexplicably, posted to their website with a photo of some cattle standing in a field.
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.

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