Saturday, July 4, 2015

We need to fix global warming now

We are currently witnessing the hottest year on record in the history of man. 1 This is so apparent since we are witnessing heat waves in South Asia right now as I write this and the Pacific Northwest is receiving heat wave warnings, like I received earlier today. I have never received a heat wave warning before in my life here in the Great State of Washington on the West side. We received no snow last winter, which was extremely unusual and I am personally scared of a drought in the near future. We get most of our water from groundwater here which has never been a problem before, but this would become a problem in the future if we continue to see lower levels of snow.

There is no time to waste, and the longer we wait the worse it is going to become. All of the predictions say so. According to we can still fix global warming, and research has demonstrated this is possible.

I also do not see the connection between how this would shut down innovation to go to a more sustainable economy. The economy has not always been structured the way it is today and there is no reason to assume it will remain so in the future. With the development of electric cars by Tesla motors and other car companies it is clear to me that we can develop sustainable technologies, and with recycling significantly reduce our impact on global warming. The real danger to our economy is if we do not address climate change. The reduction in labor and deaths of millions will definitely cause a reduction in GDP and GDP per capita growth at that point is irrelevant because people are dying right now in the massive heat waves in South Asia.

Whether it is reversible is right now a big question which is not clearly answered. It is clear that to reverse global warming will take more than just shutting off our consumption of carbon (which is essential if we are to survive) 2 but what this study left out is if we pursued policies to actively reverse global warming and deacidify the oceans.

A little good news is that we have seen reductions in carbon emissions since 2000. This has been due mostly to moving from coal to natural gas for electricity production. 3 and 4 we see switching onto natural gas as well as a reduction in demand for oil as the major contributing factors to reduce ourcarbon emissions. Every state but Iowa has seen a decrease in per capita carbon emissions. We have seen a 8.3% decline in total carbon emissions nationwide, which translates to a 16.9% total carbon emissions per capita decline from 2000 to 2011. (the latest year for which I find data) This is a very important trend, and we need to make it continue into the future.

When designing policies, we need to work alongside market forces in order to maximize our potential gain. Working against supply and demand create unintended consequences which reduce the effectiveness of policies.

There are big actions we can do right now  as a society to stop global warming. Individual actions are helpful, and if you can afford a Tesla and have something to charge it with, that is a wonderful thing to do, but small actions alone will not be enough to reverse global warming. The question of whether we can is currently hotly debated in the scientific community, but there are a few major things we can do as a planet to stop global warming.

  1. Tax Carbon. This is the best way to fight global warming right now. It will increase the cost on utility companies which get their power from non-renewables (which is the single largest contributor to global warming in the United States) 5 and make it more expensive to use gasoline to get between places, giving electric cars an advantage. Carbon taxes are more effective than cap and trade policies at reducing emissions because they tax the entire amount of carbon emitted, not just part of it.
  2. Increase grants for research which connects to energy use. One of the most important fields today which needs investment is battery power. With our devices today almost everything has become smaller and more efficient, but batteries are relatively primitive. Increasing their efficiency will reduce the demand for electricity which will help reduce carbon emissions in areas which get their power from fossil fuels. We need to continue research into solar panels as well.
  3. Increase subsidies for renewable energy and efficiency. We already have a substantial amount of money going towards renewable energy and efficiency 6 but we can still invest more money.
  4. Increase the amount of money going towards science education. In order to face the challenges of global warming and have the engineers and scientists to analyze these issues, be it from my perspective as a young political economist or as an engineer, we need to have more people with the education and the tool sets to fully combat the problems we have today. Without that human capital we won't get the ingenuity we need to save our world. We need to work with teachers in developing effective teaching methods for all sciences (mathematics, natural sciences, and social sciences) so that as many students as possible can grow to love and understand these fields so they can go on to have excellent careers healing our world. The rest of my points will not happen without a large number of people who have the tool sets to fix these problems.
The overall plan is to increase the cost of using carbon intensive ways of transportation and electricity generation and at the same time reduce the cost of renewables to a point where they are the economically viable option. We have seen significant decreases in the cost of solar over the last few years, and with the right policies and innovation both public and private we can push the price down even further. Then we will see a massive increase in renewable energy as soon as they are less expensive than carbon emitting technologies. This is the ticket to building a sustainable world, and do it faster than alternative ways.

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