Thursday, December 26, 2013

Climate change denial and Russian roulette

Here's a comment I just posted in Care2 under the article:

The question of climate change comes down to probabilities and balancing risks versus benefits. My understanding of the IPCC predictions is there is a 2/3 chance that things will get very bad by the end of this century. The far end of the bell curve is a one-in-six chance of conditions becoming catastrophic.

The climate change deniers seem to focus on the near end of the curve, the one-in-six chance that things won't be too bad after all. A gun with one empty chamber and five bullets is not very good odds if you're going to play Russian roulette.

Climate scientist James Hansen has called for a global carbon tax with the proceeds to be distributed to everyone (he calls it fee-and-dividend). I have posted a petition calling for a worldwide referendum on such a global carbon tax on Care2. You can view it and,hopefully, put your name to it, at

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

IPCC underestimating extreme climate change

I came across an interesting item recently about Martin Weitzman, a Harvard economist who specializes in the economics of catastrophes, among other things.

According to Weitzman, the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) has grossly underestimated the severity of the low probability alternatives in its climate forecasts.

IPCC is predicting that doubling the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere could yield temperature increases of 3.5F (2 C) to 8F (4.5 C) by the end of this century, with a best guess of about 5.5F (3 C). That's with a two-thirds probability – the peak of the bell curve.

That's scarey enough, but when we look at the tails of the bell curve, things get even more disconcerting.

According to Weitzman, there is a five per cent probability of warming greater than 18F (10 C) by the end of this century and a one per cent probability of warming greater than 36F (20 C).
Temperature increases in those ranges would render much of the Earth's surface uninhabitable by human beings.

Climate scientists James Hansen has called for a global carbon tax to control global warming, with the proceeds distributed to everyone as a social dividend or basic income grant.

I have posted a petition on Care2 calling for a worldwide referendum on such a carbon tax. You can view the petition (and hopefully sign it) at

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Many have argued that a carbon tax, especially a global carbon tax, would be a good way to help control global warming. But what would be the best way to use the money collected?

Climate scientist James Hansen has suggested there should be a global carbon tax with the proceeds distributed to everyone – in other words, give everyone a social dividend or a basic income grant (BIG).

This is a serious amount of money we're talking about. A global carbon tax similar to British Columbia’s at $30 per tonne of carbon dioxide would generate about $600 billion per year.

Assuming there are 5 billion adults (aged 18 and over) in the world, such a tax would result in a social dividend of about $120 per person per year – effectively doubling the annual income of hundreds of millions of people.
Recently, your editor has been reading “Basic Income Worldwide: Horizons of Reform‚” edited by Matthew C. Murray and Carole Pateman.

One chapter discusses a trial basic income grant (BIG) of N$100 per month (about $10 US or Canadian) given out to all 930 residents under age 60 of Otjivero, a small village in Namibia, in 2008 and 2009.

Namibia has the highest measured income disparity in the world – there are a few who are very wealthy, and a great many who are extremely poor, and Otjivero is one of the poorest villages.

The results of the trial were striking. The unemployment rate dropped from 60 per cent to 40 per cent. Many people started their own businesses as the BIG provided start-up capital and created demand.

Average income per capita went, in one year, from N$118 to N$152. The percentage of malnourished children went from 42 per cent to 17 per cent in six months, and to effectively zero in one year.

The drop-out rate at the school went from 30 to 40 per cent to five per cent within six months and to zero at the end of the first year. Better nutrition for the students meant a turnaround in behavior and performance.

The number of children in pre-school went from 13 to 52.

The overall crime rate went down by 36.5 per cent.

People enlarged their shanties from an average of 2.6 rooms (baseline) to 3.3 after one year. One-fifth indicated they had improved their roofs.

These people were still very poor at the end of the trial, but the data indicates that they were also much better off than they would have been otherwise.

Distributing the money raised by a global carbon tax as a social dividend to all the people of the world would create an enormous market for small-scale, alternative energy technologies. It would be relatively simple to administer and cheating would be difficult.

It would do a great deal to lessen world income disparities. And it would help compensate those whose lives and livelihoods are threatened by the risk of climate change.

I have posted a petition on Care2 that calls for a global carbon tax and a worldwide basic income grant. You can view the petition (and hopefully sign it) at:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

I has just finished reading The Case for a Carbon Tax: Getting Past our Hang-ups to Effective Climate Policy by Shi-Ling Hsu.The author was a professor at the UBC Faculty of Law when he wrote the book. He presently is a professor at Florida State University.

In the book, Dr. Hsu compares four different mechanisms to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide our civilization is putting into the atmosphere and concludes that a carbon tax is best.

Command and control means setting some maximum amount of pollution that a factory or some other polluter can produce. Any amount above that maximum is penalized. These maximums are generally somewhat arbitrarily based on the abatement technology available at the time. Once in place there is no incentive reduce emissions below the maximum. Compliance involves constant monitoring and litigation.

Although there are variations, cap and trade is in some ways similar to command and control in that maximum amounts of pollution are set for each polluter. Those that produce less than their maximum can then trade that amount to polluters who are above their maximum.
Theoretically, cap and trade works well. In reality, however, experience has shown that it's too easy to cheat. Hsu gives as an example refrigerant plants in China that make more money through carbon credits than they do from the actual product they sell.
The Kyoto Protocol is based largely on cap and trade, which is one reason why it has not been working.

Government subsidies are a third option. One problem with this approach is it requires politicians and bureaucrats to pick winners and losers, rather than the marketplace. Government is better at reducing “bads” than it is at increasing “goods”, Hsu observes.

The fourth mechanism, a carbon tax, is simple to implement because fossil fuels – coal, natural gas and oil – are easy to track and measure. Implementing a carbon tax on gasoline in British Columbia, for example, was a trivial problem because federal and provincial taxes were already collected at the fuel pump.

A carbon tax directly rewards and punishes the behaviours we want to encourage and discourage – if you are frugal with fossil fuels you pay less, if you are wasteful, you pay more.
The biggest problem with implementing a carbon tax seems to be that it is a tax, Hsu says, and no one wants to pay another tax.
Another criticism has been that it is regressive – that it taxes the poor more heavily than the rich. Real-life studies have found this is not the case, says Hsu. The very poor, those living on the streets, use little or no fossil fuels directly. They also have alternatives they can use. The very wealthy, on the other hand, have multiple vehicles, yachts, several homes around the world, and private jets. Many of the very wealthy have investments in fossil fuel companies, and so would pay carbon taxes that way.

I put a petition calling for a global carbon tax on Care2 in July. Recently, Roz Savage, a woman who rowed across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans to call for an end to global warming, put her name on it (she doesn't appear to be afraid of anything). If you want to check it out, the address is .

Monday, August 5, 2013

Global carbon tax petition

I have posted a petition on Care2 that calls for a worldwide referendum on a global carbon tax. You can view the petition here.