Jeffrey Sachs has a outstanding new book out called The Price of Civilization. The title of the book refers to remarks made by US Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who spoke of the need for citizens of a country, who enjoyed the benefits of living in that country, to pay the price to support that civilization.
Sachs provides a thoughtful, cogent analysis of challenges facing America, and how to address those challenges. The book has a clean straightforward jargon-free narrative that is balanced and has elements that will appeal to conservatives, independents and progressives alike – though each group will find things to disagree with, there is much that will be embraced.
Sachs looks at the nature of America, through the lens of democracy, fairness, civic virtue, compassion, and happiness, and asks the question “What is our role in the 21st century?”
Sachs is the Director of The Earth Institute, Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development, and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University.
Here’s Sachs being interviewed by Charlie Rose, about The Price of Civilization.
Here’s Sachs in the middle of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, taking questions from reporters. Sachs is articulate, plain speaking and clearly frustrated with the faltering state of the nation and the cozy monied relationship between government and big business.
On a related note, Charles M. Blow had an excellent graphic from the Bertelsmann Stiftung foundation report “Social Justice in the OECD — How Do the Member States Compare?” It helps give some context to issues driving the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations and challenges facing America.
Subsidies and tax breaks are a tried and true way of helping a developing industry get up on its feet.
One of the strategies to accelerate a transition to cleaner greener renewable energy sources is to subsidize research development, and production of renewable energy sources, such as wind power, solar power, geothermal, etc.
Free market advocates often say that the emerging renewable energy industry should not be subsidized. What is not widely know though, is that subsidies for well established fossil fuels exceed renewables by almost six to one.
Research by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Environmental Law Institute reveals that the lion’s share of energy subsidies supported energy sources that emit high levels of greenhouse gases (GHGs). The study, which reviewed fossil fuel and energy subsidies for Fiscal Years 2002-2008, showed that the federal government spent about $70 billion on the fossil fuel industry, and about $12 billion on renewables. As the report points out:
Moreover, just a handful of tax breaks make up the largest portion of subsidies for fossil fuels, with the most significant of these, the Foreign Tax Credit, supporting the overseas production of oil. More than half of the subsidies for renewables are attributable to corn-based ethanol, the use of which, while decreasing American reliance on foreign oil, has generated concern about climate effects.These figures raise the question of whether scarce government funds might be better allocated to move the United States towards a low-carbon economy.
N.B. Carbon capture and storage is a developing technology that would allow coal-burning utilities to capture and store their carbon dioxide emissions. Although this technology does not make coal a renewable fuel, if successful it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to coal plants that do not use this technology. The production and use of corn ethanol can generate significant greenhouse gas emissions. Recognizing that the production and use of corn-based ethanol may generate significant greenhouse gas emissions, the data depict renewable subsidies both with and without ethanol subsidies.
Fossil fuel extraction is increasingly toxic (e.g. fracking poisons public water systems) and environmentally destructive (e.g. gulf oil “spill”). And fossil fuel production seems to be hitting a Peak Oil wall. As production lags demand, we should expect oil and gas prices to rise precipitously. Subsidizing oil keeps us addicted to it.
Three of the top 5 biggest companies in the world are oil companies (Exxon, BP, Royal Dutch Shell). Rather than subsidize Big Oil profits and foreign oil nations, we should be taxing fossil fuels to reduce their use. Tax what we want to reduce, and subsidize what we want to increase. Tax what harms us, and subsidize what helps us. Use the taxes to fund R&D and development of a world class alternative energy industry.
Obviously, that means politicians will need to resist the monied special interests of the Big Oil lobby.
The extreme rain pummeling Southern California mirrors extreme weather incidents around the globe. Should the heavy rain in California persist, as the soil becomes saturated, mudslides and flooding follow.
The video below shows an example of the results of extreme rain. A mudslide in Maierato, Calabria, Italy results as the soil becomes saturated with rain. Liquefaction of the land occurs – the earth, rock and soil flow like a river, carrying trees, homes, anything on the surface down hill. The video is visually astonishing.
As climate change progresses, weather extremes increase. New records are increasingly set for heat, cold, drought, and rain. Climate models predict an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme rainfall events.
Sh!t Rolls Downhill
Insurance companies were some of the early businesses embracing climate change models and planning for how to mitigate losses. Weather related losses are growing exponentially. Just as with earthquake insurance, as insurance companies limit their exposure to losses due to climate change and extreme weather, property owners will be forced to make choices on whether to pay higher insurance premiums or go uninsured. Faced with extremely expensive premiums, only about 12% of California property owners choose to pay for earthquake insurance. When an extreme event happens, the property owner often ends up with the loss.
In California, Climate Change is especially pernicious. During summer, persistent warming and drought lead to wildfires and denude the land, then, during the winter months, extreme rain sets the stage for disastrous mudslides and flooding.
Coincidentally, the US Geological Survey (USGS) just announced that they are about to release an emergency preparedness plan for extreme storms:
The USGS Multi Hazards Demonstration Project (MHDP) is preparing to release a new emergency-preparedness scenario, called ARkStorm, to address massive U.S. West Coast storms analogous to those that devastated California in 1861–62. Storms of this magnitude are projected to become more frequent and intense as a result of climate change.
The MHDP has assembled experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), USGS, Scripps Institute of Oceanography, the State of California, California Geological Survey, the University of Colorado, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), California Department of Water Resources, California Emergency Management Agency (CalEMA) and other organizations to design the large, but scientifically plausible, hypothetical storm scenario that would provide emergency responders, resource managers, and the public a realistic assessment of what is historically possible.
California’s Storm of the Century
Beginning on Christmas Eve, 1861, and continuing into early 1862, an extreme series of storms lasting 45 days struck California. The storms caused severe flooding, turning the Sacramento Valley into an inland sea, forcing the State Capital to be moved from Sacramento to San Francisco for a time, and requiring Governor Leland Stanford to take a rowboat to his inauguration.
William Brewer, author of “Up and down California,” wrote on January 19, 1862, “The great central valley of the state is under water—the Sacramento and San Joaquin valleys—a region 250 to 300 miles long and an average of at least twenty miles wide, or probably three to three and a half millions of acres!”
In southern California lakes were formed in the Mojave Desert and the Los Angeles Basin. The Santa Ana River tripled its highest-ever estimated discharge, cutting arroyos into the southern California landscape and obliterating the ironically named Agua Mansa (Smooth Water), then the largest community between New Mexico and Los Angeles. The storms wiped out nearly a third of the taxable land in California, leaving the State bankrupt.
Here’s a drawing of Sacramento in 1862, after the storm.
My wife just emailed me this great story. A compelling retrospective of Charles David Keeling, the scientist who measured the steadily increasing level of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, transforming the scientific understanding of humanity’s relationship with the earth.
As Congress dithers with political inaction on climate change and investment in renewable energy, this article provides a window into the quiet work of scientists around the world who say something extraordinary is going on.
I hope you will take 5 minutes and read every word. This is our history and our future.
Keeling died in 2005, but his son Ralph continues in his footsteps. Here’s a picture of the Keeling Curve – the history of atmospheric CO2 – measured by Keeling, starting back in 1958.
As atmospheric CO2 has increased, so has global temperature.
And with rising temperatures, we are seeing increases in extreme weather events.
For more on Climate Change, click on the Climate Change topic in the sidebar to the right.
For more on Charles David Keeling, see his biography at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
Watch this video. It’s encouraging to see a Republican politician take a risk, saying climate change is a serious problem and the US needs to become a leader in innovating solutions.
Yesterday morning, at a House subcommittee hearing on climate change, outgoing Republican representative Bob Inglis challenged his Republican colleagues to stop mocking scientists, get busy tackling climate change, and put the US in a leadership position on innovating solutions.
A ThinkProgress analysis found that 50 percent of the incoming freshman GOP class deny the existence of manmade climate change, while a shocking 86 percent are opposed to any legislation to address climate change that increases government revenue. Meanwhile, all of the Republicans vying to chair the House Energy Committee — which handles climate and energy issues — in the new Congress are climate change deniers. They include Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), who infamously apologized to BP shortly after the company’s catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico this summer.
Here’s the transcript of Rep. Bob Inglis remarks, to the House subcommittee hearing on climate change
I’m very excited to be here Mr. Chairman, because this is on the record. And it’s a wonderful thing about Congressional hearings — they’re on the record. Kim Beaszley who’s Australia’s ambassador to the United States tells me that when he runs into a climate skeptic, he says to them, “Make sure to say that very publicly, because I want our grandchildren to read what you said and what I said. And so, we’re on the record, and our grandchildren, or great-grandchildren, are going to read. And so some are here suggesting to those children that here’s a deal: Your child is sick — this is what Tom Friedman gave me this great analogy yesterday — Your child is sick. 98 doctors say treat him this way. Two say no, this other way is the way to go. I’ll go with the two. You’re taking a big risk with those kids. Because 98 of the doctors say, “Do this thing,” two say, “Do the other.” So, it’s on the record.
And we’re here with important decision to be made. And I would also suggest to my Free Enterprise colleagues — especially conservatives here — whether you think it’s all a bunch of hooey, what we’ve talked about in this committee, the Chinese don’t. And they plan on eating our lunch in this next century. They plan on innovating around these problems, and selling to us, and the rest of the world, the technology that’ll lead the 21st century. So we may just press the pause button here for several years, but China is pressing the fast-forward button. And as a result, if we wake up in several years and we say, “geez, this didn’t work very well for us. The two doctors didn’t turn out to be so right. 98 might have been the ones to listen to.” then what we’ll find is we’re way behind those Chinese folks. ‘Cuz you know, if you got a certain number of geniuses in the population — if you’re one in a million in China, there’s 1300 of you. And you know what?
They plan on leading the future. So whether you — if you’re a free enterprise conservative here — just think: it’s a bunch of hooey, this science is a bunch of hooey. But if you miss the commercial opportunity, you’ve really missed something. And so, I think it’s great to be here on the record. I think it’s great to see the opportunity we’ve got ahead of us. And, I also — since this is sort of a swan song for me and Mr. Barrett I’d encourage scientists who are listening out there to get ready for the hearings that are coming up in the next Congress. Those will be difficult hearings for climate scientists. But, I would encourage you to welcome those as fabulous opportunities to teach.