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Low Hanging Fruit in Addressing Climate Change


In another blog I criticized one of the favored approaches to reduce carbon emissions in the US. So as to not get the inevitable “What is your solution” here is one. In 1996 when climate change became a visible issue there were about 2.9 billion of us world wide. Today there are just shy of 7 billion of us. Each of us generates carbon emissions. Doubling the numbers of us all other things equal doubles the carbon emissions. Do we need seven billion people? Not only do we generate carbon we are consuming ever greater amounts of the planets resources.

.There are a number of estimates of how much a person generates in carbon emissions but using recent government originated data for the US the average person generates 5 metric tons of carbon emission per year. For each of us with a life expectancy of 60 years that is about 300 tons per lifetime. A decline in our population of just 10% would reduce carbon emissions by something close to 30 million tons a year. That is a massive reduction in carbon (and a pressure relief on our global resources). For reference the entire coal fired infrastructure of the US generates 1.9 billion tons of carbon emissions per year

Not only do we not look to population reduction as an element of climate change mitigation, we subsidize having children. Our tax deductions and credits favor having children. The costs of rearing them have been increasingly transferred to the society at large rather than remaining with the parent (health care, education and the like). Perhaps as a first step we could at least be tax neutral about children and let market forces drive choice about the number in a given family.

Now there are other nations on our planet that have taken step to actively limit population growth. Of course that is a significant intrusion by the stare in things that are generally considered personal. I would submit that many of the proposed solutions to mitigate climate change are also very intrusive on personal choice. Why is limiting children not just considered one more such approach?

Returning our population to a level consistent with the point where climate change was identified as a problem (1960s) we could reduce our carbon emissions by an amount equal to half the emissions from our coal fired plants. Combining such an initiative with a responsible program to replace coal and we could essentially eradicate the contribution of coal to climate change without massive impact on our economy.

Why is population reduction off the table if the climate change problem is so dire that some of us want to imprison our elected officials for inaction? Are we serious or are the only solutions proffered those that redistribute income to favored parts of the electorate and disproportionally punish coal burning states (why are so many red) for burning coal?


Chris Golledge 5 years, 5 months ago

The earth is finite. It can support a finite number of people. So, at some point, population will level off one way or another. A healthy environment can support more people than a degraded one. It will be easier to deal with the population problem in a stable environment than a destabilized one. Population going up and carrying capacity staying level is one kind of problem; population going up, and carrying capacity going down is another.

You are sitting in a climate controlled building with all the fresh water and food you need readily available, and you are complaining about the fairness of a proposed solution that represents a few percentage points of your income. Meanwhile, millions of people elsewhere, who have not reaped hardly any of the benefits of our carbon-based energy, are finding food costs rising from somewhere in the vicinity of half their income to all or more of their income. Millions of people living in areas like Bangladesh will find the land they live on slowly inundated with seawater. Fairness has nothing to do with it.

George Lippencott 5 years, 5 months ago

If you are going to get 300 million Americans to do what you want, I would submit fairness has everything to do with it. To bring the world to my level will introduce way too much carbon. I submit we will not accept going to their level until the planet makes us - (if it does) Rant on!!!

Chris Golledge 5 years, 5 months ago

What the heck makes you think that getting people to have fewer kids is a low-hanging fruit compared to getting the to spend a little more on energy?

George Lippencott 5 years, 5 months ago

I never suggested either or. My alternative to a carbon tax, which you now admit is an effort to punish us (US citiznes) for our very success which of course is my point, is a general tax increase on everyone with the resources directed toward addressing the highest carbon sources. It is called prioritization as oppoes to throwing money broadly.

jafs 5 years, 5 months ago

The title of your blog is "Low hanging fruit", which suggests that you consider it easier to get people to stop having so many children than to change their energy consumption habits.

I'd say it's exactly the other way around - if it's as hard as it is to get them to change energy consumption, it's even harder to convince them not to have so many children.

How many children do you have? And, how would you feel if some authority figure told you not to have more than 1?

George Lippencott 5 years, 4 months ago

I don't like authority figures telling me anything. I did not say it is easy politically - it is otherwise - no real sacrifice. Your kid my air conditioning.

George Lippencott 5 years, 4 months ago

Just how easy do you think it will be to tell people they can no longer air condition their homes?

People are adapting well to the relatively minor solutions we have offered. When it really starts to bite do you not think the resistance will be massive?

jafs 5 years, 4 months ago

See your other blog for information on this topic.

Looks to me as though nobody would be told that, if a 14% reduction is sufficient.

But, let's assume that's what we'd tell people - why on earth would you think it's easier to tell them not to have children?

jafs 5 years, 4 months ago

Then "low hanging fruit" is a bad metaphor for your suggestion.

George Lippencott 5 years, 4 months ago

That is comparative. The first step I suggested of not providing tax breaks for having kids is not government intrusion. Having them would still be your choice.

Now we could use government intrusion to limit births or we could use education to do so. Not only does each kid create 300 metric tonnes of emissions he uses all the other resources of the planet. It is only good policy to reduce our overall footprint by reducing our numbers.

If 200 million Bangladeshis start getting flooded out - as they probably will, they are going to go somewhere- a war will ensue. WE may limit our numbers that way if we are not careful.

jafs 5 years, 4 months ago

I agree it would be a good idea to stop overpopulating the planet.

Not sure about tax policy - my general sense of those sorts of things is that they wind up punishing children, who are without fault in the matter. But the unintended consequences of various social programs concern me as well - I'd like to see some way to reduce those, if at all possible.

I think we'll almost certainly have some sort of large scale pandemic at some point.

Kirk Larson 5 years, 5 months ago

There are easier things to do to impact climate change. What's interesting is that most of them have other positive benefits. Eat a little less meat. Big carbon impact. You'll be healthier. Walk or ride your bike instead of driving for some trips. Exercise is good for you. Less pollution. Less demand for gas brings down price. Use a shut off valve on your shower while you soap up. Save money on water and gas for water heater. Little things can add up to big savings in resources, money, and carbon footprint without drastic changes in lifestyle.

George Lippencott 5 years, 5 months ago

I have repeatedly asked the advocates what is necessary. If these minor changes are all we need why are we arguing and why do we need a carbon tax.

Ken Lassman 5 years, 4 months ago

I'm sorry, George, but you seem to have such an odd approach to discussing the issue. Folks including myself have repeatedly laid scenarios at your feet that you said you would read over then get back to respond to it, but instead you run off and start a new blog and claim that you have repeatedly asked "advocates" what is necessary, to no avail. I posit that it is you who is not available to intelligent discussion, both in terms of an intelligent discussion of the possible solutions, and also in terms of the specific of any solution that you have proposed.

George Lippencott 5 years, 4 months ago

The world of reason - as seen by those who say so. I have read your posts and to the extent i Understand them I find they fit as follows

  1. We need to address climate change - yep!

2 A carbon tax is just and will impact those who use a lot of carbon - certainly I agree with the latter . 3. There are many things we can do to reduce carbon emissions - yep but we do not need in IMHO a carbon tax to do them

My issue, which you have not directly addressed, is that their are more equable ways to accelerate attention to the problem.

Why are you so hung up on a carbon tax as your nirvana? Could it be the larger issue of world politics and making the rich bear the burden for their heavy use of carbon?

That is a heavy burden on our populace. If that is your goal why not be honest about it? Our own problems are quite solvable with a just plain increase in resources to the problem - a broad based tax.

jafs 5 years, 4 months ago

I'm curious.

Given that I and my wife are rather conservation oriented, and use much less than many people, why should we be taxed equally, and how is that fair?

I agree, by the way, that the proposal to tax carbon emissions and distribute the money aren't the best ones. But I'm not sure yours is any "fairer" or better.

George Lippencott 5 years, 4 months ago

But you acknowledge some people may agree about fairness.

It ius unfair to tax you for something you did not do. My farmer did not do anything. WE have suddenly decided we no longer want him to produce carbon - group decision. So the group gets to pay for it.

He should be selectively charged for carbon only if his use was illegal when he made his choices.

You know well I like the market as opposed to government. But I have repeatedly attacked LO when I see no market. There is no coal market where I can go buy something else. I must build plant and equipment (by the by you use the same coal fired plants).

Th enatural costs increases are already leading to rational people making choices to use less. Are th renters?

jafs 5 years, 4 months ago

And, it's unfair to tax me equally as those who are using many more resources, when they could choose to use less, as I do.

There are other choices, by the way - one can buy a solar system for one's home that connects to the existing power grid. It's a bit pricey, but there are often government rebates.

I'm not opposed to the "group" paying for this stuff - I just don't think that your idea is fairer than the other, it's just different.

Ken Lassman 5 years, 4 months ago

Actually, I'm not at all hung up on a carbon fee and dividend; I'm pragmatic and see it I see it merely a means to an end, and only one piece of the puzzle, one that is primarily focused on how to finance the changes in a timely manner. Why is that important? Because the cost of doing nothing and kicking the can down the road is even more burdensome, in terms of being more and more vulnerable to extreme weather, rising sea levels, even displaced cities and the like.

What I'd like to know is why you think that it's so much better to do a "climate tax" and apply it across the board to every income producer. It's kind of like charging all foods a cigarette tax. Why shouldn't there be a clear economic signal to switch away from the offending carbon emitter? Many folks have quit the smoking habit because of the price, as my other posts have discussed there are plenty of ways to both reduce waste and develop alternatives despite your skepticism. Furthermore. for now it's a tax that goes on 70% of all electricity produced and 99.9% of all vehicles, so where's the inequalities and disparities? It's a progressive fee, and increased carbon fees will no doubt spawn a more aggressive type of energy efficiency loan/grant program that will help the poor waste less of their money on inefficiencies.

There's the political feasibility issue, too. What makes you think that anyone will propose, let alone pass an across the board tax hike to pay for a massive, federally directed program? That kind of problem solving is history, in case you hadn't noticed. The carbon fee and dividend program has drawn the interest of many conservatives due to its revenue neutral impact. As the world teeters on yet another debt-induced financial calamity, good luck with your income tax hike.

George Lippencott 5 years, 4 months ago

  1. And a carbon tax is not a massively federally directed program?
  2. If we believe in the dire consequences of climate change we should be ready to support a broad based tax to address it. 3 I am not suggesting giving the money to everybody. I am suggesting we spend it to address the worst issues. If coal us is one of those we collectively (all of us) pay to get rid of coal fired plants.
  3. I am also suggesting creating a pool not unlike what Kansas had where people can borrow money to address energy efficiency. My farmer would go there, get his audit and be allowed to borrow on some prioritized scheme (there will never be enough money). 5 In a generation after we have addressed the major problems we will IMHO create a market with options where people will have financial incentives to not generate a lot of carbon.

For example, in a generation we wil have a stock of homes that are far mor energy efficient. People will be able to chose between paying for them or paying for a very energy inefficient home and paying a lot more for heating/cooling.

Ken Lassman 5 years, 4 months ago

  1. A fee and rebate program where fees are levied at the wellhead/mine and distributed directly to the taxpayer by the IRS using already existing mechanisms is WAY simpler and direct way to finance the changes needed, in ways that are directed by the people, not some massive federal bureaucracy.
  2. And exactly how much would such an endeavor cost? And how much additional income tax would have to be levied to collect that amount? And what congress would agree to such a thing?
  3. Many states already have such programs, and even Kansas had the beginnings of one before Brownback pulled the funds out from under it. I agree that this kind of program is important, viable and desirable. It would also pay for itself in terms of a revolving fund so could perpetuate itself after initial investments. Perhaps those funds could be allocated by cutting federal costs elsewhere so it would be revenue neutral and keep the conservatives happy? Or part of it could be funded through a heavy export tax on coal shipped out of the country? 4.?
  4. You and I are not as far apart on this as you think we are. The only reason I'm for a carbon tax is that it would turbocharge the exact scenario you have laid out here, and since I think the data that indicates the sooner the better is quite compelling, I support the fee and dividend program. But all of these things could be done without it, or an income tax surcharge for that matter. It would just take longer.

jafs 5 years, 4 months ago

I'm really not at all sure this program is as good as you suggest.

First, rich folks may just pay the taxes, and not decrease their consumption/use. Second, lower income folks who get the dividends may just use it to pay their existing bills. Neither of those achieves the goal of lowering emissions.

Then, assuming some richer folks do lower their consumption, that lessens the tax revenue, and so less is available for lower income folks to use in any way at all, and the less they get, the less they're able to make significant changes in energy efficiency, etc.

Meanwhile, those in the middle may already be conserving a bit and being efficient, so will use the dividend for completely other uses, like buying a new TV. How does that improve emissions?

I'd be much happier with simple regulation of energy producers, and requirements for them to reduce emissions, and transition to renewable energy sources. As they improve their activities, they will probably pass on the costs (better coal scrubbing technology, for example) to customers. Then, those who conserve still get lower costs, and we're all paying for the improvements.

Ken Lassman 5 years, 4 months ago

jafs, I suggest that you go to the www.carbontax.org website and look at the Benefits section of the Resources tab, and it looks to me like your fears are largely ungrounded, at least in the models/studies that they cite. You can be the judge of the believability of these results, but from what I can see, the benefits come from both the supply side energy producers who look for developing cheaper low carbon alternatives as the price put on carbon increases, as well as the demand side, which surprisingly seems to be driven by the fact that wealthier users, due to their using more energy (more driving, larger homes to heat and cool, flying more, more energy intensive "stuff") will drive low carbon product innovation from their purchases, which will drive down the price to where lower income folks, who will better cover their increased costs with their dividend checks, will also be able to eventually afford the low carbon "stuff" due to wealthier folks driving down the prices of those items. It may sound a bit like smoke and mirrors, but they make a reasonably believable conclusion that the fee and dividend would drive emissions down almost 30% by 2020, which is, after all, the goal.

jafs 5 years, 4 months ago

Yes, sounds like smoke and mirrors to me.

If the costs of energy caused wealthy folks to look for less expensive energy, they'd be doing that already, since they use more, which means they spend more.

If utilities, as regulated entities, can pass on the costs of new taxes to customers, they'll do that.

We'll see, of course, if it gets implemented, but I find it an odd way to go about trying to reduce emissions, which could much more easily be done by simply requiring energy producers to do that.

I looked at the link, and found neither a Resources nor Benefits tab, so I wasn't able to check it out.

jafs 5 years, 4 months ago


How does a "ton" of CO2 relate to other more normal measures, ie. how many KW of electricity use produce a ton of CO2 - let's assume we're talking about Westar in Lawrence.

jafs 5 years, 4 months ago

Well, I looked it up.

Generally, given our usage, if the website I checked was right, we'd pay about $4.50/month more to start, and increase up to $45/month over ten years with the carbon tax proposal.

How does that work with the "dividends", eg. what sort of dividend can we expect to receive, if any?

I imagine that since our usage is pretty low, compared to many, we'd probably get something more back than we pay in, but I'm not sure of that. And, unless it's a lot more, we wouldn't use it to invest in expensive changes.

Still seems to me like an overly complicated way to go about it - why not just require producers to lower emissions?

Ken Lassman 5 years, 4 months ago

If you look at the study at the website above, they look at the first year dividend being around $183, and I assume that would go up over time as the carbon fees go up. The mechanism would be pretty much the same as the $600 stimulus check we all got back in '09 I think, from the IRS, so that's pretty straightforward. If states and utilities were smart, and many, many states are much smarter on this than Kansas, which is ranked 45th out of 50, they would set up low interest revolving loan programs and rebates to encourage folks to tighten up their homes. This wouldn't be fully paid up front, so the price to participate would be cheap enough for even folks on fixed incomes to get in the door, and the energy savings afterwards would also be able to be used to pay off the loans. This is in the best interests to the utilities as well, since it is much cheaper to reduce demand than to build new capacity. A key to this is to set things up so that utilities are rewarded for getting folks to use less power, which in states like Kansas actually cuts into revenues and therefore profits for the utilities. But many states have separated these two tasks (producing and saving) and made it possible for utilities to make money helping folks save energy, which gives them incentives to do exactly that.

And that brings me to the last point: how do you require a coal fired plant to emit less CO2 when it is an unalterable part of the combustion process that generates the electricity? Carbon Capture and Sequestration technologies are not yet developed and promise to be uneconomically expensive when they get to market, so I'm not sure how your regulation-driven change is going to help folks make the switch any easier than the fee and dividend, which at least has some kind of carrot attached to the stick.

jafs 5 years, 4 months ago

So, we'd get about $120/yr. Nowhere near enough to make any large changes.

That's an interesting idea, making it profitable for utilities to help people use less, which is usually not in their best interests.

If they can't meet the standards with coal, then they'd have to find other means of production, which is sort of the whole idea, right?

Ken Lassman 5 years, 4 months ago

Yes, and the American Council on an Energy Efficient Economy has been charting utility and state policies in these areas for some time, with many states way ahead of us in doing just what you suggest, plus more. For details, I recommend downloading the 2012 State Scorecard report released last month: http://www.aceee.org/sites/default/files/publications/researchreports/e12c.pdf Note you have to register on the site to download, which is free to do.

deec 5 years, 5 months ago

Population growth is the preferred policy of the world's two biggest religions. Unless you can convince Christian, specifically Catholic, and Islamic religious leaders to change their stance on childbirth, little non-coercive change is possible.

George Lippencott 5 years, 5 months ago

When I was young my high school was segregated. Today it is not. The change was through education and more education

deec 5 years, 5 months ago

That's certainly an admirable advancement, but has little relevance to convincing religious bureaucracies to see the error of their thoroughly-entrenched ways. As long as the two largest world religions can convince their followers that making babies is God's will and a sure shortcut to heaven, there is little chance of convincing individual adherents of the merits of turning off the baby factory.

George Lippencott 5 years, 4 months ago

If education will not work we are doomed. I think you may be letting a perception of the power of religion color the fact that despite the catholic Church's long held hold on much of Europe they are now predominantly not catholic and are not mass producing babies.

deec 5 years, 4 months ago

True, but the dominance of the Church is in non-Western nations. Islam generally holds similar views regarding the sacredness of childbearing. Then there are the Protestant fundamentalists who also encourage large families like the Full Quiver Movement.

"The population shift is even more marked in the specifically Catholic world, where Euro-Americans are already in the minority. Africa had about 16 million Catholics in the early 1950s; it has 120 million today, and is expected to have 228 million by 2025. The World Christian Encyclopedia suggests that by 2025 almost three quarters of all Catholics will be found in Africa, Asia, and Latin America."


Cait McKnelly 5 years, 4 months ago

What's interesting is that regular news outlets buried this in BUSINESS news. So the world will not die in a bang, as predicted by the Mayan calendar, nor with Armageddon, as predicted by the Bible, but with a whimper, and owned by the Kochs to boot (much good owning a wasteland will do them.)

Bucker00 5 years, 4 months ago

Quick question. Is your 2.9 billion worldwide for 96 a typo? The Bureau of the Census lists for ww population for 1990 (they only list it every 10 years) has us at 5.3 billion. By the year 2000, ww population had grown to 6.1 billion. By those numbers listed for 96, China would have had roughly half the entire ww population, we would have lost 2.4 billion people in 6 years, and then regained 3.2 billion in 4 years. Gotta get the numbers right to make the math work. And those don't seem even remotely plausible.

George Lippencott 5 years, 4 months ago

Whoops I will go check Got the data from them so I may have miscounted it.

fiddleback 5 years, 4 months ago

Sorry, Moderate, but "Whoops" doesn't cut it. How you could even begin to believe and/or suggest that the world's population doubled in 15 years is flabbergasting. The world population in 1996 was 5.76 billion. On top of that, musing vaguely about more neutral tax policies regarding child-bearing is fine, but you conveniently left out any discussion of nations with the most explosive growth in that period, and areas like central Europe and Japan that are actually now in dire need of higher birth rates. I'd be fine with a more surgically precise discussion of, say, how certain welfare programs incentivize over-sized families, but this was way too broad and had starkly dubious figures from the outset.

George Lippencott 5 years, 4 months ago

No but it will not be too many more. It is far easier to not have a child than it is to deal with living people. Shads on "Logan's Run"

George Lippencott 5 years, 4 months ago

Huh?? The 7billionis the world population. WE are somewhat over 300 million.

Carol Bowen 5 years, 4 months ago

Our population rate is the lowest it has been since1945 at approx. .7%. After the Boomer generation, family sizes get significantly smaller.


We should be concerned about the energy consumption per person. A smaller population can still produce too many emissions.

George Lippencott 5 years, 4 months ago

Of course but a 5% reduction is little compared to a 100% reduction.

Norm Jennings 5 years, 4 months ago

ok, usually disdain all of the negative response post comments, but this time I have to join in.

tax neutral on having children? idiot!

Children are not demanding tax benefits to be born, but they will certainly be the first ones to suffer from your suggestion. Do you think that the mental midgets that have more children than they can support themselves will make up for your tax-stinginess by cutting back on their dope, booze, or smokes??!! Heck no! The kids will be clothed less, fed less, educated less, etc., all to the higher tax cost in the end to our indebted nation.

If this is the brightest glint from your bulb, save the planet a little more carbon and flip off your own switch!

George Lippencott 5 years, 4 months ago

Of course if we don't have as many of them none of what you argue will happen. Think about spreading your income across one rather than three children. Wow - way better!!

Liberty275 5 years, 4 months ago

"Why is population reduction off the table"

Use a condom. You can buy them in restrooms.

melott 5 years, 4 months ago

Note that population increase from immigration is a major factor. Without it we would be at zero population growth very soon. Most immigrants produce vastly more emissions here than they would back home. And, we help take the pressure off the country that has a high birthrate.

George Lippencott 5 years, 4 months ago

JAFS and Doug County et al

Really rich people will not be impacted by a carbon tax one bit.

The real issue and the one you refuse to address is that a carbon tax hurts the middle class selectively and most heavily on those dependent on carbon energy. Since addressing that use will take decades you are punishing those people for something they did not do and cannot fix quickly because you now want to change the way we live and do so in a hurry.

We are in a useless argument. Your solution, Doug County, is political and not technical. It transfers income AND further reduces the standard of living of the American middle class after the near 14% reduction that has already been achieved - in part because of earlier efforts at climate change mitigation

Do you think for a moment that thinking people have not realized that the decision to compete the American worker with much cheaper foreign labor was in no small part a direct effort to reduce carbon consumption in this country?

Do you really think that a 30% reduction in living standard in a generation will not lead to political consequences or are you banking on my argument being accurate and only a portion of the electorate being impacted so that we can divide it and press on however unequally we chose to do so?

Is it not interesting that the Red States are likely to be hit the hardest with your proposed solution? I wonder what impact a carbon tax will have on our elites – most of whom live in locations not likely to be heavily impacted. This is the real reason you reject a general tax increase because you want to divide and conquer.

AS I opined at the beginning, some of us have figured out that the SOLUTION being offered to address climate change is the problem and not the need to address climate change. Look at the fire and brimstone (water in NY, etc.) and not at the curtain (no jobs in Kansas).

A general tax is the answer to a national problem

jafs 5 years, 4 months ago

I would respond but I can't find anything in your post that's at all connected to mine.

jafs 5 years, 4 months ago

Yes it is.

You have a bad habit of lumping people together - if you read the exchanges between DC and myself, you'll find that I question the carbon tax and dividend program, much as you do.

Ken Lassman 5 years, 4 months ago

By the way, jafs, did the links address some of your concerns? Between the many times I've attempted to address Mod and your questions, I think I've at least addressed all of the major issues. cg22 added an additional good point: the fee and dividend is directed at carbon emissions so unlike Mod's politically improbable flat income tax surcharge, it would create a clear economic signal that would stimulate either more energy efficiency, renewables development or both.

jafs 5 years, 4 months ago

They're interesting, but I still am uncertain that the program will work as intended.

For example, for us the dividend income would be relatively small, and we'd almost certainly spend it on something other than energy efficiency.

I have less faith that the taxes will stimulate investment in new energy sources, etc. by the rich, or by the poor, as well.

Now, by the time it reaches it's ten year projections, it might have some sort of an effect, if it increases as planned, but we need somewhat quicker action, if we're to reduce ww emissions by 14% by 2020.

I still favor a simple regulation on emissions at the federal level.

You even acknowledge, in other posts, that this will probably impact the middle class the most, as Moderate is afraid it will.

Ken Lassman 5 years, 4 months ago

How does setting a limit on CO2 emissions reduce the amount a coal fired plant emits? There is not economical way to capture and sequester CO2 emitted while burning coal. Kansas coal fired plants emit 206.5 lbs of CO2 for every million BTU regardless. The only alternatives are 1) Use the gas fired plants more which only releases 117 lbs of CO2 per million BTU, but they are not cheap to build, the price fluctuates wildly, and you aren't going to retrofit coal fired plants with gas. 2) Implement a more aggressive energy efficiency program strategy that dollar for dollar is way cheaper of an investment than building new capacity 3) Have utilities invest more in renewables, which are more expensive than current power production but is already cheaper than new coal plants and on par with gas. Over the coming decades, this can be a significant contributor--20% by 2020 is a realistic goal, and one of the great things about carbon fee and dividend is that it makes renewables (and energy efficiency) more attractive on the supply side to invest in.

So yes, change the regulation on emissions, and that in and of itself will not change anything without prices going up. Carbon fee and dividend will at least put some of that money in peoples' pockets to help with the transition, and the transition programs utilities and state boards come up will be seen as paying for themselves more quickly with the predictable rise in prices that fee and dividend provides.

Finally, regulation-driven changes, I predict, will hit middle classes harder too. After all, that's what drove the changes in auto emissions and their attendant hike in prices that hit middle classes hardest.

jafs 5 years, 4 months ago

That's their problem, and they'd have to solve it. If they can't use coal and meet the standards, then they'd have to change to another source, which is the whole point of this thing, as far as I can tell.

Of course it would - it would force providers to pollute less. Prices will go up either way, they always do, but that's part of the incentive for users to conserve energy. If transitions will pay for themselves more quickly with rises in prices, it makes no difference where that comes from - utilities are regulated, and generally get most, if not all, of the increases they ask for.


Ken Lassman 5 years, 4 months ago

There is a difference between utilities, which are regulated monopolies for the most part, and, say, an auto manufacturer. The public has plenty of choices when it comes to buying one car vs. another, and the regulator can point to technologies that exist and fine an auto manufacturer if they choose to ignore existing technologies and sell autos that pollute too much. The auto manufacturer sells millions of cars, after all, so can tool up a capacity for low polluting cars relatively quickly as a single car doesn't play into their bottom line very much.

In contrast, public utilities are oftentimes the only game in town, so a consumer buys from one electric utility or goes without electricity. The utility produces electricity through very few plants and these concentrated sources are very expensive and don't have a lot of redundancy so they cannot typically pull another option that is ready and waiting on the shelf. Most of the utilitiy's assets are tied up in a very few plants compared to what is tied up in a single car for an auto manufacturer, so the auto manufacturer can get out from under a car or a line of cars much easier than a utility. Lead time for new plants is measured in many years, even decades. The strategy of most utilities of late has been to scrap plans for new plants, extend existing load through conservation, energy efficiency and incremental addition of power through renewables. This is unlikely to change any time soon. Regulating carbon affects the main power plants, which cannot shift fuels to lower carbon sources, so it seems that even regulation will benefit from something like carbon fee and dividend as a means to speed the transition by helping finance energy efficiency and renewables.

jafs 5 years, 4 months ago

Only if that's how the dividends are used, as I've said numerous times, and there's nothing in the plan that ensures that.

You could "phase in" the regulations, just as the suggestion is to "phase in" the carbon tax over time.

But, frankly, too much "phasing in" concerns me, as time is of the essence here.

Aren't there some more easily utilized technologies available, such as better "coal scrubbing" technology? That can be used, if required, while doing the work of shifting sources.

I just see no evidence that the tax/dividend program is better, and in some ways I think it's worse, than regulation, because it relies on people to use that money in a certain way, which is uncertain.

Ken Lassman 5 years, 4 months ago

The rising carbon fee ensures that the cost effectiveness of both energy efficiency measures and renewable alternatives becomes more and more economically attractive both to invest in if you are a supplier and as a consumer to reduce your bills over the long haul. These are economic signals that don't ensure the necessary changes except that the market has always responded to these signals in the past in very predictable ways. I'm not saying that regulations are not needed; indeed the EPA continues to pursue regulating CO2 as a pollutant and continues to monitor emissions. But given the nature of a highly centralized energy producing sector and the high costs of new capacity, especially centralized power plants, I think that the economic signals of an increasing carbon fee and dividend has the potential of significantly speeding up the transition to a more decentralized grid and energy efficient technologies in ways that you don't give it credit for.

jafs 5 years, 4 months ago

As would rising prices due to regulations on providers.

And, that way, providers have to improve, whereas as long as they can pass costs on to consumers, they don't have to, with a tax/dividend program.

It might make investing in solar systems for one's home more attractive, but not until either the tax or dividend was substantially higher than the first few years of the program. And, again, rising prices would serve the same purpose.

For example, we'd like someday to invest in a heat pump system, if feasible, and a solar system for our home. But, it's a substantial investment, and our monthly bills are quite low/reasonable. If those went up significantly, it would be an incentive to do those things sooner. But, if the tax/dividend system works proportionally, we'd always get a bit more back than we spend, and not enough to invest in anything like that.

If, on the other hand, prices just went up, with no corresponding dividend, we'd be more likely to make those changes sooner.

Ken Lassman 5 years, 4 months ago

Mod, I will try once again to address your concerns, bringing up many points that I have brought up in the past with you but since you jump around in your comments without following threads, and even jump from column to column (I am having to post this response in two columns since your post was twice--is this merely a scheme for you to rack up greater numbers of "viewer hits???"), it is very difficult to carry on a coherent conversation with you. This is a real problem that you have to get better at if you expect folks to take you seriously.

Your concern: really rich people wont' be impacted by the carbon fee and dividend program, while folks in the middle class will be affected more. My response: the EPA determined that this is exactly what happened with the introduction of pollution controls on automobiles after the Clean Air Act of 1970 and the increased standards for cars beginning in 1976. Rich folks could absorb the costs no problem, and continued to buy more of them than everyone else, while the poorest continued to get used cars, leaving the middle class with the bulk of the additional burden, adjusting by spending less on other things. And guess what: the air for everyone got better--much better. With carbon fee and dividend, rich folks will continue on their merry way, with a significant number of them going for "state of the art green" which will help make the technologies more affordable for the rest of us, and the poorest will continue to need subsidies to keep up, leaving the rest of us to foot the majority of the bill. Other than it sounding eerily like the overall discussion about how to reduce the federal debt, there's really nothing very remarkable about this issue, other than the fact that there are ways to mitigate the transition, with energy efficiency programs above and beyond the carbon dividend to help folks better afford to cut down on their waste. If you want to get in a ruffle about disparities, this is the area you should be pushing for, since Kansas is so bad about rolling out these kinds of programs compared to other states.

I have no idea how you are coming up with the 14% reduction figure, if the topic is about the amount of carbon emitted into the atmosphere, which is the relevant data to be looking at. Here's a graph of where we're at as a country:

Yes, China emits more than us (2360 vs 1790 million metric tonnes in 2009) but per capita, it works out to 16.9 tonnes per person in the US and only 5.3 tonnes in China according to the International Energy Agency, and carbon dioxide has gone from rising 1.3ppm per year from 1970-1979 to 2.3ppm in 2010. The issue is getting worse, we're a major reason, and we can help lead the world in this arena if we choose to take it on.

Ken Lassman 5 years, 4 months ago

One more thing: if you had gone to the carbontax.org website like I suggested, the issues tab under regional disparities puts your concerns about how Washington State will benefit from having lots of hydro while here in Kansas, we're condemned to pay higher priced coal as far as the eye can see. Here's a quote:

"Hassett et al. calculated that in 2003 the largest variation between regions was less than 0.37% of household income. (This was less than the maximum regional differences in the two other years chosen for the analysis — 0.42% in 1987, and 0.89% in 1997.) They concluded:

Carbon taxes are… thought to have uneven regional effects. We … find that the regional variation is at best modest. By 2003 variation across regions is sufficiently small that one could argue that a carbon tax is distributionally neutral across regions."

The article goes on to address any disparities that still turn up in reality vs. what the studies suggest: "Prof. Metcalf suggests a way to mitigate distributional disparities: adjust the amounts of revenue recycled according to the average regional carbon tax burden. For instance, if households in the Pacific Northwest would indeed pay less in carbon taxes than the national average, individuals or households in that region would receive proportionately lesser payroll tax reductions or direct distributions of revenue. Households in the Plains states might receive a correspondingly greater share of the recycled revenue. In this way, a revenue-neutral carbon tax could be regional-neutral as well."

I think I've addressed all of your concerns--let me know if there are any others, OK?

George Lippencott 5 years, 4 months ago

So your answer is that we should punish the middle class in Kansas because my solution to taxing everyone is not IYHO viable and only your carbon tax is??

I think that is called irreconcilable differences.

Ken Lassman 5 years, 4 months ago

Did you feel punished by paying more for your car and in exchange being able to see more than a mile or two in a large city and have your lungs tighten up? I don't feel punished and I am middle class and feel like even though my economic class paid more than its share I feel like if that is the way to get things done, then so be it. And I suspect that most folks felt the same about auto pollution and are willing to do their share and even more if it means buffering the extreme weather, rising sea levels, economic and political chaos that is pretty much guaranteed if we continue down the path we are on. There aren't too many of us who wouldn't pay a steep price if it meant a better future for coming generations.

And repeating myself yet again, no, I don't think that only a carbon tax will do it. We can even do it without ANY tax if we are willing to make enough sacrifices elsewhere to make the needed changes. We know what we have to do, but that has seldom been enough to change the status quo on its own as the vested interests typically prevail. We needed incentives for changing our smoking habits for changing pollution, for getting better miles per gallon, and on and on. Carbon fee and dividend is one such directly linked incentive that can help make the transition more quickly, but there are other approaches.

Your across the board income tax does not target the source of the problem (carbon emissions), counts on the federal government to coordinate and dictate things from the top down, and requires congress to pass a major tax, which they have shown no inclination whatsover of doing. I have given you cogent, expert replies from those who know better than I about your concerns about regional differences, on income disparities, etc. and yet you have yet to address any of my concerns. Are you going to?

jafs 5 years, 4 months ago

Why should the middle class pay "more than it's share"?

Can't we structure things so that's not the case?

Ken Lassman 5 years, 4 months ago

The tricky part of all of this is that who pays the greater percentage depends on what income levels do with their monies. If a given economic sector ignores the economic signal of higher priced carbon by just using the monies to pay the higher prices, then they could end up paying a greater share than folks who read the writing on the wall, cut consumption and switch to alternatives. That's the unpredictability of letting the people decide for themselves, I think. For more on all of this check out: http://www.carbontax.org/issues/softening-the-impact-of-carbon-taxes/

George Lippencott 5 years, 4 months ago

I feel punished when that young couple does not have to pay for what we all want and I have to pay through the nose. The issue is not addressing climate change although you keep trying to make that thw issue. The issue is equitable distributing the costs. Since nobody did this deliberately and since it will take a decade or more to address the infrastructure portion, we should all pay. proportionally to income through an income tax surcharge.

George Lippencott 5 years, 4 months ago

Yes, use a regular tax scheme and avoid all the problems of an attempt at "equitable" redictribution

jafs 5 years, 4 months ago

But you still have the problems of an "equitable" tax system.

jafs 5 years, 4 months ago

Yes, but if you tax income, then those with more money pay more money, even if they've invested substantially in energy efficiency.

How is that any more "fair" than taxing usage?

George Lippencott 5 years, 4 months ago

Your concerns, all of which are political, basically come down to a fear that Congress will do nothing with a broad tax so you want to play what Clinton call triangulation. Put the burden on a minority of the population with givebacks to traditional Democratic Voters. Makes you feel good but does not directly drive the real pollution sources.

Utilities are one major source. We control them. WE can already make them address climate change as fast as we want. The driver must however be mitigated by how much costs the rate payers can manage. Since some areas are carbon intensive and others are not. This should be paid nationally rather than stuck to those who have traditionally used coal. Many of these need a national solution anyway. Why create a bureaucracy to move money around regionally when you can use existing bureaucracy (KCC) to target what needs to be done.

Autos are another major source. We have driven CAFE standards way up. My Hybrid was no more expensive than a regular vehicle (same make and model) so we are already subsidizing carbon mitigation. That is also being addressed as fast as the economy can absorb the changes. I do not see what a carbon tax buys here other than a feel good effort. And don't tell me public transportation. The cost differential is so great no rational carbon tax will make much difference.

The next major hurdle is personal living space. Since fixing most issues with structures is a costly proposition where return takes years a carbon tax, unless really high, will make little impact on decisions. It will remove funds that the property owner might have contributed to doing what actually needs to be done - energy efficiency. It is also very inequitable as new homes are much more energy efficient and older ones are not so with a carbon tax you choose to punish people for choices made historically and which take a lot of time and money to fix. We have already changed building codes so that future structure will be more energy efficient. In time the already existing incentives will cause people to make energy efficient choices.

George Lippencott 5 years, 4 months ago

Lastly, there are corporate generators. They are motivated by profit. Increasing their costs will certainly motivate them to make investments in reducing their costs. A carbon tax would be just fine for this target. Of course regulatory solutions will do well here without making my farmer pay because we are after GE. You have my blessing in carbon taxing corporations all you want with the understanding that they will pass those costs on to most of us. Of course our history with large corporation indicates they will get exemptions from the carbon tax (or probably my income tax) because they always have. Tax them more and you will drive more of them offshore. Addressing corporations requires some real; thought.

I have paid attention to you and reject your punitive solution. I want to direct resources near term to the biggest contributors - utilities - an area already substantially under government control. Following that I want to help (not tax) people to make their homes more energy efficient. I support the president’s efforts to regulate carbon if directed at corporate polluters and utilities (when coupled with my tax that provides national resources to address the utilities problem).

My approach is broad based, focused and equitable. Your solution is punitive, motivated by the perception that you must selective "punish" people because you do not have broad support in paying for what you want at the pace you want it. Shades of Obama Care.

You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people (democrats) all of the time but you cannot fool us all every time. A carbon tax is inequitable and poorly focused - and note, I have not even addressed the economic dislocation it would cause in the high carbon regions.

Give it up guys/gals.

Ken Lassman 5 years, 4 months ago

Mod, I'm really not seeing anything in your plan that addresses the fact that congress will not in a million years pass an income tax hike to do what you want to do. Because of your not addressing this elephant in the room, I really see no need for me to take more of my time going further down this path. Of course if you have some workaround that you have yet to share on how to get around this wall, I'm all ears, but I'm not holding my breath.

Furthermore, I've laid out what a rational person would conclude are at least honest attempts to address your concerns about a carbon fee and dividend plan creating undue burdens on the middle class, regional disparities, assisting folks in need during the transition to a more energy efficient lifestyle, a more resilient and responsive energy grid and one based increasingly on renewables. Since you continue to ignore the information I've provided, or are sort of incorporating them into your plan of late, I must come to the conclusion that you are not interested in an honest dialogue. I am not even saying that a carbon fee and dividend plan is the only way to go, but your plan is certainly not a viable alternative, so I feel I'm wasting my time and other peoples' eyes debating you on this. Given this evidence, I must bid this conversation adieu and wish you the best in however you want to describe your mission.

George Lippencott 5 years, 4 months ago

Punish the innocent because Congress will not do its job!! What a sorry state we have been driven to by our politics.

George Lippencott 5 years, 4 months ago

Unless we do and no matter what advocates such as Doug Cty achieve we will face a real problem if we do not limit human growth.

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