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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?


Jackie Jackasserson 1 year, 4 months ago

zero population growth was popular in the early 90s. it didn't catch on then and it probably won't catch on now.


Ken Lassman 1 year, 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 1 year, 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.


George Lippencott 1 year, 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 1 year, 4 months ago

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


George Lippencott 1 year, 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.


George Lippencott 1 year, 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


melott 1 year, 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.


Liberty275 1 year, 4 months ago

"Why is population reduction off the table"

Use a condom. You can buy them in restrooms.


Norm Jennings 1 year, 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!


Carol Bowen 1 year, 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.


tange 1 year, 4 months ago

"Today there are just shy of 7 billion of us."

... us and them, Moderate, us and them.

/ you're not wanting to offput those of a nonLiberal bent, are you?


Liberty_One 1 year, 4 months ago

If you really think we need to decrease the population then I suggest you lead by example. I take it this will be your last blog post?


Bucker00 1 year, 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.


Cait McKnelly 1 year, 5 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.)


LJ Whirled 1 year, 5 months ago

I foresee a "super-virus" ... we are smart, but overdue. So many people, so much travel, the mathematics of equilibrium seems likely to intervene.


deec 1 year, 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.


Kirk Larson 1 year, 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.


Chris Golledge 1 year, 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?


Chris Golledge 1 year, 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.


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