The Price of Stopping Climate Change
The most ambitious option, aimed at stabilizing the level of greenhouse gases from fossil fuels by 2030, would require measures that would add $100 to the costs associated with each ton of carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere, said the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
In a telephone news conference, several participants estimated that choosing that option could result in raising the cost of gasoline by up to one dollar a gallon over the next several decades.
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Overall, the report said, blunting the consequences of global warming will require different lifestyles, higher prices for basics including gasoline and electricity, and a much greater investment in research and development efforts. The impact of those costs, however, would be significantly offset by the benefits of a less carbon-dependent economy, including a cleaner environment, more secure sources of energy and in some cases reduced costs for more energy-efficient cars, appliances and houses, the report said.
After five sometimes contentious days of negotiation to finalize the "Summary for Policymakers" at a conference in Bangkok, the panel issued the document without specific recommendations on how best to address the threat from global warming. Instead, it offered projections of how much carbon dioxide would have to be eliminated to meet various goals for limiting greenhouse gases, along with assessments of hundreds of approaches.
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Pachauri said it will be necessary to put a price on carbon emissions, either through taxes or "cap and trade" systems, in which polluters buy and sell rights to put given amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Unless governments take action and "market forces [are] present to attach a price to carbon, we're not likely to get a major dissemination of technologies, no matter how meritorious they may be," he added.
While the report did not specify what that price should be, it outlined how much benefit would come at various cost levels -- $20, $50 or $100 per ton of emitted carbon. The world could meet the goal of stabilizing the level of greenhouse gases by 2030, the report said, at a sacrifice of less than 3 percent of the projected growth in the world's total economic output, or 0.12 percent annually. In other words, the world economy could still grow robustly, but at a slightly slower rate, while nations take steps to avoid severe climate change.
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Jonathan Pershing, one of the lead authors of the report and a program director of the World Resources Institute, said estimates of potential price increases for gas and other energy sources were not included in the report because they were based on assumptions that have not been well studied. He said the calculation of a $1-per-gallon gas price increase under the most aggressive carbon-reduction plan is based on the amount of carbon dioxide released when burning a gallon of gas.
Not unexpectedly, the White House quickly announced that the options proposed were too aggressive:
The White House quickly issued a statement rejecting the more aggressive options outlined by the report. Referring to the highest-cost scenario, James L. Connaughton, chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said it "would of course cause global recession, so that is something that we probably want to avoid."
As I have said before climate change has huge theological and ethical implications. Even aside from the biblical command that we be good stewards of creation, we must also be mindful of the charge in Matthew that we take care of the least of these. In light of the fact that a large share of the suffering caused by climate change will occur in the world's poorest areas, and the benefits from activities that cause climate change are largely enjoyed by the industrialized West, we will have much to answer for to God if we don't take serious steps to deal with climate change.