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One frequently hears that renewable energy is now lower cost than fossil fuels, but this claim is incorrect and harmful to the cause of deep decarbonization. It is incorrect because intermittent solar and wind require storage, which is costly in most circumstances. It is harmful because it suggests that carbon pricing or regulations are not necessary for a transition away from burning fossil fuels. The high quality of fossil fuels means that even more innovation in zero–emission electricity or zero–emission end–use devices like electric vehicles will be insufficient. Advocates of renewables need to support rather than undermine the implementation of stringent climate–energy policies.
The fossil fuel industry has repeated the earlier strategy of the tobacco industry by undermining climate science and devoting public advertising and political lobbying resources to delay greenhouse gas reducing policies. Scientists can improve their techniques of communicating to non–experts. But the evidence from anecdotal experience and academic research suggests that some myths are difficult to dispell. This is especially the case if the beliefs are affected by competing worldviews in partisan politics.
Even when most of the public accept climate science and elect climate–sincere politicians, the fossil fuel industry and supporters have many rationalizations to delude politicians and citizens that a certain fossil fuel project is needed and consistent with national or global greenhouse gas reduction commitments. Those who see through these myths must develop “connect–the–dot” techniques to show other citizens how fossil fuel expansion in a given jurisdiction is inconsistent with global and national commitments. Success against expanding global fossil fuel supply depends especially, however, on national efforts to decarbonize electricity, transport, and other sectors that are not trade-exposed. Experts should be helping the public, media, and climate-sincere politicians with exposing the myth that “this fossil fuel project is essential.”
Humans have flourished as a species because of our ability to accurately assess evidence about the real world, especially risks. Paradoxically, human success has also benefited from our ability to accept myths about the world, especially the when presented by those with whom we most closely align our self-interest. This latter has enabled us to coordinate our actions to outcompete other species and other humans. But it can be dangerous, as a long history of delusion in war and peace has shown. That tendency to delusion presents a problem with our ability to address a risk like human–caused climate change.
Success with the climate energy challenge requires more citizens who strategically focus on a few key actions and a few key policies, and on identifying, electing, and supporting climate–sincere politicians who make this happen. Coal–fired power must be phased out quickly in developed countries and supported by carbon tariffs to make this happen globally. Likewise, gasoline and diesel must be phased out in transportation. Flexible regulations and perhaps carbon pricing will be the lead policies. Climate-sincere politicians will focus on these sectors and these policies. Climate–concerned citizens must be willing to adopt a wide range of strategies, including the personal discomfort of civil disobedience if necessary.
It is widely assumed that the extra purchase cost of a high–efficiency car or furnace or other device is more than compensated by the operating cost savings, making energy efficiency profitable. This view is common to physicists, engineers, and many environmentalists. But research, mostly by economists, shows that newer, more efficient technologies that require longer periods of successful operation to pay off the extra purchase cost also pose higher risks, which can negate their profitability. And, even when these technologies are successful, they may be used more because of their lower operating costs – what is known as the rebound effect. While advocates should not abandon their pursuit of energy efficiency, they need to also advocate for carbon pricing and regulations since these policies are essential to cause fuel switching, and in turn will improve the economics of energy efficiency.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is a global collective action problem but humanity lacks a global government. A global government would create a mandatory compliance mechanism because this is the only way to incentivize a successful global effort. For almost three years, national governments have instead tried to reach a voluntary agreement in which countries agree on a fair allocation of the emissions reduction and the burden of costs. This has predictably failed and will continue to fail. The only hope for success is if some leading countries take domestic actions and apply carbon tariffs on imports from high-emission countries. These leading countries should try to join forces in “climate clubs” which, as they grow in economic importance, would motivate more countries to join, eventually reaching a tipping point for the development of a global compliance mechanism.
Climate–sincere citizens are frustrated with three decades of global and national failures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, so they are receptive to arguments that they can make a difference by changing their own behavior – consuming less, flying less, driving less, becoming vegetarian. However, if our economy is dominated by fossil fuels, individual behavioral change has to be radical to reduce emissions, and few people are willing to do that. But if we change our behavior as citizens to increase the chance of electing climate–sincere politicians and supporting their policies – through civil actions – we actually create the conditions where our consumer behavior can also contribute. If our politicians forced coal plants to close, then our use of an electric vehicle and of an electric home heat pump for heating and cooling will reduce emissions and provide a model for others.
Climate–sincere citizens are frustrated with three decades of global and national failures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, so they are receptive to arguments that they can make a difference by various means, one of which is to make an offset payment to someone else to reduce emissions while they continue to cause emissions when, for example, flying in an airplane. Unfortunately, research shows that a significant percentage of so–called offsets do not reduce emissions from what they otherwise would have been. Instead, offset payments are made to someone for doing something they would have done without the payment. Climate-concerned citizens would have greater impact if they instead made their offset payments to help elect climate–sincere politicians and to make sure that these politicians implement policies that require ezveryone to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, not just the people who buy offsets.
Economists have a strong preference for a carbon tax because this is the most economically efficient climate policy. But a carbon tax is also the most politically difficult policy because it makes it easier for climate-insincere politicians to defeat climate-sincere politicians. Opponents of climate action find it quite easy to fool some percentage of voters that a carbon tax is punative to them, harmful to the economy, and ineffective anyway. Economists also feel that regulations will be highly inefficient, but this ignores emerging evidence about the cost of using flexible regulations for significant decarbonization. Examples are the low carbon fuel standard and the renewable portfolio standard. Economists need to work with policy science, sociology, and social psychology experts to provide useful information to climate–sincere politicians about the trade-offs between economic efficiency and poltiical acceptability.
Our tendency to delude ourselves and others especially presents problems when those who benefit from delusion also have more power in society for political and/or economic reasons. The multi-decade struggle to accept the science and take policy actions on the risk to human health from smoking is an example of this delusion challenge. The tobacco industry devoted significant resources on selective research, false advertising, and political lobbying to delay our ability to address the smoking risk. And the propensity of people to finally reject the misinformation and accept the science depended on their dependency on tobacco–related income or their inconvenience in giving up smoking.
Sometimes solving climate change seems impossibly complex, and it is hard to know what changes we all can and should make to help. This book offers hope. Drawing on the latest research, Mark Jaccard shows us how to recognize the absolutely essential actions (decarbonizing electricity and transport) and policies (regulations that phase out coal plants and gasoline vehicles, carbon tariffs). Rather than feeling paralyzed and pursuing ineffective efforts, we can all make a few key changes in our lifestyles to reduce emissions, to contribute to the urgently needed affordable energy transition in developed and developing countries. More importantly, Jaccard shows how to distinguish climate-sincere from insincere politicians and increase the chance of electing and sustaining these leaders in power. In combining the personal and the political, The Citizen's Guide to Climate Success offers a clear and simple strategic path to solving the greatest problem of our times. A PDF version of this title is also available as Open Access on Cambridge Core at doi.org/10.1017/9781108783453.
Climate–sincere citizens are frustrated with three decades of global and national failures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and this makes them increasingly receptive to other agendas that people present as essential for success with the climate–energy challenge. Examples include the argument that humans cannot succeed without radical lifestyle change or global equity or car-free cities or universal vegetarianism or stopping economic growth or abolishing capitalism. This chapter focuses on the argument of Naomi Klein in her book, This Changes Everything, that we must dismantle capitalism for climate success, showing that her arguments are inconsistent with considerable evidence from jurisdictions that are decarbonizing without abolishing capitalism, such as Scandinavia and California. Attaching non-essential, but extremely ambitious agendas reduces our chances of success.
Oil is a non–renewable resource so as we consume it there is less remaining in the earth’s crust. Starting with King Hubbert in the 1950s, geologists have depicted the path of oil discovery and depletion with a bell curve of rising production, a peak, and then declining production. Some people argue that when production hits the peak (peak oil), energy prices will rise and stay high, severely disrupting a global economic system dependent on cheap energy. The high energy prices will either cause a complete breakdown of society (the view of preppers and catastrophists) or a shift to energy efficiency, renewables, and nuclear, which will automatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, the peak oil belief is a myth, at least for the next decades. High oil prices also trigger more innovation to find and extract plentiful oil from the earth’s crust, and the quantities dwarf our consumption. People who are worried about peak oil need to understand that the climate threat is already here and a much greater concern. And, serendipitously, reducing greenhouse gas emissions also reduces oil demand, preventing peak oil.