One Pathway To Climate Peace

Fri, 2007-06-29 12:06Ross Gelbspan
Ross Gelbspan's picture

One Pathway To Climate Peace

A global public works program to rewire the planet would create millions of jobs, especially in developing countries. It would turn impoverished and dependent countries into trading partners. It would raise living standards abroad without compromising ours. It would undermine the economic desperation that gives rise to so much anti-US sentiment. And in a very short time, it would jump the renewable energy industry into a central, driving engine of growth of the global economy.

Unintentionally, we have set in motion massive systems of the planet with huge amounts of inertia that have kept it relatively hospitable to civilization for the last 10,000 years. We have reversed the carbon cycle by more than 400,000 years. We have heated the deep oceans. We have loosed a wave of violent and chaotic weather. We have altered the timing of the seasons. We are living on a very precarious margin of stability. Against that background, we are offering this set of strategies. We believe these strategies present a model of the scope and scale of action that is appropriate to the magnitude of the climate crisis.

To date, we have not seen other policy recommendations that adequately address either the scope or urgency of the problem. Largely because of inaction by the world’s governments, it seems that the Kyoto goals (but not the Kyoto process) are fast becoming obsolete – and that it is soon time to go straight for the goal of 70 percent reductions globally.

Our hope is to get ideas of this scope into the conversation to help move it to an appropriate level.

The Plan involves three interacting strategies which include:

  • In industrial countries, the withdrawal of subsidies from fossil fuels and the establishment of equivalent subsidies for clean energy sources;
  • The creation of a large fund – perhaps through a small tax on global commerce – to transfer clean energy technologies to developing countries; and,
  • The incorporation within the Kyoto framework of a progressively more stringent Fossil Fuel Efficiency Standard that rises by 5 percent per year.


Subsidy switch:
The United States currently spends more than $20 billion a year to subsidize fossil fuels. (In 2007, that figure topped $37 billion). In the industrial countries overall, those subsidies have been estimated at $200 billion a year. We are proposing that, in the industrial countries, those subsidies be withdrawn from fossil fuels and equivalent subsidies be established to promote the development of clean energy sources. (Clearly a small portion of the U.S. subsidies must be used to retrain or buyout the nation’s 50,000 or so coal miners.) But the lions’ share of the subsidies would still be available for use by the major oil companies to retrain their workers and re-tool to become aggressive developers of fuel cells, wind farms, and solar systems.

At the same time, I believe, you would see the emergence of an army of energy engineers and entrepreneurs – with successively more efficient generations of solar film, turbines and tidal devices – in a burst of creativity that would rival the dot.com explosion of the 1990s. But even if the countries of the North were dramatically to reduce emissions, those cuts would be overwhelmed by the coming pulse of carbon from India, China, Mexico and Nigeria. Therefore the second element of the plan involves the creation of a fund of about $300 billion a year for several years to jumpstart renewable energy infrastructures in developing countries. Virtually all poor countries would love to go solar; virtually none can afford it. The most air-polluted cities in the world today are in China, Mexico, Thailand, Chile and other developing and transitional countries.

Energy Modernization Fund:
The size of the fund was calculated by energy policy specialists at the Tellus Institute. It could be financed by any number of mechanisms – a carbon tax in industrial countries or a tax on international air travel, to name two. One source we like is a tax on international currency transactions, named after its developer, the late Nobel prize-winning economist Dr. James Tobin. While Tobin conceived his tax as a way of damping the volatility in capital markets, it would also generate enormous revenues. Today the commerce in currency swaps amounts to $1.5 trillion per day.

A tax of a quarter-penny on a dollar would net out to about $300 billion a year for wind farms in India, fuel-cell factories in South Africa, solar assemblies in El Salvador, and vast, solar-powered hydrogen farms in the Middle East. Since currency transactions are electronically tracked by the private banking system, the need for a large, new bureaucracy could be avoided by paying the banks a fee to administer the fund. That fee could, to a large extent, offset their loss of income from the contraction in currency trading that would result from the tax. And the involvement of the banks in administering the fund would go a long way to minimizing corruption and ensuring that the money went directly to clean energy projects. The only new bureaucracy we envision would be an international auditing agency to ensure equal access for all energy vendors and to minimize corruption in recipient countries. (Several developing country commentators have suggested that corruption could be further curtailed by requiring recipient governments to include representatives of indigenous minorities, universities, NGOs and labor unions in their decisions about procuring new energy resources.)

If a currency transaction tax proves unacceptable, a carbon tax in industrial countries or a tax on international airline travel could fill the same function. Economists estimate that if carbon emissions were taxed at the rate of $50 a ton, the revenue would approximate the $300 billion from a tax on currency transactions.(Parenthetically, at this point, we have not calculated what would happen to transitional prices of carbon fuels if subsidies were removed and a carbon tax imposed at the same time. That may, or may not, be a viable combination.) Regardless of its revenue source, the fund – on the ground – would be allocated according to a United Nations formula to determine what percentage of each year’s fund would go to each developing country.

If India, for instance, were to receive $5 billion in the first year, it would then decide what mix of wind farms, village solar installations, fuel cell generators and biogas facilities it wanted. The Indian government (in this hypothetical example) would then entertain bids for these facilities. As contractors reached specified benchmarks, they would then be paid directly by the banks.

As self-replicating renewable infrastructures took root in developing countries, the fund could simply be phased out. Alternatively, progressively larger amounts of the fund could be diverted to other global environment and development needs.

Progressive Fossil Fuel Efficiency Standard:
The third – and unifying – strategy of the plan – which makes it all work – calls on the parties to Kyoto to subordinate the uneven and inequitable system of international emissions trading to a simple and equitable progressively more stringent Fossil Fuel Efficiency Standard which goes up by about five percent per year. This mechanism, if incorporated into the Kyoto Protocol, would harmonize and guide the global energy transition in a way that emissions trading can not. Even if all the shortcomings involving monitoring, enforcement and equity could be resolved, international carbon trading would most appropriately be used as a fine-tuning instrument – to help countries attain the final 10 to 15 percent of their obligations.


It is not the workhorse vehicle required to propel a worldwide energy transition. We simply can’t finesse nature with accounting tricks.

Instead, we are proposing that the parties to the Kyoto talks adopt a progressively more stringent Fossil Fuel Efficiency Standard which we believe would be simple to negotiate, easy to monitor and ultimately fair. (National “cap-and-trade” regimes could be useful in helping countries meet the progressive standard.) Under this mechanism, every country would start at its current baseline to increase its Fossil Fuel energy efficiency by 5 percent every year until the global 70 percent reduction is attained. That means a country would produce the same amount of goods as the previous year with five percent less carbon fuel. Alternatively, it would produce five percent more goods with the same carbon fuel use as the previous year. Since no economy grows at five percent for long, emissions reductions would outpace long-term economic growth. For the first few years of the efficiency standard, most countries would likely meet their goals by implementing low-cost or even profitable efficiencies – the “low-hanging fruit” – in their current energy systems.

After a few years, however, as those efficiencies became more expensive to capture, countries would meet the progressively more stringent standard by drawing more and more energy from non-carbon sources – most of which are 100 percent efficient by a Fossil Fuel standard. That, in turn, would create the mass markets and economies of scale for renewables that would bring down their prices and make them competitive with coal and oil. This approach would be far simpler to negotiate than the current Protocol, with its morass of details involving emissions trading, reviews of the adequacy of commitments and differentiated targets. It would also be far easier to monitor. A nation’s compliance would be measured simply by calculating the annual change in the ratio of its carbon fuel use to its gross domestic product. That ratio would have to change by 5 percent a year. This approach has a precedent in the Montreal Protocol, under which companies phased out ozone-destroying chemicals. That protocol was successful because the same companies that made the destructive chemicals were able to produce their substitutes – with no loss of competitive standing within the industry. An energy transition must be regulated in the same way.

Several oil executives have said in private conversations that they can, in an orderly fashion, decarbonize their energy supplies. But they need the governments of the world to regulate the process so all companies can make the transition in lockstep without losing market share to competitors.

A progressive Fossil Fuel Efficiency Standard would, I think, provide that type of regulation. The plan, then, would be driven by three engines: the subsidy switch would propel the metamorphosis of oil companies into energy companies; the progressive fossil fuel efficiency standard would harmonize the transformation of national energy structures and create a level field of predictable regulation for the major energy corporations; and the competition for the new $300 billion a year market in clean energy would power the whole process.

A global public works program to rewire the planet would create millions of jobs, especially in developing countries. It would turn impoverished and dependent countries into trading partners. It would raise living standards abroad without compromising ours. It would undermine the economic desperation that gives rise to so much anti-US sentiment. And in a very short time, it would jump the renewable energy industry into a central, driving engine of growth of the global economy.

Finally, at the risk of being overly visionary, I do believe, because energy is so central to our existence, that a common global project to rewire the world with clean energy could be the first step on a path to peace – even in today’s profoundly fractured world: Peace among people and peace between people and nature. Stepping back for a moment to a wider-angle vantage point, this kind of initiative could also be the beginning of the end of an outdated and increasingly toxic nationalism which we have long ago outgrown.

The economy is becoming truly globalized. The globalization of communications now makes it possible for any person to communicate with anyone else around the world. And since it is no respecter of national boundaries, the global climate makes us one. We hear many complaints about the costliness of addressing the climate crisis. But the real economic issue in rewiring the world with clean energy is not cost. The real economic issue is whether the world has a large enough labor force to accomplish this task in time to meet nature’s deadline.

But therein lies the catch – nature’s deadline. A growing number of the world’s leading climate scientists agree that we are already too far along a catastrophic trajectory to avoid significant disruptions. So my enthusiasm for the healing potential – on many different levels – of something like these solutions is tempered by an increasingly loud and persisting question: how are people of good will and social conscience supposed to respond in the face of a coming age of collapse? There is no body of expertise – no authoritative answers – for this one.

We are crossing a threshold into uncharted territory. And since there is no precedent to guide us, we are left with only our own hearts to consult, the intellectual integrity to look reality in the eye, whatever courage we can muster and our uncompromising dedication to a human future that reflects the combined aspirations of every single reader of this essay.

– Ross Gelbspan

Previous Comments

I am an amateur who follows the global climate change news closely since 1987.I do not profess to have expertise, but rather a broad knowledge of the subject gained by reading a lot about it. For the past two years I have put in comments on RealClimate and Desmog on how bad it really is. I said two years ago we need 80% worldwide reductions right now on all greenhouse gases to have any chance at all of averting global catastrophe. I though I was a loner, since I did not see anything else in print, in newspapers ect, similar to this proposal.So, thanks, Ross Gelbspan. Maybe it will have more weight coming from a highly respected author and expert on the subject. I enjoyed reading the Boston Globe for many years until I moved to San Francisco in 1992.Excellent propsal, Mr. Gelbspan. You should alert Pew Climate org. and the Apollo Alliance. They are good allies to have.By the way Canada just released a report saying co2 may end up costing $250 per ton. I have been saying for three years now that co2, properly market valued, is about $240 per ton. So, thanks also to Canada.Good luck to all humans. Mark J. Fiore, home schooled and self taught, also attorney and substitute teacher, also Harvard College, Boston College Law School grad.

Mark Fiore, I can see you’re ‘self-taught’ on the hyperbole and propoganda readily available on the web.

CO2 is not a climate driver. Fact. The only way CO2 effects Earths temperature is on an IPCC computer-game model which are fatally flawed as concluded by experts (outside of the IPCC). The IPCC is wrong on its modeling and its ultimate conclusions. Dr Glassman claims “What the IPCC Global Computer Models do predict is unprecedented and unreasonable in light of what is known about the past and about physics.”

The ice-core records show that the natural CO2 concentration in the Vostok record depends on global temperature according to the complement of the known solubility relationship at one atmosphere, which depends primarily on temperature alone.

The discovery from the Vostok ice-core records have a profound effect on IPCC global climate models (GCMs). It is a major, positive feedback not in the current GCMs. If the global surface temperature increases due to added CO2, the ocean will exacerbate that increase with additional CO2. The fact that CO2 in the paleo record lags global temperature is confirmation of the analysis.

This major positive CO2 feedback from the ocean would make the climate unstable. Note that the word feedback here means what is described above: because of the output temperature increase in the model, CO2 is added back to the input, external driving signal of added CO2. But the paleo record shows increases in CO2 which did not produce an instability. The inevitable conclusion is that CO2 does not cause the feared greenhouse effect, hence CO2 is acquitted.

Dr Glassman also contends “Consider the amount of man-made CO2 added to the amount of natural CO2 added, and the share of CO2 as a Greenhouse Gas (GHG) compared to water vapor. Then consider the possible effects of any GHG increase in light of the negative feedback of cloud albedo. Finally consider how little the GHG can affect climate compared to a little change in average cloud albedo. The AGW conjecture is way down in the noise level.”

Pleased you’re still at school as you need some more maths and chemistry lessons before you’re let loose on the world!

So you deny the physics, accepted since the 1860s, that carbon dioxide retains heat disproportionate to is volume?

Does Glassman have an published (as in peer reviewed) alternative theory that explains the mass of data that show changes in climate worldwide, and especially in the arctic?

Without a comprehensive inclusive alternate theory, you just have a number of anecdotal contradictory data. Pesky inconsistency is expected, not a basis for ignoring what is known, to say nothing of predicted. No theory - no debate, no standing. Just noise.

A spectre is haunting the planet – the spectre of climate change. All the capitalist powers have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: George Bush and Stephen Harper, Walmart and Ford, carnivores and Holocaust deniers.

Where is the party in opposition that has not been decried as unrealistic by its opponents in power? Where is the opposition that has not hurled back the branding reproach of tyranny, against the more advanced opposition parties, as well as against its reactionary adversaries?

Two things result from this fact:

I. Climate change is already acknowledge by the UN to be itself a reality.

II. It is high time that global warming activists should openly, in the face of the whole world, publish their views, their aims, their tendencies, and meet this nursery tale of the spectre of global warming with a manifesto of the party activists.

To this end, the International Panel on Climate Change have assembled in France to deliver their manifesto.

[A NATION OF CARBON EMITTERS]

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.

Our epoch, the epoch of SUV drivers, possesses, however, this distinct feature: it has simplified class antagonisms. Society as a whole is increasing measured by their ecological footprint.

The scientific findings of Marx and Engels prove that human beings are responsible for global warming:

All the preceding classes that got the upper hand sought to fortify their already acquired status by subjecting society at large to their conditions of appropriation. The proletarians cannot become masters of the productive forces of society, except by abolishing their own previous mode of appropriation, and thereby also every other previous mode of appropriation. They have nothing of their own to secure and to fortify; their mission is to destroy all previous securities for, and insurances of, individual property.

Ethan Greenhart, you’re right the UN thinks global warming is a reality. Which is somewhat perplexing as the observational science, even that given in the IPCC Reports, state otherwise. In fact the only ‘real’ climate change is seen in the IPCC’s ‘unreal’ computer models which have been resoundly proved by experts (from outside the IPCC) as bunkum.

Indeed this ‘loss of credability factor’ is patent in the UN secretary, Mr Ban, going on a jet-fueled ‘fact finding’ mission to Antartica and coming back claiming the place needs ‘protection’.

When in fact the IPCC’s own report slapped on his desk and under his nose some 6 months earlier stated Antartica isn’t melting and has enjoyed the same temperature for the past 50 years with no signs of man-made warming!!

Which demonstrates all the credentials you need to be a ‘green’ is an inability to read, being blind and not paying the slightest bit of attention to anything real going on in the world.

I’ve recently published an article in The Coast, a paper in Halifax, detailing how Nova Scotia can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70- 90 percent. Read it here:

http://tinyurl.com/3ykwqo

 Thanks.
Well written, good points. I will add that the value of solar electric is overlooked - for the long term is does have immense value. Imagine all that free electricity [once the panels pay for themselves] for as long as they last!! Clean. Economically, they are now on par with fossil fuel-burning generators if the subsidies were reversed, and over 20 years. No input costs, very little maintenance. Carbon credits value too. Driving electric cars would reduce our driving expenses, a recent development perhaps, but true - it would only cost about 2 cents per mile with a solar panel supply [10 to 15 or 20 cents for gas] Plus, electric cars are cheaper, and very little maintenance. Really, it is like a dream, but it is all possible, and it would raise the standard of living for us all by reducing our energy costs. It will take about 10 years to set up solar for 25% of our needs - shouldn’t we be started by now?>???

Tim Bousquet, why do you want to reduce CO2 when it’s a harmless gas, fertilises plant growth and has no temperature driving properties???

BTW are you reducing all CO2 emissions by 70%? You know 96% of CO2 emissions are natural and 4% are man-made. How will you reduce natural emissions by 70% ?

JhonnyB,

If, as you stated, most of the CO2 emission is natural, how do you explain the significant increase in CO2 atmospheric concentration of the past hundred years? 

Water is also harmless but if you immerse yourself in it, you die.

Sept. 08 international scientists published data that showed that nature’s (trees and oceans) capacity to balance C02 has been constanty decreasing to now 54%.

In the US alone, this leaves us with a daily EXCESS of 16 Billion pounds of CO2 per day. Find calculations at www.ElToroEXPOSED.com .

Do a little math and chemistry, and you’ll see that this is far in excess what is good for oceans - - and oceans are dying from acidification: H2O + CO2 -> H2CO3.

While, yes, CO2 is a plant nutrient, ANY nutrient can be harmful in excess ( - - see EPA now watching CO2 as pollutant); just think of yourself living on a great excess of sugar: blood sugar imbalances, depression, diabetes, premature aging.

Find more info at www.ElToroEXPOSED.com

Sorry! Should have appeared as response to: “Why reduce CO2, - -

What Ross describes as the Progressive Fossil Fuel Efficiency Standard.

Isn’t this an intensity target approach (lowering GHG emissions/unit of production over time) that is so widely opposed by environmental groups in Canada and the US?

Taxes, no matter how small are always a difficult sell. We are deploying an alternate strategy - and that is to reward consumers with free eProducts (that have virtually no carbon footprint) in exchange for consumers agreeing to reduce their carbon footprint, as for example free fiber and high speed Internet to the home in exchange for a voluntary carbon tax on their energy bill.

For more details please see http://green-broadband.blogspot.com

Bill St Arnaud
Chief Research Officer
CANARIE Inc

Hi Ross, were you an habitual fibber at school? Just in your 1st paragraph, “We have heated the deep oceans..” No we haven’t, where’s your evidence? ..”We have loosed a wave of violent and chaotic weather..” No there’s no increase in extreme weather at all, even the IPCC has to admit that now! ..”We have altered the timing of the seasons..” No we haven’t. And if we do warm the globe the growing season becomes longer and we all benefit from bigger harvests. ..”We are living on a very precarious margin of stability..” No we’re not. The weathers been the same since 1940, so too the ice-caps, so too sea levels. ..”..we are offering this set of strategies..appropriate to the magnitude of the climate crisis..” What’s the plan to no climate change then?
Can i suggest you go back to school until you get your facts right and stop fibbing!!

JohnnyB,

Some (if not all) of your information is factually incorrect. For example, the amount of Glacier ice coverage has greatly diminished since the 1940. Equally, multi year ice sea volume has greatly decreased.

Nature’s (trees and oceans) capacity to balance CO2 has been decreasing to today’s mere 54%.

At this level of CO2, oceans are dying; see the recent work published in this month’s NATURE.

In the US alone, we wind up with a DAILY excess of 16 BPD (Billion Pounds/Day) of CO2.

See SCIENCE NEWS, 2.29.09, about “Island Nations brace for rising waters.”

For the calculations, problems, solutions, and more, check out www.ElToroEXPOSED.com


This is a great piece.  I like the concept of “climate peace” a lot. It’s interesting that the conflict over Iran’s nuclear program (which is now completely disbanded) has forced the country to look into renewables.  They just launched their first big solar array and also tried to get a large wind project funded, but were sadly blocked due to investment sanctions.  Renewables in Iran will help the climate as a whole and will very directly help stabilize tensions in the middle east.  You can’t lob a wind turbine or solar panel at Isreal!  Here’s my post:

http://mnn.com/technology/research-innovations/blogs/are-the-winds-of-ch...

Global warming is one of the major environmental problems that the world is facing. That’s why it has called the attention of the people. Global warming is not only an environmental problem but also it can affect the economy and social as it can give risks to insurance, transport, products in agriculture, development etc. No wonder that our economy is in shamble as the problem in global warming is getting worse. But the world especially the United States that is greatly affected is also facing another problem and that is the global economic crisis. Recently, a payday loan company has been hit with a class action lawsuit in Washington State. Claimants have filed that the lender engaged in collection practices that are definitely a show of some serious cheek.  The lender had reportedly contacted clients that were late in payments and threatened jail sentences, used profanity, and all manner of humiliating language in an attempt to intimidate clients. The authorities aren’t exactly fond of these practices.  The settlement was for about $2.5 million, so the clients probably aren’t going to need a payday loan again for awhile.

[x]

For more than a year, oil giant BP has waged a massive public relations battle to convince Americans that the company has been bamboozled by the oil spill claims process relating to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig blowout.

This BP PR campaign has involved full-page newspaper ads paid for...

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