Earth Day Comment: We are Living the Transition

We are now living in the beginning of a period of global transition. Over the next two decades we will be rebuilding the infrastructure of our civilization. We could choose to replace existing infrastructure with something similar, but slightly newer and more expensive… or we could choose to build the economy of the future. There’s no question about which is a better investment.

As we come to grips with the mounting costs of inefficient outdated technologies, we are beginning to see the unprecedented economic incentive for moving swiftly to redesign the built environment that we inhabit. The amount of energy trapped in hydrocarbon molecules deep underground is minuscule in comparison to the amount of solar energy that lands on the surface of the Earth and the resulting kinetic energy that moves around our planet all day, every day.

The prevailing model for accessing and distributing energy for human purposes is unsustainable—economically, thermodynamically, and climatologically. We cannot persist in the way we know how to live, if we continue our current course and vital life-sustaining natural services continue to be eroded. The costs associated with that erosion are unsustainable, and the impact on civilization, over time, will mean we cannot sustain the institutions or systems, cultures or landscapes, we care about.

Agriculture itself is fast becoming unsustainable on a global scale. With massive numbers of millions of pollinating bees dying off or disappearing, with the wildflowers they depend on to remain year-round near the crops we need them to pollinate, with rashes of flooding and drought alternating to eradicate reliable food crops, and with demand increasing at an unprecedented rate, our food supply is coming under unprecedented pressure.

We can correct these mistakes by making simple, decisive adjustments that will move us off a costly and counterproductive carbon fuel diet and give us access to a diverse menu of healthy all-clean, low-impact renewable energy options. We have data to guide us, we have technology to put into practice, we have the scientific support structure and democratic processes to watch for best practices and serve the interests of real people, and we have imaginative entrepreneurs working hard to build a clean, alternative future economy.

What we don’t have is a market that tells the truth about energy costs. The current market is designed to tell us that costly, dirty energy sources that harm our health, undermine our security and destabilize our climate are cheap and convenient. This is what drives ever greater volumes of fossil fuels to points of consumption around the world.

To correct this potentially fatal market failure, before it corrects by bursting the carbon bubble economy or by stripping most people of affordable food and water, we only need to apply a straightforward fee and return the revenues to households. The result is a responsible correction of the false market price, and support to consumers so that externalized costs can no longer be passed along to them.

The Carbon Tax Center finds that such a fee, starting at $15/tonne of C02-equivalent greenhouse gas emissions, rising by $10 per year, with 100% of revenues returned directly to households, would provide at least two-thirds of households with as much or more than they would pay in total pass-through costs. In short: fossil fuel interests would finally have to pay their own costs of doing business.

We know how to correct this pervasive market failure. We know how to do it so that Main Street mom-and-pop shops don’t come under stress. We know how to do it so that the marketplace drives an intelligent transition, without a need for costly command-and-control mechanisms. What we need is the political will to get it done.

So, this Earth Day, I want to celebrate the work of thousands of tireless, dedicated Citizens Climate Lobby volunteers, who are working in teams to build that political will and help bring this better future into being. There is no reason our economy should lag behind the best of what we know. We are living the paradigm shift, living the dawn of the transition. We should demand that our leaders, our corporations, and our communities, engage accordingly.

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Originally published April 22, 2014, at Geoversiv.com

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