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As we come to grips with the mounting costs of inefficient outdated technologies, we are beginning to see the unprecedented economic incentive for moving swiftly to redesign the built environment that we inhabit.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.

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You Already Pay a Carbon Tax

…to the oil companies.

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[ The Note for December 2013 ]

It is estimated that nearly $5 trillion per year is spent to support the fossil fuel industry globally by governments (in the form of subsidies, tax credits and other industry support spending) and through hidden “externalized” costs paid by governments and consumers alike (some from health, some from degradation of vital natural resources, some from political and economic turbulence, disruption and waste). It costs a lot of money to make fossil fuels appear to be a “low-cost” way to make historic profits and provide energy. You are paying that hidden carbon tax every day, as part of the cost of almost everything you do.

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Op-Ed: We need to rescue capital from carbon asset risk

Op-Ed: We need to rescue capital from carbon asset risk

First printed in The Times of Trenton, as a guest opinion column, on December 01, 2013

For a long time, fossil fuels have been a smart investment. There is unparalleled infrastructural, political and tax policy support for those investments, and so there is a lot of money to be made. But all markets have nuance, and plenty of people lose money gambling on fossil fuel interests. That has always been true. Now, we face a new kind of crisis in pricing certainty: fossil fuel companies have invested far too much in future production that will not have as high a market value as they would like.

The Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reveals that we have a global lifetime carbon fuel budget of 1 trillion metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial revolution. Any burning of fossil fuels beyond that will bring on unmanageable destabilization of global climate patterns. The cost to government, society and enterprise of dealing with that level of change to the worldwide underpinnings of all our economic activity will be too great to bear.

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Why the Carbon Budget Matters

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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found, in its 5th Assessment Report (AR5), which was released in September, that the worldwide human community has a global lifetime budget of “burnable” carbon-based fuels. Beyond that, any further burning of carbon-emitting fuels would push global average temperatures more than 2°C higher than the historic norm, unleashing unmanageable climate destabilization. So, though existing reserves might allow us to use far more than the scientifically measured carbon fuel budget, those resources are in effect “unburnable”.

This is not a matter for ideologically driven debate. This is a question of hard numbers. A 2°C rise is the tipping point, beyond which it is projected climate destabilization will be irreversible, with complex feedback loops exacerbating the situation more and more. Beyond a certain point, probably well before we reach the full 2°C rise, the actual cost of adapting to significant destabilization of historically consistent climate patterns will exceed our ability to spend to respond.

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