Gov. Jay Inslee might use executive authority to limit greenhouse gases. The action might not be as disruptive as doing nothing.
Washington is in a drought emergency and Seattle has seen a string of record temperatures atop a creepy warm and dry winter and spring (it’s caused by a “blob,” they say — but what’s causing the blob, hmmmm?).
Meanwhile, thanks to a cowardly, compromised or flat-earth Legislature, the state is doing nothing to comply with a 2008 law mandating a 50 percent cut in carbon emissions by 2050.
Faced with this, Gov. Jay Inslee has this crr-a-zee idea to actually do something, specifically use his executive power to implement a tax or cap-and-trade system on carbon.
If, unlike 97 percent of the scientists that actually study climate, you don’t believe that climate change is real, human-caused and happening faster than feared, go away. You’re getting the paralysis you want. Don’t be a sore winner. For those in the reality-based community, here are some thoughts on the issue:
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1. The carbon driving climate change represents a market failure. Markets fail for all sorts of reasons. In this case, polluters get to burn carbon into the global commons called the atmosphere for free. The actual cost of doing so isn’t built in, so the price mechanism, a wondrous thing when it works, can’t find the real price of this activity.
2. Climate change represents an economic cost and it will get worse. For example, a new peer-reviewed analysis estimates that unless action is taken, the United States can expect tens of billions in damage from flooding and other severe-weather events, while farmers could face $11 billion in lost crops. A Stanford University study estimated the cost of climate change at $220 for every ton of carbon not kept in the ground. This is one of many scholarly papers making clear that, unaddressed, the crisis will be very expensive — and not just for the developing world.
3. The global problem is local. Major parts of Washington’s economy depend on fisheries, tree fruits, wineries and tourism in magnificent forests. All are under threat from climate change. And don’t forget sea-level rise. One could argue taking action is a moral obligation to the future and our stewardship of the planet. But for those only swayed by dollar arguments, we’re talking real money.
4. Pricing carbon is an opportunity. Opponents claim that any action to address climate change will cost jobs. But this assumes a zero-sum game from a dynamic economy they otherwise worship. Accurately pricing carbon will encourage the development of technologies that emit fewer greenhouse gases. Rebuilding our passenger train system, building high-speed rail and improving transit systems would provide options to carbon-intensive transportation. All this and more has the potential to create millions of new jobs.
5. The elephant in the room. One of the major causes of CO2 emissions (beyond cars) is jet airplanes. They also happen to be key to the state’s livelihood. A new study shows how climate change is making flights longer, in turn producing more emissions. How will Inslee finesse this one? The 787 is more fuel efficient, a good start. High-speed rail between city pairs (LA to Phoenix, say) could eliminate a good slice of emissions, leaving jets for longer-haul routes. But let’s be honest, you could plaster a “We’re Changing the Climate! Ask Us How!” sticker on the Puget Sound region.
Excuses such as one state’s actions being insignificant are unconvincing. Inslee is not using hyperbole when he refers to climate change as “an existential threat.” If such damage were coming from a country or terrorist group, the other Washington would declare war in a heartbeat. This Washington could be a trendsetter.
Today’s Econ Haiku:
Amazon drone force
Might best the F-35
Add hellfire missiles
I invite you to follow me on Twitter @jontalton. I promise you won’t be bored.