Carbon Geography Revisited

Now that the election is over, I will start to blog again.  Sandy has focused attention on climate change mitigation efforts.   Let’s not forget the politics of carbon mitigation voting.   Read my co-authored 2012 paper on carbon voting, and let me know how you plan to build a carbon mitigation majority coalition.    For high carbon, low income, and conservative jurisdictions in the U.S,  how will you design an incentive policy that their Representative will vote in favor of?    For the record, I support $10 a gallon gasoline but I don’t believe that this policy will be enacted soon in the U.S.  This is why we need to design incentives to focus on how to nudge our ever investing cities to be more robust and resilient in the face of climate change.

I do believe that California’s AB32 will have a successful launch of its cap and trade and this “green guinea pig effect” will hopefully create a type of domino effect as other nations imitate pieces of this important field experiment.

In this small graph below, take a look at China’s rising per-capita carbon dioxide emissions. Look at India’s linear rise.  Progress in the U.S on carbon mitigation will be overwhelmed by LDC carbon growth.

 This is why the adaptation discussion must continue.   Unlike Joe Romm, I place free markets and competition (not government policy) as the leading actor in stepping up and finding us adaptation solutions.   I will blog more about this in the near future.



Author: Matthew E. Kahn

Professor of Economics at UCLA.

9 thoughts on “Carbon Geography Revisited”

  1. Eli, If no private levees are invested in then people will move to higher ground. Such levees lull people to move to areas that are increasingly unsafe. Migration will be a key part of climate change adaptation. There are many possible destinations in the U.S. Why must our future cities be built in the same ways and in the same places as our old cities? Do we learn from our mistakes?

  2. Sounds to me like you believe in the necessity of a carbon tax and the necessity of capitalism and free markets to speed adaptation.
    Good on you mate. That is the soundest pose to take.

    But what I find interesting about your post is the defense of Capitalism. As if free markets are teetering and under hostile attack by dirty hippies in jack-booted uggs.
    That’s not the America or the world I see: Free markets are worshipped by a hyper-majority.

    It reminds me of a flurry of recent posts by the likes of Howard Rheingold and other technophiles defending social media, smart phones, the internet, etc. from the threat of Luddites.
    Luddites? There are no Luddites to speak of. Technology has totally + totally won. WTF is Rheingold arguing about? Is he worried the Unabomber is going to suddenly garner a following?

    All of which is to suggest is that Capitalism needs no defenders. It’s a huggable puppy. It’s won. So much so that it has dramatically changed the atmosphere and started a sixth great extinction.
    All the real work that needs to be done is on the Carbon tax side of the equation.
    I suggest toggling your considerable talents to “all-in” on that…

  3. I don’t see the US on your per capita map, guess it would have diluted your message a little bit. There’s no doubt market mechanisms will have a role to play in carbon mitigation/adaptation, but so will government planning, policy and a heavy hand. I find your simplistic one sentence cures for climate change less than helpful. The difference between progressives and conservatives is that we tend to be pragmatic in allowing for mixed mode complex solutions, conservatives, not having to actually solve any problems, can insist on one sentence answers.

  4. OK Kahn, you talk about mitigation like you’re assuming the climate will change a little bit and then stop. Why would it do that? Are you just assuming 20 years from now everybody will get carbon neutral and everything will be cool?

  5. Eli, If no private levees are invested in then people will move to higher ground.

    Refugees are simply the free market at work!

  6. Do Matthew, Joe Romm and me mean the same thing by adaptation? Mitigation is a clear enough concept: cutting emissions. But adaptation can men either 1. whatever society does in any emissions scenario, or 2. more or less optimal action by all players in response to the climate change we get for a given mitigation pathway, or 3. more or less optimal action by government to ditto, treating the response by private actors as partly exogenous, partly a function of incentives created by policy. Matt seems to mean 2. Romm and the IPCC seem to mean 3. Some commenters mean 1.

    I still think Romm is right that the idea of an optimal policy response to climate breakdown as an alternative to mitigation is incoherent. Any half-way rational policy necessarily puts mitigation first.

    Matt would be right to note that the conventional policy analysis framework (like that of macroeconomics) denies moral agency to the private sector. To a first approximation, this is true of fossil fuel companies or Brazilian ranchers. But you can’t understand the response of Facebook to activist greenmail over its carbon footprint, or WalMart’s efforts to green its supply chain, without considering reputation and values. If you want straws of hope to clutch at, you could say that BAU emissions scenarios underestimate such cultural shifts in the private sector.

    Commenters are right that 1. includes catastrophic outcomes such as the drowning of the Ganges and Brahmaputra delta and the forced migration of 100 million people, many of whom will not survive. Looking only a little further ahead, 10 degree F. warming would make swathes of the globe uninhabitable (Kansas would have a Saharan climate) without continuous air-conditioning. This is not compatible with populations at near current levels, so unrestrained carbon emissions imply genocide. This may be a matter of personal style, but I recall that panic is adaptive.

  7. “and let me know how you plan to build a carbon mitigation majority coalition. ”

    Conservatives’ highest priority is always to lower income taxes on the wealthy and businesses (see for instance the policies they actually pursued when they last controlled Congress and the Presidency under Bush). So in theory you could trade off lower personal and corporate income taxes in exchange for adding a carbon tax or cap-and-trade and get to 50%+1 with a coalition of anti-tax conservatives and pro-environment liberals (plus assorted moderates who fall in both camps to varying degrees). That of course assumes that you would be dealing with rational conservative policymakers who wouldn’t oppose such a trade out of either loyalty to fossil fuel producers who finance their campaigns, rigid Randian economic beliefs, or because global warming has become a culture war rather than an environmental/economic issue for them. Needless to say there’s not much reason for optimism about pulling off a trade like this in the near future.

  8. Unfortunately, the operation of the free market prevents me from reading your paper.

    So here I am, seeking to become better-educated on this issue, so as to perhaps microscopically improve whatever tiny contribution I can make to an intelligent solution to the problem, but market forces interfere.

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