Don’t take shortcuts in cutting carbon
Published: Sunday, August 14, 2011
Updated: Sunday, August 14, 2011 16:08
Al Gore, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning former vice president who fell a few hundred Florida votes shy of becoming America's 43rd president has evolved into becoming one of the world's leading advocates of climate change awareness.
To say that Gore is passionate about his beliefs would be an understatement. In fact, while attending the Aspen Institute Forum on Communications and Society seminar in Colorado, Gore proved just how deeply held his convictions are through a public tirade on the politics of climate change. It was at this point where Gore blasted the theories of climate change skeptics as "bull----." His outburst continued with, "When you go and talk to any audience about climate, you hear them washing back at you. The same crap over and over and over again. There's no longer a shared reality on an issue like climate even though the very existence of our civilization is threatened."
Whether you consider Gore's fervent statements to be fact or fiction does not really matter at this point. The inconvenient truth at hand is the lack of attention that the environment is receiving among our major news outlets. Indeed, it seems that as long as no oil rigs are exploding or nuclear power plants are melting, it remains all quiet on the environmental front, and subjects like sustainability are lost among the debt negotiations and fluctuating markets.
What I find to be most frustrating about this lack of media attention is that the environment holds huge economic implications, which means it's a topic we should not be ignoring or avoiding. Take into consideration the issue of CO2 emissions. Often correlated with changes in climate, CO2 emissions contribute not only to increasing global temperatures but also to numerous other factors including rising sea levels. Ergo, climate change will, in the long run, incur future damages, and by weighing what economists call the "social cost of carbon," you can assess how much money you'd save by avoiding said damages in the first place.
One ton of CO2 equals about what you release into the atmosphere by driving a car for two-and-a-half months. Currently, the United States government estimates that one ton of carbon emission equals a social cost of $21. However, according to a new report from a network of economists known as Economics for Equity and Environment, that approximation is grossly inaccurate; the true social cost of one ton of CO2 in the atmosphere can equal up to $893 in economic damage, which is more than 12 times the government's highest estimate. By 2050, these costs could rise up to $1,550 per ton of CO2 emitted.
This means that the cost that the current government estimates for CO2 emissions are smaller than the dollars required to avert those damages by reducing emissions. Consequently, from the government's standpoint, preventative measures to reduce emissions appear uneconomical when compared to the latter option of simply allowing emissions to continue rising.
The current political dialogue overlooks inaccurate emissions costs, which, if addressed, would set a price sticker on CO2, providing policy makers with an accurate sense of direction when mulling over regulations that could affect emissions, including energy legislation.
Instead of addressing environmental issues head on, our lawmakers are finding ways to antagonize them. Take U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Ocala) for example, who during the same week as Gore's loud criticism, held a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations here at UCF. The hearing was titled "EPA's Takeover of Florida's Nutrient Water Quality Standard Setting: Impact on Community and Job Creation."
Many characterized the hearings as being one-sided and showcased only two pro-EPA testimonials out of eight. At one point, U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Lakeland) asked the Regional Administrator of the EPA, "What have we done wrong to receive the wrath of the EPA?" according to the Orlando Business Journal.
Because of its absurdity, the question was met with laughter from the audience. Nonetheless, the words of Ross and the actions of Stearns reflect a lack of focus when it comes to the environment. This is not an issue of state's rights versus federal regulations. This is an issue of clean water versus dirty water, carbon emissions versus carbon damages.
Later in his speech, Gore said, "We became the greatest county on Earth because we made better decisions than any other nation."
If we are to keep moving forward and remain the greatest nation in the world, then we must stop solving long term problems with short term solutions.
If we won't, then who will?