Reasonable Solutions to Climate Change in an Age of Hysteria


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Climate change was all the rage at last month’s United Nations (U.N.) General Assembly. Highlighted by a speech from 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, environmentalists were quick to chastise world leaders for “ignoring science” and insisting on “eternal economic growth,” but were reluctant to provide any reasonable solutions to resolve our climate conundrum. 

A perfect example of this phenomenon can be found in the rhetoric of Ms. Thunberg at the U.N. Her cries of “How dare you!” create a good vs. evil dichotomy in which only those that agree with the most radical climate change policies are listened to. Holding a position less radical or “urgent” than Thunberg’s is not tolerated, and people espousing those beliefs are castigated as ignoring our humanity’s forthcoming “mass extinction.” At 16 years old, Thunberg should be encouraged to change her rhetoric; to borrow a modern phrase, “cancelled.” 

Hyperbolic language aside, in the next 40 to 50 years, we will begin to experience some negative effects if the Earth continues to warm at its current rate. This begs the question, exactly what can we do to stave off or eliminate the threats we face from a warming planet? Are there any solutions that will help to mitigate some of climate change’s effects while not dramatically decrease our standard of living? Though the answer to those questions is not entirely certain, there looks to be at least a plausible way to reach an answer of “yes.”

I will preface these recommendations with the following caveat. It is highly unlikely that any of these policies would make a sizeable difference in stopping climate change if they were not implemented and enforced on an international level, with serious consequences for violators. As much as we would like to think otherwise, the national interests of other nations do not necessarily match American national interests (take Vladimir Putin’s stated position of climate change being a “good thing” for Russia as an example).

A worldwide tax on carbon consumption is a solution that conservatives and liberals alike can make sense of. As Nobel Prize winning economist William Nordhaus suggests in his book “The Climate Casino” a per-ton tax of $25-$35 on CO2 could be a solution that solves the political and philosophical issues associated with common climate change solutions. A carbon tax may be a solution that conservatives can get on board with as it regulates climate change in a manner similar to the way businesses and individuals are punished for pollution; if you create an externality, you pay the price. Conservatives abide by the principle that the only role of government in a free market is to regulate externalities. With climate change, the externalities of a warmer Earth and their direct effect on other people can sometimes be hidden, but they certainly will be felt.

The first victims of climate change will be poorer, coastal societies in the tropics that do not have sufficient infrastructure to divert rising sea levels or recover from climate change induced disasters, whereas the biggest contributors to climate change in the world reside nowhere near the tropics. Economists refer to this problem as the “free rider effect” whereby the actions of the free riders have minimal effect on themselves, but a large effect on others. A carbon tax is a realistic way of solving the “free rider” problem. 

In order to dramatically reduce or eliminate the carbon emitted from energy production (25% of total carbon emissions according to the IPCC), the U.S. and other industrialized nations should begin phasing out coal and gas fired power plants for nuclear and natural gas based alternatives. 

Nuclear power is the cleanest and most efficient form of energy on Earth. It emits zero carbon and the byproducts of nuclear fission can be dealt with using a miniscule amount of land. Environmentalists should view nuclear power, not solar or wind power (whose production processes are actually quite carbon intensive) as the long-term solution to our energy problems. In the meantime, natural gas is the perfect stopgap energy source, as according to The New York Times, it emits 50% less carbon than coal and is a relatively cheap form of energy compared to renewables. 

Above everything else, countries around the world should be preparing to absorb some of the blow from climate change. Countries on the coast should construct plans to divert the rising seas away from the mainland (dams, levies, dykes and higher seawalls are a good start). Just as the U.S. stockpiles oil for national emergencies, arid countries of the world should begin stockpiling potable water that may not be easily accessible in a warmer world. Individual countries must prioritize preparation and mitigation over the pipe dream of a global Green New Deal so long as an international agreement to solve climate change issues is not reached.