Sure, the crisis is a complex challenge with no one solution. But while carbon pricing may not be a silver bullet, it's one we're going to need in the chamber—and critically, support is growing all along the political spectrum right when we need it.
First, a quick primer. Carbon pricing as a concept is basically just what it sounds like: attaching a market price to carbon pollution emitted from burning fossil fuels. From there, things get a little more complicated as there are several ways to do it.
Carbon Tax: The simplest approach, a carbon tax assigns a price to each unit of carbon emitted or the carbon content of a fuel, either for designated industries or entire societies. There's a clear cause and effect: the more carbon you burn and emissions you put into the air, the more you pay. Plus, the price rises over time, gradually putting more and more pressure on people or industries to cut their emissions.
Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS): Usually called "cap-and-trade" in the U.S., the principle is that a state, provincial or national government establishes a market with a limit on how much a designated set of industries can emit in a year (the "cap" part). The government then distributes and/or sells allowances to emit a certain amount to everyone in the market. If a company, for example, is going to emit more than it originally bought, it has to buy more from someone else in the market who's not planning to emit as much (the "trade" part).
Fuel Tax: This is where a government will directly tax a fuel based on the amount of say, coal itself, rather than the carbon it produces when burned.
Hybrid Instruments: An increasingly popular option, hybrid instruments combine elements of a carbon tax and an ETS.
There's more to say about each of these—and we've put together the 2017 Handbook on Carbon Pricing Instruments to say it—but the important thing is that each uses market forces to encourage people or companies to burn less carbon—and so put less pollution driving climate change into the air.
Even big energy CEOs know that climate change is real and we have to take action today. #StandWithReality:… https://t.co/eKpEy2E1Xx— Climate Reality (@Climate Reality)1493294860.0
There's a flip side in that introducing some form of carbon pricing in turn makes low and no-carbon alternatives like solar and wind a lot more attractive because they don't carry the same costs as coal, oil, or gas. Users save money while investors start shifting more into renewables as demand for the better economic option grows, encouraging more development that encourages prices to drop even further. And on and on in a virtuous cycle.
The important point: done right, carbon pricing shifts the transition to a clean energy economy into high gear. And does it by making one part of our economic system a little more fair, a little more just.
That's because carbon pricing – as economists would say—helps to internalize externalities. As normal people would say, in many cases, those responsible for carbon pollution—think power plants, fossil fuel companies—aren't the ones paying the cost of climate change. That goes to kids suffering from more frequent asthma attacks or families watching wildfires devour their houses or a hundred other examples. Carbon pricing reverses that dynamic and puts something closer to the big-picture costs of carbon into the price of burning it.
Best of all, carbon pricing can appeal to pretty much every political persuasion—and in a time when at least in the U.S., Republicans and Democrats seem to have trouble agreeing on anything other than the virtues of spicy salmon rolls and bacon cheeseburgers—that's an important thing. More and more conservatives like carbon pricing because – if done right (and that's a big "if")—it can significantly cut government regulations and give businesses greater degrees of freedom, while achieving much of the same result. Better yet, carbon pricing can be designed to become revenue neutral, meaning the money generated from the plan goes back to individual taxpayers in one form or another.
This is the approach an all-star team of Republican thought leaders and policymakers from the Reagan and Bush administrations has taken, though there is a real danger of cutting regulators like the EPA almost completely out of the picture in exchange for a carbon price, as this plan would do. Meanwhile, one economist has even boiled an approach to carbon pricing he thinks can stop rising temperatures and heat up the economy down to one page.
On the other side of the spectrum, progressives like carbon pricing because, with the right design, it can help both cut down emissions and make the world a little more fair. Two factors in particular go into making this happen. First, structuring any plan to ensure that lower-income citizens get more in benefits than they personally pay in costs. Second, using a significant part of the revenue generated to actually lower emissions by investing in clean energy—and focusing investment in communities that are already suffering from climate impacts or fossil fuel industry pollution.
Progressives also like carbon pricing because it works in the real world. Scandinavian countries—Finland, Norway, and Sweden—were the first to embrace carbon pricing back in the 90s and contrary to the scare tactic stories you might expect, have actually seen their economies grow. After introducing a carbon tax in 1991, Sweden, for example, has seen emissions drop by 25 percent while its GDP has grown 60 percent—all with what has become the highest carbon tax in the world.
It's not just idyllic Scandinavian countries making carbon pricing work either. Until the election of a premier friendly to fossil fuel interests in 2012 stalled annual rate increases, British Columbia was showing how a revenue-neutral carbon tax could work in North America to cut emissions without impeding economic growth.
More carbon pricing is on the way, too. China—the world's largest carbon polluter—has been running ETS pilots in seven major industrial cities across the country with a view to launching a national system some time this year. In the U.S., lawmakers in Washington State, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Vermont have learned from past setbacks and are working to introduce plans at the state level. Plus, Canada just announced a new plan requiring all provinces to develop some approach to carbon pricing by 2018—or adopt a hybrid federal plan that's one part fuel tax and one part ETS.
It's not only the urgency of the crisis itself that's driving policymakers to look at carbon pricing as a feasible strategy for cutting emissions. After promising to cut emissions as part of the Paris agreement in 2015, many leaders started looking into real-world paths to live up to their commitments. In a world where no country wants to be the one that can't honor their word, carbon pricing looks like a very attractive and practical path forward.
Even the CEO of Shell knows that we have to #ActOnClimate. #StandWithReality: https://t.co/FVn828hP4N https://t.co/VIxpPcREGw— Climate Reality (@Climate Reality)1494822122.0
The French writer Victor Hugo (author of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Misérables, among others) once wrote, "You can resist an invading army; you cannot resist an idea whose time has come." For those who want to keep talking about glaciers in the present tense and pass a world we can be proud of on to our children, carbon pricing is an idea whose time has certainly come.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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