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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By Eric Tate and Christopher Emrich
Disasters stemming from hazards like floods, wildfires, and disease often garner attention because of their extreme conditions and heavy societal impacts. Although the nature of the damage may vary, major disasters are alike in that socially vulnerable populations often experience the worst repercussions. For example, we saw this following Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey, each of which generated widespread physical damage and outsized impacts to low-income and minority survivors.
Mapping Social Vulnerability<p>Figure 1a is a typical map of social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract level based on the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI) algorithm of <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1540-6237.8402002" target="_blank"><em>Cutter et al.</em></a> . Spatial representation of the index depicts high social vulnerability regionally in the Southwest, upper Great Plains, eastern Oklahoma, southern Texas, and southern Appalachia, among other places. With such a map, users can focus attention on select places and identify population characteristics associated with elevated vulnerabilities.</p>
Fig. 1. (a) Social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract scale is mapped here following the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI). Red and pink hues indicate high social vulnerability. (b) This bivariate map depicts social vulnerability (blue hues) and annualized per capita hazard losses (pink hues) for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019.<p>Many current indexes in the United States and abroad are direct or conceptual offshoots of SoVI, which has been widely replicated [e.g., <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13753-016-0090-9" target="_blank"><em>de Loyola Hummell et al.</em></a>, 2016]. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) <a href="https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/placeandhealth/svi/index.html" target="_blank">has also developed</a> a commonly used social vulnerability index intended to help local officials identify communities that may need support before, during, and after disasters.</p><p>The first modeling and mapping efforts, starting around the mid-2000s, largely focused on describing spatial distributions of social vulnerability at varying geographic scales. Over time, research in this area came to emphasize spatial comparisons between social vulnerability and physical hazards [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-009-9376-1" target="_blank"><em>Wood et al.</em></a>, 2010], modeling population dynamics following disasters [<a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11111-008-0072-y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Myers et al.</em></a>, 2008], and quantifying the robustness of social vulnerability measures [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-012-0152-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate</em></a>, 2012].</p><p>More recent work is beginning to dissolve barriers between social vulnerability and environmental justice scholarship [<a href="https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2018.304846" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Chakraborty et al.</em></a>, 2019], which has traditionally focused on root causes of exposure to pollution hazards. Another prominent new research direction involves deeper interrogation of social vulnerability drivers in specific hazard contexts and disaster phases (e.g., before, during, after). Such work has revealed that interactions among drivers are important, but existing case studies are ill suited to guiding development of new indicators [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2015.09.013" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Rufat et al.</em></a>, 2015].</p><p>Advances in geostatistical analyses have enabled researchers to characterize interactions more accurately among social vulnerability and hazard outcomes. Figure 1b depicts social vulnerability and annualized per capita hazard losses for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019, facilitating visualization of the spatial coincidence of pre‑event susceptibilities and hazard impacts. Places ranked high in both dimensions may be priority locations for management interventions. Further, such analysis provides invaluable comparisons between places as well as information summarizing state and regional conditions.</p><p>In Figure 2, we take the analysis of interactions a step further, dividing counties into two categories: those experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019. The differences among individual race, ethnicity, and poverty variables between the two county groups are small. But expressing race together with poverty (poverty attenuated by race) produces quite different results: Counties with high hazard losses have higher percentages of both impoverished Black populations and impoverished white populations than counties with low hazard losses. These county differences are most pronounced for impoverished Black populations.</p>
Fig. 2. Differences in population percentages between counties experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019 for individual and compound social vulnerability indicators (race and poverty).<p>Our current work focuses on social vulnerability to floods using geostatistical modeling and mapping. The research directions are twofold. The first is to develop hazard-specific indicators of social vulnerability to aid in mitigation planning [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-020-04470-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate et al.</em></a>, 2021]. Because natural hazards differ in their innate characteristics (e.g., rate of onset, spatial extent), causal processes (e.g., urbanization, meteorology), and programmatic responses by government, manifestations of social vulnerability vary across hazards.</p><p>The second is to assess the degree to which socially vulnerable populations benefit from the leading disaster recovery programs [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/17477891.2019.1675578" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Emrich et al.</em></a>, 2020], such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) <a href="https://www.fema.gov/individual-disaster-assistance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Individual Assistance</a> program and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) <a href="https://www.hudexchange.info/programs/cdbg-dr/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Disaster Recovery</a> program. Both research directions posit social vulnerability indicators as potential measures of social equity.</p>
Social Vulnerability as a Measure of Equity<p>Given their focus on social marginalization and economic barriers, social vulnerability indicators are attracting growing scientific interest as measures of inequity resulting from disasters. Indeed, social vulnerability and inequity are related concepts. Social vulnerability research explores the differential susceptibilities and capacities of disaster-affected populations, whereas social equity analyses tend to focus on population disparities in the allocation of resources for hazard mitigation and disaster recovery. Interventions with an equity focus emphasize full and equal resource access for all people with unmet disaster needs.</p><p>Yet newer studies of inequity in disaster programs have documented troubling disparities in income, race, and home ownership among those who <a href="https://eos.org/articles/equity-concerns-raised-in-federal-flood-property-buyouts" target="_blank">participate in flood buyout programs</a>, are <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1063477407" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eligible for postdisaster loans</a>, receive short-term recovery assistance [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2020.102010" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Drakes et al.</em></a>, 2021], and have <a href="https://www.texastribune.org/2020/08/25/texas-natural-disasters--mental-health/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">access to mental health services</a>. For example, a recent analysis of federal flood buyouts found racial privilege to be infused at multiple program stages and geographic scales, resulting in resources that disproportionately benefit whiter and more urban counties and neighborhoods [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/2378023120905439" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Elliott et al.</em></a>, 2020].</p><p>Investments in disaster risk reduction are largely prioritized on the basis of hazard modeling, historical impacts, and economic risk. Social equity, meanwhile, has been far less integrated into the considerations of public agencies for hazard and disaster management. But this situation may be beginning to shift. Following the adage of "what gets measured gets managed," social equity metrics are increasingly being inserted into disaster management.</p><p>At the national level, FEMA has <a href="https://www.fema.gov/news-release/20200220/fema-releases-affordability-framework-national-flood-insurance-program" target="_blank">developed options</a> to increase the affordability of flood insurance [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2018]. At the subnational scale, Puerto Rico has integrated social vulnerability into its CDBG Mitigation Action Plan, expanding its considerations of risk beyond only economic factors. At the local level, Harris County, Texas, has begun using social vulnerability indicators alongside traditional measures of flood risk to introduce equity into the prioritization of flood mitigation projects [<a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/Portals/62/Resilience/Bond-Program/Prioritization-Framework/final_prioritization-framework-report_20190827.pdf?ver=2019-09-19-092535-743" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Harris County Flood Control District</em></a>, 2019].</p><p>Unfortunately, many existing measures of disaster equity fall short. They may be unidimensional, using single indicators such as income in places where underlying vulnerability processes suggest that a multidimensional measure like racialized poverty (Figure 2) would be more valid. And criteria presumed to be objective and neutral for determining resource allocation, such as economic loss and cost-benefit ratios, prioritize asset value over social equity. For example, following the <a href="http://www.cedar-rapids.org/discover_cedar_rapids/flood_of_2008/2008_flood_facts.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2008 flooding</a> in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, cost-benefit criteria supported new flood protections for the city's central business district on the east side of the Cedar River but not for vulnerable populations and workforce housing on the west side.</p><p>Furthermore, many equity measures are aspatial or ahistorical, even though the roots of marginalization may lie in systemic and spatially explicit processes that originated long ago like redlining and urban renewal. More research is thus needed to understand which measures are most suitable for which social equity analyses.</p>
Challenges for Disaster Equity Analysis<p>Across studies that quantify, map, and analyze social vulnerability to natural hazards, modelers have faced recurrent measurement challenges, many of which also apply in measuring disaster equity (Table 1). The first is clearly establishing the purpose of an equity analysis by defining characteristics such as the end user and intended use, the type of hazard, and the disaster stage (i.e., mitigation, response, or recovery). Analyses using generalized indicators like the CDC Social Vulnerability Index may be appropriate for identifying broad areas of concern, whereas more detailed analyses are ideal for high-stakes decisions about budget allocations and project prioritization.</p>
By Jessica Corbett
Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday was the lone progressive to vote against Tom Vilsack reprising his role as secretary of agriculture, citing concerns that progressive advocacy groups have been raising since even before President Joe Biden officially nominated the former Obama administration appointee.