Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Another Inconvenient Truth
Guest perspective/Roy Morrison
As Al Gore's global warming call to action flickers on the screens of America's multiplexes, we must face another inconvenient truth.
We need to confront the really bad climate change news behind China's economic boom built on dirty coal.
And we also need to grasp the available market based solution to the global warming and sustainability crisis, one that can curb China's and our own poisonous habits.
In the last two years, China has put on line a phenomenal 90,000 megawatts of carbon dioxide belching coal fired electric plants. That's equal to the total British installed electric capacity.
China now burns more coal than the U.S. (2.73 to 2.10 billion tons/year), and by 2025, if the breaks aren't applied, Chinese coal consumption will be 40 percent of the world's total.
The U.S. position as global carbon dioxide king will soon be threatened by Chinese dirty coal powered industrialization. The U.S. will nevertheless remain safely in the lead as oil consumer and carbon emitter to power our ever-expanding motor vehicle fleet - unless we change.
While the West talks about clean coal technologies to make low carbon gaseous and liquid fuels, the Chinese plants are smoke and sulfur belchers using second hand equipment and obsolete technology.
The Kyoto treaty thoughtfully exempted China and the rest of the developing world from greenhouse gas reductions in the name of pollution equity.
Unless the Chinese (and Americans) conduct is fundamentally changed, we likely have no chance of stabilizing atmospheric carbon dioxide levels at 500 parts per million (ppm) or less by mid century (370 ppm today and rising ). And, of course, 500 ppm may already be way too high an amount of carbon for our liking.
So, what's a concerned movie goer and citizen to do?
Technologically, we have the means, if not the will or the proper price signals, to vastly improve energy efficiency, cover the plains and the coasts with wind turbines, the deserts and our roofs with solar cells, drive ultra light hybrids fueled with ethanol and biodiesel, use clean coal technologies, bubble power plant carbon dioxide through enormous biodiesel algae ponds. The solution to global warming is not simply to appeal to Chinese (or our own) long term best interests to stop pollution before it's too late. As long as pollution is "free," the price for sustainability remains too expensive.
The key is to make what's polluting, depleting, and ecologically damaging more expensive than sustainable alternatives. The means replacing income taxes with ecological consumption taxes and enlisting the market price mechanism and business acumen in service to sustainability.
We can swiftly help domesticate the Chinese dragon by getting our own house in order through ecological consumption taxes, in particular, an ecological value add tax, or VAT, a kind of smart sales tax on all goods and services.
The more polluting, the higher the ecological VAT rates.
What's more polluting will cost more. What's sustainable will cost less. Buy cheap, save the planet can be the new watchword.
And, most importantly, these ecological consumption taxes are consistent with World Trades Organization (WTO) rules. They can be levied on all imports--Chinese imports for instance --to level the economic playing field.
If the industrial world led by the U.S., the biggest consumer, adopts ecological taxes, the Chinese and the other exporting Asian Tigers will be forced to follow and substantially clean up their act or be forced from our markets.
The market and ecological taxation is an available and potent means to transform our own, and Chinese conduct, from the path of ecological self-destruction to that of sustainability and prosperity. It's time.
Roy Morrison is an energy consultant ( and writer. His latest book is "Eco Civilization 2140."


Anonymous said...

It amazes me how reasonable and realistic this type of proposal sounds, and yet it still faces shrill, hysterical opposition from many of those in congress.

Tony said...

Agreed. Roy is one of those pretty amazing people I have met along the way in life. He is the kind of guy who should be at an expensive think tank somewhere, coming up with realistic ideas to fix things. The recent actions by Gates and Buffett in giving away billions to the third world are a tad disheartening at times because some of that money should go into a think thank for someone like Roy who could tinker with his wind projects, make it work, and then market it around the world for the betterment of all mankind. I would bet that if you put Roy in a room with $1M in development funds, he could make it work. That would be like what, 3/1000 of 1 percent of what we have spent during the deserts of Iraq into glass?