Dan Kammen: They’re Both Right

March 2, 2017

Daniel M. Kammen is a professor of energy at the University of California, Berkeley, director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory, and Science Envoy for the U. S. State Department

Dan Kammen in Scientific American:

Over the past two years, two thoughtful, innovative, and dramatically different plans to address global warming have been presented to the American public by the Democratic and the Republican Parties. Both plans would move the nation significantly toward a sustainable future.

The first, the Clean Power Plan (CPP), introduced by President Obama, calls on states to reduce carbon pollution from the power sector by 32 percent below their individual 2005 baselines by 2030. The CPP further makes $8 billion available to retrain and aid coal-workers and their families. This is a sizeable transition fund for an industry now valued in total at less than $50 billion, a tenth of what it was just a few decades ago.

The second, the Carbon Dividend Plan (CDP) was recently proposed by the Climate Leadership Council which is headlined by former Republican Secretaries of State James Baker and George Schultz, as well as former Treasury Secretary Paulson, two former Chairmen of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, and a Chairman of the Board of Walmart. The CDP calls for a modestly rising carbon tax, with dividends paid directly back to American families amounting to roughly $2,000 per yearfor a family of four.

Both plans have a great deal to like. The home run strategy for American job creation and industrial leadership is to implement both the CPP and the CDP

The federal government estimates that the CPP will yield climate benefits to the U. S. economy of $20 billion, and health benefits of $14-34 billion, and to each year avoid 3,600 premature deaths, 1,700 heart attacks, 90,000 asthma attacks, and 300,000 missed work and school days. With so many of these illnesses in lower-income areas and in minority communities, the CPP is of tremendous benefit to poorer Americans and to the national budget as well. To be fair, some, but not all, of these benefits would also come from the CDP, although they are less clear-cut because emissions reductions could come from other sectors of the economy beyond electricity.

The CDP includes a provision for boarder taxes on foreign imports from nations that do not implement some form of carbon pricing, presumably with a dispensation for the world’s poorest nations.

Together the CPP and the CDP build a vibrant, intensely job-creating energy sector that would be far larger than either plan accomplishes alone. The CPP does not pit one state against each other, but pushes each state to develop its own carbon reduction plan. Both red and blue states are finding this easier and more profitable than previously imagined. The power sector reduced its carbon emissions 21 percent between 2005-2015, primarily by switching from coal to gas. It is well on the way to complying with the Clean Power Plan.

The CPP will accelerate the transition to money-saving energy efficiency, and to a job-rich renewable energy sector. Countries such as China, Bangladesh, Denmark, Germany Kenya, Korea, and Portugal have seen tremendous manufacturing and job growth as they made their electricity sectors more diverse, clean, and job-producing.

As innovations spread in the energy sector, the benefits of the CDP come into play. The carbon dividend to U. S. families is estimated by the U. S. Treasury to directly benefit financially the poorest 70 percent (some 223 million people) of Americans. A federal infrastructure investment would further stimulate this deal, bringing jobs to the capital-intensive energy sector across the country.


67 Responses to “Dan Kammen: They’re Both Right”

  1. J4Zonian Says:


    No, a carbon tax is not the same as subsidies.

    It won’t function the same way on multiple levels; it can’t be targeted and is only a way to affect the “market”. But delusions about what we actually have, which is a corporate-controlled political-economic system, will not help. No market, enslaved or other, can possibly meet the needs of this emergency, any more than it could have defeated Germany and Japan in WWII, although it might possibly have been able to take on Italy and fight it to a draw.

    Making a carbon tax painless AND unfairly biased toward AND profitable for, corporations is the only way to get it passed by the corporate duopoly. That’s an absolute guarantee of ineffectiveness. Anything effective will be rejected, and if you don’t understand that theres’s no point in talking any more. Actually pretty much any tax that’s ineffective will be rejected by the right, too—on general principle. The only option is to remove those people and corporations from the decision-making process.

    Now you’re being disingenuous. And not paying attention. You mentioning Hansen’s view on a carbon tax is citing a climate scientist on economics. In any case, for the 42nd time: Just like Hansen and anyone else you might cite I’m not against a carbon tax. Understand? I am not against a carbon tax. The question is whether it’s enough by itself. Quite clearly it’s not. (How many economists say it is?) I am not against a carbon tax. Even with internalizing externalities and switching subsidies from fossil and fissile fuels to renewables it won’t be nearly fast enough to avoid cataclysm. I am not against a carbon tax.

    I am not against a carbon tax.

    2°C is a politicians’ goal; it will be catastrophic, as is obvious from the very serious effects we’re already seeing at 1°C, and as the foremost experts and best and most up-to-date science make clear—Hansen among them (Hansen, et al, 2015/2016).

    ”If we really want to avoid 1.5 degrees, and we can’t rely on large-scale carbon sequestration, then the global community has to zero out its carbon emissions by 2026.”
    http://www.vox [dot] com/2016/10/4/13118594/2-degrees-no-more-fossil-fuels

    Bill McKibben’s 2012 Rolling Stone Climate Math article is instructive although out of date in this incredibly fast-moving field. It’s been updated with understanding that it’s much more dire than McKibben said.

    https://newrepublic [dot] com/article/136987/recalculating-climate-math

    These and other articles and videos by David Roberts, Kevin Anderson and others make it clear that it will take an astoundingly extraordinary effort by the world, cooperating in ways and to a degree that’s unprecedented, to avoid not just 2 but 4 and above.

    Here’s Anderson at the London School of Economics:

    http://www.vox [dot] com/2014/4/22/5551004/two-degrees

    The uncertainties within the certainties of cataclysmic tipping points are extremely worrying, to say the least. Fantasies about capturing carbon after overshoot with nonexistent technology (or the proven but not magically fast technologies of forestry and agriculture); the pipeline of already-emitted gases that haven’t had their full warming effect yet; the extra, hidden warming built into cessation of particulate pollution in China and elsewhere; these and other factors mean we are on the precipice, AND don’t know exactly where that is, so the only even remotely rational move is to do absolutely everything we can as fast as possible, knowing that even that might not be enough. Sitting back and sacrificing billions of people and uncountable others for our physical and emotional comfort would be the most despicable act of genocide in history. Thinking the market or only a carbon price can do it, is either egregiously ignorant or batshit crazy delusional. Or both. Your allegedly-non-enslaved market religion is addling your mind.

    PS To equate citing science with a remarkable and increasing degree of agreement, to citing economics is absurd, btw. When 97% of economists agree on something, I’ll believe it.

    Here a few economists I would consider good on economics, although since they’re not climate scientists I wouldn’t trust them sight unseen on climate cataclysm: Richard Wolff, Thomas Piketty, Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz… and whoever FDR had. Eleanor and FDR saved the US and the world, with foresight, determination, wisdom and compassion. We had a chance to vote in someone who would have been at least 1/2 an FDR but Clinton, the Democratic establishment and the media collaborated to keep him from being elected, so we ended up with Il Drumpfe the Rusti Mussolini—and a congressful of fossil-corrupted insane idiot extremists. Once we manage to get rid of them, how fast we’ll have to switch to renewable energy, massive reforestation and small-scale, low-meat organic permaculture is the question. Nothing short of a total society-wide government-mandated crash program will be enough.

    Here’s McKibben’s much-too-slow version https://newrepublic [dot] com/article/135684/declare-war-climate-change-mobilize-wwii

    http://www.theclimatemobilization [dot] org

    • funslinger62 Says:

      While a carbon tax is not exactly a subsidy, it works equivalently to a subsidy.

      Here’s how: a carbon tax increases the burden on those who use fossil fuels. That is equivalent to giving subsidies to all of the competition that doesn’t use fossil fuels.

      It also has the advantage in that it doesn’t require the expenditure of funds by the government. Just the opposite, it provides revenue.

      I’m not concerned with making a carbon tax painless. In fact, it should be very painful. If an appropriately high carbon tax could be placed on the use of fossil fuels it would be more effective and less expensive for the government.

      • J4Zonian Says:

        If a carbon tax is painful it won’t happen; the oligarchs it would be most painful for run the country, entirely in their own short-term interest. We need to replace the oligarchy with people who will make rational decisions in the interest of people and the rest of nature. That is, we need a complete, radical peaceful revolution.

        Once we do that it will be possible to target subsidies for the things that need it most. Battery development, for example, that may use a fair amount of carbon but needs help if we expect to survive. A carbon tax isn’t specific enough to do what we need. A feed-in tariff will help develop distributed solar and democratize energy as it has in Germany, for example; and regionally-specific dispatchable renewable sources, demand responses and other ways to harmonize a renewable grid while extending it to include a lot of primary energy (public EVs, heat, etc.)

        The best carbon tax would be a tax and dividend that would go to people in need–low income people, for example, and those who would need a big capital investment to lower their emissions and still make it. It would be part of the Oligarch Removal Project and probably wouldn’t generate much government income.

        More important is the government action we have to have to create a sustainable society. We have to nationalize the fossil fuel industry to shut it down fast enough for civilization to survive and replace it with efficiency, wiser lives and clean safe renewable energy, fast enough and in a coordinated way.

  2. I am for all forms of energy for sure electric cars by the millions in our cities would be so much more efficient and quieter this one change and it would be a big one would have the world awash in energy in the long run and would help the climate not for a carbon tax counter productive. Our country is so in debt it is going to be hard to do the things that will need to be done to get us producing our consumer goods again maybe robots can build our stuff but who will build the robots maybe China. A balanced budget amendment would help but no one wants any of the pain to get back to a balanced budget just running the printing presses so much easier!!

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