CCG Climate Change Plan for California and the United States
- There is little that California, or even the United States, can do directly to alter the trajectory of climate change. California accounts for only about ½ of 1% of the world population and the U.S. is just over 4%. The future of emissions will depend in the large part on China, India, Pakistan, Brazil, Nigeria, Bangladesh, and the rest of the developing world. As Bill Nordhaus say, climate change is the mother of all externalities. It is fundamentally a global problem that requires a global response.
- This does not mean the U.S. cannot be a leader by taking action to limit its own impact through steps such as a carbon tax, or some other means of pricing the externalities associated with energy usage, and the subsidization of fundamental research. Low hanging fruit such as greatly reducing methane emissions and using coal to generate electricity should be exploited immediately. However, long-run solutions require that other nations follow.
- In the meantime, adaptation will be critical. The massive 2020 wildfires in the West are more the result of a failure of planning and adaptation than of climate change itself. There are many ways to confront issues such as higher temperatures and rising seas. There is also a tradeoff between the cost of combatting climate change and the cost of adapting to it. Finding the right tradeoff requires careful analysis and well-designed policies.
- Wealthy countries, including the United States, should invest more in basic research and make those results freely available to developing countries. The U.S. became rich, in part, by exploiting fossil fuels. Telling other countries, they cannot do the same is hypocritical, particularly when much carbon intensive manufacturing has been exported to them. They will only forego aggressive exploitation of fossil fuels if alternatives are cheaper. This requires new technology. If the technology is good and cheap enough, it will overcome the need for international coordination because it will be voluntarily adopted. No one had to force people in developing countries to buy smart phones instead of landlines.
- All energy sources, including nuclear, should be on the table. The combination of basic research with life-cycle cost/benefit analyses that take account of all the social costs of energy provision will make possible more rational government policies that produce the proper incentives. Other alternatives such as carbon capture and geoengineering also should be considered. Remember that conservation and efficiency are sources of energy.
- Because renewables are used almost exclusively to produce electricity rather than consumed directly, transformation to a primarily renewable economy will require a rethinking of how electricity is generated, stored, and transmitted. National grids will have to be expanded in scope and capabilities. This will require a new regulatory framework in the United States. It will also require coordination between investments in generation, transmission and storage.
- Grandstanding such as the movement to divest the stocks of fossil fuel producers should be avoided. We need to project how much primary energy will be needed going forward to power the global economy and decide what sources of energy will provide that power. Fossil fuels are likely to play an important role through at least 2050 because of the difficulty of replacing them in activities like air travel. This suggests that technologies such carbon capture and geoengineering need careful consideration.