“We are concerned about the end of the world, but we are also concerned about the end of the month.” Those are the words of a Yellow Vest protestor after France, in an effort to combat global warming, announced it would raise gas taxes by 30 cents, bringing the price to about $7.36 a gallon. The plan led to riots in the streets of Paris and has since been suspended.
Global warming is a problem, but people get upset when the government raises their cost of living. Around Silicon Valley, the land of near-perfect weather, six-figure salaries and seven-figure home prices, rising energy costs may not present much of a burden. But in most parts of the world, they do.
Europeans are paying dearly to fight global warming. In England, more than 3,000 people die each year because they can’t afford to heat their homes, according to online newspaper The Independent. One-sixth of Germans spend more than 10% of their income on energy bills, says the Wall Street Journal.
In the U.S., Democrats led by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have proposed a Green New Deal that calls for replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources such as solar and wind to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
It would cost trillions. If, as Ocasio-Cortez says, “the world is going to end in 12 years if we don’t address climate change,” then it may be a price we have to pay.
But consider that China, India and other emerging economies of Asia have 3.6 billion people, 11 times the population of the U.S. They are just now beginning to enjoy middle class lifestyles. They want the things we have – cars and refrigerators and cell phones, all of which use energy.
Renewable energy use is rising rapidly but still only provided 10% of U.S. energy needs in 2017, according to U.S. News and World Report. We’ve reduced our use of the dirtiest fuel, coal, but it remains the world’s largest source of electricity, says the International Energy Agency, which expects Asian and African countries to increase coal use through 2040.
The IEA says the U.S. will contribute 15% of the world’s carbon-dioxide emissions this year, while China and India combined will contribute 37%. By 2040, the U.S. share is forecast to fall to 12% while China and India’s share rises to 41%.
So even if the Green New Deal eliminates U.S. carbon emissions, the impact on global warming will be small unless China and India do the same.
We should continue reducing our carbon emissions and do even more. The Economist magazine proposes a tax on carbon emissions. Revenue from that could fund more research and incentives for renewable energy.
The U.S. is awash in natural gas and has become a major exporter. Gas is a fossil fuel but emits less than half the carbon dioxide of coal, so helping the world shift from coal to gas is progress.
Batteries are being developed to store renewable energy when the wind blows and the sun shines for use at times when they don’t.
A Wall Street Journal opinion piece states: “For a minuscule fraction of the cost of the Green New Deal, we could fix the biggest piece of the climate problem by injecting particles into the air sufficient to block 1% of sunlight hitting earth.”
These ideas sound promising. Whatever solutions we pursue, we should find a way to reduce global carbon emissions without forcing Americans to shoulder an oversize share of the burden.