Stiglitz on global warming

Joseph Stiglitz points to some solutions to global warming, and some politics that stands in the way, excerpted from his latest column:

What is required, first and foremost, are market-based incentives to induce Americans to use less energy and to produce more energy in ways that emit less carbon. But Bush has neither eliminated massive subsidies to the oil industry (though, fortunately, the Democratic Congress may take action) nor provided adequate incentives for conservation. Even his call for energy independence should be seen for what it is – a new rationale for old corporate subsidies.

A policy that entails draining America’s limited oil supplies – I call it “drain America first” – will leave the US even more dependent on foreign oil. The US imposes a tariff of more than 50 cents per gallon on sugar-based ethanol from Brazil, but subsidises inefficient corn-based American ethanol heavily – indeed , it requires more than a gallon of gasoline to fertilise, harvest, transport, process, and distil corn to yield one gallon of ethanol.

… A striking fact about climate change is that there is little overlap between the countries that are most vulnerable to its effects – mainly poor countries in the South that can ill afford to deal with the consequences – and the countries, like the US, that are the largest polluters. What is at stake is in part a moral issue, a matter of global social justice.

The Kyoto Protocol represented the international community’s attempt to begin to deal with global warming in a fair and efficient way. But it left out a majority of the sources of emissions, and unless something is done to include the US and the developing countries in a meaningful way, it will be little more than a symbolic gesture. There needs to be a new “coalition of the willing,” this time perhaps led by Europe – and this time directed at a real danger.

This “coalition of the willing” could agree to certain basic standards: to forego building coal-fired plants, increase automobiles’ fuel efficiency, and provide targeted assistance to developing countries to enhance their energy efficiency and reduce emissions. Coalition members could also agree to provide stronger incentives to their own producers, through either more stringent caps on emissions or higher taxes on pollution. They could then agree to impose taxes on products from other countries – including the US – that are produced in ways that unnecessarily add substantially to global warming. What is at stake is not protecting domestic producers, but protecting our planet.

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