Solving a Global Problem State by State

Climate change is a global problem with a number of recognized groups. Island nations, first world/old guard polluters, emerging economies. Yet the solution to the problem is both simple and complex, and worse, it relies on the negotiating groups to defy their local interest for the global interest.

Take India, an emerging economy, who wants to pollute more to grow faster. India wants help greening its output, too. Europe, Canada, and the United States don’t necessarily want to give in to India. But if India pollutes its way to prosperity, even if the rest of the groups improve, we still get harms. On the other hand, if India restrains itself, grows slower, it means relegating millions upon millions to poverty longer than necessary. The United States won’t (at least for climate reasons) have sustained poverty like that. Why should Indians suffer?

What’s really going on, economically, is a dual-currency system. In some areas, like air travel or cars, the pollution cost should often be the dominant currency. In other areas, like food production (non-meat, anyway), the dollar cost should prevail. Yet we don’t have a dual-currency system. Nobody goes to the store and says, “Okay, I have $10 and ê10, but this widget is $12;ê7 and the exchange rate is three-to-two…”

Carbon pricing, in one form or another, was supposed to be the solution. Or, at least a big part of it. Yet we have failed to implement any carbon pricing scheme globally, and the regional ones haven’t shown themselves to be the type of success that begs replication. We have simply continued, from a policy standpoint, to more or less ignore the problem.

Carbon pollution is a sense of autonomy, of personal power. You can tool down the strip. You can throw your clothes in the oven, Kramer-style. Turn on the outside floodlights at night and sit in the outdoor hottub at 5°C. There is a certain bravado and self-affirmation involved in waste. A sense of adventurous recklessness, the cheat donut for the dieter.

How do we stifle a world’s desire to splurge? Especially when the media portrays such behavior as so desirable. Paints consumption as the chewy nougat center, the marrow.

Maybe we tempt the beast with temptation itself. Establish a global lottery, with entrance based on carbon asceticism. Every nation pays in to the kitty, and a yearly winner gets a boon, along with individuals too. Maybe it’s time we stop trying to seriously tackle the problem and instead lead with our zeal for fun.

Would it work? Would a chance to gain a large sum for individuals, businesses, and nations actually drive a change better than responsibility has so far? What would a small nation do with a sudden overlarge winning in a global climate lottery? Buy its neighbor?

Of course, a lottery wouldn’t work. But at least someone would win from the mess.