Toward a Candidate Consensus on Climate

The climate is a foundational issue. Beto O’Rourke deserves praise for putting a policy out there. Jay Inslee deserves credit for making it the central issue of his campaign.

The basic problem isn’t hard to understand. We burn carbon fuels, and that releases CO₂. The carbon accumulates in the atmosphere, warming the planet. It accumulates in the oceans, making them more acidic. We have to burn less carbon.

Given we still want to have stuff from far away, and that transportation is one of the largest sources of pollution, transportation is a big target to change. Electrification of transport, coupled with renewable generation of electricity, is the logical step toward carbon neutrality.

But we also know that humans are stubborn, particularly wealthy humans that make a lot of money selling carbon. Economists recognized that getting them to go along is difficult because they can simply lie about the science, buy politicians (or even the whole Republican Party), and stall any real change. So, economists propose a variety of pricing systems, whereby carbon emissions are priced.

Think of it like a gold rush. Someone shouts, “There’s gold in them-thar hills,” everyone goes for it. Already there’s some gold in decarbonizing, but there’s less than there would be if the actual costs of carbon were recognized as part of the economy. By adopting some form of carbon pricing, the greed of man is leveraged to turn gas guzzlers into sippers or even into electrics or hydrogen fuelcells.

Think of it like a tower-building contest. Right now, the contestants are paid per foot, so if you have a tower that’s barely over one foot-mark, it would take more effort to get to the next one. By pricing carbon, it’s like changing it to being paid by the inch. If you can add six inches, it doesn’t make another foot, but it’s still worth it. And you add up all the six-inch additions that all the tower-builders can add, and it’s a lot more than if just a few of them could add a whole foot.


But the main thing is focus. We need leaders, both in the White House and in the congress, who will speak often about the need to address the issue. It’s time for legislation. It’s time to reject anyone who calls it a Chinese hoax.

The consensus is to make carbon more expensive, and in doing so to make alternatives, including reductions in use, clean energy, and carbon sequestration more attractive.

The Old Carbon Deal

I’m here today to present my plan to change the climate. This is the Old Carbon Deal! I hope you’re excited. I know I am. I hope all the media outlets are ready to ask questions about feasibility. I hope lots of suit-and-tie folks are going to write long, important articles about the wisdom of my plan.

First off, the cost. By the year 2100, it will cost at least 10% of GDP per year (the equivalent of almost $200 billion in today’s dollars) directly. That’s economic output, and doesn’t count the damage costs to infrastructure, which will be more like a trillion dollars. That includes things like losses from crop failures, dealing with flooding, etc. It will cost even more indirectly, including from warfare and international economic disruption.

The best part of the cost is that someone else will pay for it! Who doesn’t like free stuff?! Gas prices will stay cheap, big corporations get a huge subsidy, and it’s the poor, like all those island nations you never learned in school, and future generations that pick up the tab!

Poor people who live in drought-stricken and famine-devastation will seek out places that support and sustain human life, disrupting borders and governments. They won’t have a choice—dying isn’t a solution to their problems. They won’t care about the law. Starvation doesn’t negotiate. That will create conflict. Their malnourishment will help spread disease. Their lack of educational opportunity will increase strife and lower their ability to integrate in new lands. More than 350 million people globally will be exposed to deadly heat stress by mid-century, including in parts of the United States.

Temperatures will rise more than 2°C on average, and the oceans’ waters will follow the temperature. Those nice beaches you visited as a child will be washed away. Some coastal cities will have to close up or try to move themselves or undertake expensive remediation. Those who try to stay will face repeated failures that run up the costs even further.

There will be freshwater shortages, further straining agriculture and industry. Livestock will be subject to heatwaves and feed shortages and droughts, too. Nobody will ban cows, but there’ll be a lot less red meat to go around all the same.

Okay, so that’s the costs of my plan. But what benefits does it have? It will shorten your lifespan, making every living moment that much more precious. It will increase disease, making universal healthcare more imperative. New York will feel like Arkansas. People will wear fewer clothes, saving on laundry costs (which will be higher due to water shortages). It will make the rabble believe in a wrathful God.

It may also lead to uncontrolled feedback that could result in even more warming and misery! As oceans rise, their surface area grows, and they absorb more heat! The melting of tundra and permafrost can release more CO₂! The death of ecosystems may result in even less natural carbon storage capacity!


Okay, you’re sold. You want in on this wonderful Old Carbon Deal. What do you have to do to make it happen? Nothing. If we do absolutely nothing, we will enact this climate change plan.

The media doesn’t like the Green New Deal. I don’t blame them. It’s a dud. Let’s do this here Old Carbon Deal. It sounds like a real winner to me.

How Climate Change Works

Most things in your life contain carbon. You contain carbon. Plastic contains carbon. Food contains carbon. Gasoline contains carbon. Air contains carbon.

We burn carbon fuels like gasoline, oil, natural gas, and coal to produce energy and heat. The combustion process causes the carbon molecules to break apart and combine with oxygen to form mostly carbon dioxide and some carbon monoxide.

We are a major force on the earth, building skyscrapers, a dizzying number of cars, a swarm of air travel, lots of trade and shipping. All these activities put carbon dioxide into the air.


If you’ve ever eaten peanuts or sunflower seeds in the shells, you know how much waste there is. That’s a lot like carbon pollution: we are getting the energy out from the carbon-chained molecules, and it leaves the carbon afterwards. Over the years, we have all these extra carbon gases around. Some of them get eaten by plants to grow, but the plants only eat so much every year. Others end up in the ocean, where they turn the ocean more acidic. If you have ever put an egg in a carbonated soda, you know it will slowly dissolve the shell of an egg!

Eggshells are made out of the same stuff as sea life like corals and clams and some types of plankton use to protect themselves. Having an acidic ocean is bad news for the ocean ecosystems.


The air filling with carbon dioxide makes it absorb and emit more infrared radiation. You can think of this like being in a dark-painted room or a light-painted room with the same lamp. The dark room is darker, because the dark walls will absorb more light. If we live in a world with more carbon in the air, it will mean we live in a hotter world.

But, just like you can read under the lamp in the dark-painted room, you can still find cold places and seasons on a hotter world.


What can we do to not add so much carbon in the air? We can make choices about what we buy, and we can tell the government we want them to work on the problem. We have had pollution problems before, and dealing with them did not destroy the economy. It has saved lives, and it makes us healthier. In the case of carbon pollution, the health impacts are not as direct as things like mercury and lead, but the long-term trends are clear.

Living in a world with too much carbon in the air will make the oceans less productive, which will make human life harder. It will make storms and droughts and forest fires worse. It will add to disease, famine, and social unrest that will bring war.

We have to choose to reduce the carbon in the air.

Do: There is a Bomb

Do: There is a bomb. We should defuse it.

Re: There is no bomb.

Do: It’s right here. I’m touching it. I can feel the ticking with my fingers.

Re: There is no bomb.

Do: If we defuse it, we won’t get blown up.

Re: There is no bomb.

Do: The paper beside it says, “This is a bomb.” Oh! And here’s a defuse kit.

Re: It’s not a bomb.

Do: What is it, then?

Re: It’s not a bomb, whatever it is. And it’s too far away to do any harm.

Do: It’s right here. You could touch it if you tried.

Re: I could not touch it. See?

Re reaches eir hand toward the bomb while taking a step backward.

Do: You stepped backward!

Re: I did not. If anything, it moved away from me.

Do: The bomb’s timer says three minutes. We should defuse it.

Re: It’s not a bomb.

Do: You’ll be sorry when you’re bleeding to death from shrapnel wounds.

Re: I most certainly will not. I will heal and the scars will make me stronger.

Do: I thought you said it’s not a bomb?

Re: It’s not a bomb.

Do: Of course it is. All these wires and the explosives! If that’s not a bomb, what is it?

Re: I’m not qualified to talk about it.

Do: Let’s ask them. Do points to a bomb expert hotline number on the bomb defuse kit’s case. E pulls out eir phone and calls.

Mi: Bomb expert hotline. This is Mi. How can Mi help you?

Do: We think we have a bomb here.

Mi: Describe it for Mi, please.

Do: It’s a big mess of wires with a clock and what looks like paper-covered blocks that say C4 on them.

Mi: Does sound like a bomb to Mi. Anything else?

Do: There’s a piece of paper that says it’s a bomb.

Mi: Yes, Mi thinks it’s a bomb. You should defuse it.

Do hangs up.

Do: She says it’s probably a bomb and we should defuse it.

Re: There are many other experts that say it’s not a bomb.

Do: Please help me defuse it.

Re: Don’t! The bomb is good for us. We should speed the timer up.

Do: Speed the timer up—are you mad?! We’ll be killed, both of us.

Re: I have some bomb timer grease.

Do: Bomb timer grease?! I thought you said it wasn’t a—

Re squirts bomb timer grease into the bomb timer’s gears.

Do: Good God! We only have a minute left! Quick, you have to help me isolate the timer from the primary charge.

Re: Nope. We’ll be better off. Just you watch.

Do: Dead? You’re crazy. I’ll defuse it myself.

Do starts tracing the wires with eir hands, but Re slaps eir hand away.

Do: Quit! This is serious!

Re: I didn’t do anything.

The bomb explodes.


The bomb is a metaphor, principally for climate change.

It’s three short weeks until we get to vote in the 2018 midterms.

The planet needs your help in defusing the bomb.

Globalism and Global Warming

The world continues to globalize, particularly information. One of the results of this is that when we hear news of global warming we confront not just our role in pollution, but our place as global citizens with all the implications.

This is heavy stuff. By analogy, software often must be recompiled to handle new data sources. The worldview, similarly, must be reworked. It requires a reintegration of the umwelt (Wikipedia: “Umwelt”)—the mental environment. It is the sort of psychological upheaval that requires a remooring in the new, emerging culture, but it’s occurring to broad swaths of man on a random, ongoing basis.

Major changes are challenging, and doubly so when the people are in denial. Job losses, relationship turmoil, financial ruin. Sudden awareness of being a member of not just your community, state, or country, but part of a broader order that includes people who don’t watch football.

While Republicans may have other, prurient interests in denying climate change, those may coincide with an aversion to this reintegration. The conservative mind is generally uncomfortable with the foreign (which is recognizable in the right’s zeal for war—the attack on and taming of the foreign). With each report of islands being subsumed by the tide, of glacial melt, of flooding and drought, all in places unpronouncable and unknown to their tongues, the conservative mind is reminded that the world exists beyond its borders and beyond its control.

Like global warming, globalization has real consequences that denial will make worse. Indeed, in many ways they will be one crisis of one cause. And at this late date, both are inevitable, but the harms can be mitigated. But not with current leadership. There are Republicans who have left office who suggest carbon pricing of one form or another. The Republican bloc rejects that, as they reject programs to protect workers from globalization while allowing it to occur.


By carefully using globalization, greater autonomy on some issues can be sent to the local level while strengthening the rights of the universal declaration. Energy consumption and production can be balanced and carbon pollution reduced and eliminated. But it takes the desire to see done, which serving Republicans lack as a bloc.

But change will come. Younger Republicans know climate change is a real threat. Educated Republicans know that global trading is not going away, and that it is a net-positive. The question remains, will change come soon enough?

The 2018 midterms are in about seven weeks.