"Mercy Mercy Me", Yellen and Musk agree on carbon, Caste and climate

The newsletter for people "woke" on carbon and climate

(source: GreenBiz)

Issue No. 65

Welcome to the latest issue of Carbon Creed - a curated newsletter for people “woke” on carbon and climate. 

Executive Order 14008 “Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad” - elevating environmental justice

Addressing environmental justice is a top priority of the Biden-Harris administration. Just one week after his inauguration, President Joe Biden designated January 27, 2021 “Climate Day” at the White House and signed a number of executive orders (EO), including one intended to Secure Environmental Justice and Spur Economic Opportunity.” Under this EO, President Biden took the first steps to make good on his campaign’s environmental justice (EJ) commitments.

The new EO creates a White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council, chaired by the head of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).  It also creates a White House Environmental Justice Advisory Board, whose members shall be appointed by the President, and which shall advise the Interagency Council and the CEQ Chair.

The order also directs the CEQ chair to “create a geospatial Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool” and to “annually publish interactive maps highlighting disadvantaged communities.”

The purpose of the tool will be to identify disadvantaged communities to which federal investments and benefits will be targeted, and to facilitate the delivery of 40 percent of overall benefits of “relevant federal investments to disadvantaged communities.”

The day after the executive order was launched, both chambers of Congress introduced the Environmental Justice Mapping and Data Collection Act of 2021, which builds on many of the concepts in the executive order and would create a whole-of-government initiative, including data infrastructure and funding to “identify communities most at risk from environmental injustices.”

These moves by the Biden Administration send a clear message - environmental justice is central to their climate strategy. The key to success will be execution. The agencies must carefully appoint the right leaders to serve on the Interagency Council. The President must carefully appoint the right people to serve on the White House EJ Advisory Board. This is arguably more important than enacting new policies. EXECUTION IS KEY.

If you have an opinion on any topic covered in this newsletter, please feel free to send me an email at mcleodwl@carboncreed.com. 

Thank you for your viewpoint and the value of your time.

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QUOTES

Climate quotes that will inspire you

1 “Climate change is sometimes misunderstood as being about changes in the weather. In reality, it is about changes in our very way of life.” ~ Paul Polman

In this quote, Dutch business leader Paul Polman reorients the whole conversation by asking us what is truly changing when we talk about the future we’ll have under climate change. It is not only the planet and environment that will change — but also the way we humans live on it, too.

2 Mercy, Mercy, Me ~ Marvin Gay

Whoa, oh, mercy mercy me
Oh, things ain't what they used to be, no no
Where did all the blue skies go?
Poison is the wind that blows from the North and South and East
Whoa mercy, mercy me
Oh, things ain't what they used to be, no no
Oil wasted on the oceans and upon our seas, fish full of mercury
Oh, oh, oh mercy, mercy me
Oh things ain't what they used to be, no no
Radiation underground and in the sky
Animals and birds who live nearby are dying
Oh mercy, mercy me
Oh things ain't what they used to be
What about this overcrowded land
How much more abuse from man can she stand?

Marvin Gaye’s green anthem, Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology), is a lament that seeks forgiveness and change for human destruction of the earth. The melancholy song contains an underlying tone of worry that forces one to reflect on the havoc caused during the Anthropocene. Written nearly half a century ago in 1970, it deserves a listen by young and old today.

3 “Daylight follows a dark night.” ~ Masai Proverb 

We stand at the beginning of the great decarbonization. All electric power, buildings and transportation infrastructure will be transformed. Stay positive. A new day is dawning. A better climate future lies ahead. (W. McLeod)


BOOKS

Caste

Written by Isabel Wilkerson

To read Isabel Wilkerson is to revel in the pleasure of reading — to relax into the virtuosic performance of thought and form one is about to encounter, safe and secure that the structures will not collapse beneath you. Her new novel, Caste, is no exception.

“Caste” gets off to an uncertain start. Its first pages summon, in dystopian-novel fashion, the results of the 2016 election alongside anthrax trapped in the permafrost being released into the atmosphere because of global warming. Wilkerson is making a point about old poisons returning to haunt us. But by pulling in global warming (a subject she never returns to in any real fashion) so early in her book, you wonder if “Caste” will be a mere grab bag of overwhelming, nightmare scenarios.

It isn’t.

Wilkerson's central thesis is that caste is a global race and class occurrence. The author supports her analysis with an immense compendium of documented research that spans centuries. She meticulously critiques what she calls the three resonant caste systems in history: the Indian caste system, the Nazi caste system and the American caste system. Wilkerson does an excellent job explaining parallels and weaving together common caste themes, where appropriate.

In October, Netflix announced that it would produce a film adaptation of the book to be titled Caste and directed by Ava DuVernay. So if you find the book length intimidating, perhaps a film version will be more your speed.

Creed Comments: Caste strikes me as an instant American classic and (arguably) the best nonfiction book of the American century thus far.  Having said that, why would I write a review about this book? Because Wilkerson was audacious enough to use global warming to set the tone for a novel about race and class.

This was my personal book choice for Black History Month, and I must admit it was an excellent read. It’s not a climate or carbon book, but it is compelling nonetheless. Read it.


CLIMATE ECONOMICS

Musk and Yellen agree: we must tax carbon!

Elon Musk says the No. 1 way to decrease carbon dioxide emissions would be to levy a tax on carbon. “The economy works great. Prices and money are just information. ... If the price is wrong, the economy doesn’t do the right thing.” said Musk.

Currently, there is no direct monetary consequence for businesses and industries whose production releases greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere; in other words, it is free to create green house gasses, the most common and pervasive of which is carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is released when fossil fuels, like coal and gas, are burned. Excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere traps heat and causes global warming.

Musk calls carbon concentrations in the atmosphere and environment an “unpriced externality.” An externality happens when some consequence of production is not properly reflected in the market. In this case, it is a negative externality.

A carbon tax would change that.

“If we just put a price on [carbon emissions], the market will react in a sensible way. But because we don’t have a price on it, it is behaving badly,” Musk says.

Musk suggested a tax at the point of consumption. (A consumption tax is one that is levied at the point of consumption, when someone buys something, where an income tax is one where you earn income or collect interest, capital gains and the like, according to the Brookings Institution.)

He also suggested the tax be “non-regressive,” meaning the tax could be levied based on income level. If a “low income” consumer who has to use a lot of gas (and therefore produce a lot of carbon emissions), they could get a “tax rebate,” Musk said as an example. “That’s the way to do it.”

Musk indicates that he has talked to the Biden administration about implementing a carbon tax, but at the time, the administration said it seemed “too politically difficult.”

However, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, has indicated her support for some sort of carbon pricing strategy. “Carbon pricing” can refer to a carbon tax, an emissions trading system or any number of other financing mechanisms.

In written answers submitted to the Senate Finance Committee in January, Secretary Yellen stated, “We cannot solve the climate crisis without effective carbon pricing. The President supports an enforcement mechanism that requires polluters to bear the full cost of the carbon pollution they are emitting.”

The goal of a carbon tax is to align market incentives towards transitioning from an economy that depends on fossil fuels to one that uses clean energy (energy that does not produce carbon emissions). And that, Musk says, is an existential necessity.

“One thing that would matter — put a price on carbon,” Musk says. “It’s the obvious move.”

[This post was adapted from the original by Catherine Clifford which appeared on CNBC.]

Creed Comments: Elon and Janet, we couldn’t agree more on this. Let’s drop the lame excuse that “there is no silver bullet” - we know that. But if you want to accelerate decarbonization of electricity, transportation, buildings and agriculture, you must price carbon. And heck, we’ve got to find a way to pay for this transformation!

I believe when the Biden infrastructure bill is dropped, you will see a re-emergence of the carbon tax + dividend concept. Stand by folks.


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