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Nick Bell

This article brings news that ties in well with our class discussion of negative externalities. Over the past few decades there have been studies about the negative externality of all the environmental damage being caused by burning fossil fuels. Many scientists have concluded that our current model of burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas impacts the environment negatively through the production of greenhouse gases. However, despite all this research, as Professor Casey pointed out in class, little has been done politically to limit the emission of these gases.
Today, we learned that Senator Bernie Sanders is attempting to pass legislation which will inflict fees on greenhouse gas emitters. This would be a carbon tax of sorts that would highly limit pollution from some of the biggest offenders. This attempt comes after recent news that 2012 was the hottest year on record. Although it is encouraging that Sanders is at least attempting to finally make some changes, it is a plan that’s extremely unlikely to succeed. As Professor Casey said, politicians today tend to speak on these issues as if they are of great importance, but then never take action to solve the problems. For example, President Obama has said repeatedly that he will focus on climate change during his second term, but has not offered a specific policy agenda. This comes after promising to attack the issue during his first term, only to almost completely ignore the matter.
Although Sanders’ actions show that liberal politicians may be preparing to intensify plans to confront global warming, for economists, the situation looks dismal. It is hard for an economist to understand why politicians wouldn't attack this extreme negative externality as it would any other. As Angela Anderson, the director of the climate program at the Union of Concerned Scientists said, “The price tag for dealing with unchecked climate change makes the fiscal cliff look like a crack in the sidewalk”. Hopefully, Sanders’ attempts lead to more and our country can finally move towards solving the global warming problem.

Tim Werner

Despite the failure in the past to address the damage inflicted by the burning of fossil fuels and emission of greenhouse gases on the environment, I think that the best opportunity for the United States to pass legislation that would benefit the environment is now. As Angela Anderson said, “The price tag for dealing with unchecked climate change makes the fiscal cliff look like a crack in the sidewalk.” I am very optimistic that we could see a tax on greenhouse gas emissions in the near future due to presence of the fiscal cliff. By passing legislation to tax greenhouse gas emissions, the government can alleviate the fiscal cliff and simultaneously decrease future greenhouse gas emissions.
In Robert H. Frank’s article from our class discussion Wednesday, “The Invisible Hand is Shaking,” Frank addressed the high gas prices in the summer of 2008. He believes the simplest solution to discourage consumption of gas is to tax it. This not only raises government revenue for public services, but also makes the allocation of resources more efficient. These ideas not only hold for gas, but also can be implemented for all greenhouse gas emissions. Frank further states that “By taxing forms of consumption that generate negative side effects, we could not only generate enough revenue to eliminate budget deficits, but also help steer resources toward their most highly valued uses.” Due to the United States’ current economic status as well as the recent evidence of hottest year on record, the best opportunity for action to be taken against greenhouse gas emissions is now.

Doug Poetzsch

I really like the idea of a carbon tax to both limit the emissions of greenhouse gases and to help solve the current situation with the budget deficit. After reading this article, a carbon tax certainly seems like a win win. However, I believe there are at least a few reasons why it may not be.

1. The U.S is not the largest user of fossil fuels - China is and many other developing economies will surpass the U.S soon. There may be opposition to implementing a carbon tax because other countries would not be on board. If other countries did not adopt similar policies we would in effect be subsidizing their pollution and I could see a scenario where Americans were against paying more for gas or oil so that other countries can continue to burn it cheaply.

2. Given the prolonged and slow recovery from the recession it might be difficult politically to pass any measure that is contractionary. One can argue how contractionary a carbon tax is and would be in the long run but few can argue that it would not be in the short run. The question is what would be worse for the economic recovery removing the home mortgage deduction or raising taxes across the board compared to a carbon tax. Politicians of course may opt for none of the above and continue with their kick the can down the road policies.

Gyung Jeong

It is extremely important to note the slowly increasing temperature changes and more frequent natural disasters, such as Hurricane Sandy, due to global warming. That is why we, as people affected by these changes, need to be aware of the situation and be more proactive. Although it is true that we are taking steps forward to reduce the amount of greenhouse has emission, it is still not enough to make a huge difference. That is why we need to consider taking more actions to prevent the higher levels of greenhouse gas emissions. The legislation to impose fees on greenhouse gas emitters is most likely not going to pass, due to the lack of concern and apathy of the people. It will be extremely hard to pass this bill due to several reasons, such as the fact that most people in Senate have a business mindset and another fee for businesses will definitely not be popular. As Doug commented, economy can be another reason. During this kind of recession, as we are trying to recover from it, it is really hard for firms and companies to accept higher taxes. As we talked about in chapter 1 of our textbook, trade-offs between economic activities/gains and the preservation of environment are difficult. The opportunity cost of preserving the environment might be even higher. However, it is a step forward in becoming more proactive; it is also for the better future.

Wen Xiang Chuah

As discussed in class earlier, the bill itself is one that has been long overdue, with academic consensus having been long since achieved on its necessity. However, as long as the structure of domestic politics continues to encourage myopic self-interest, I remain personally pessimistic about the likelihood of a ‘green’ bill passing, primarily due to the economic costs associated with environmental protection and the continued denial of economic issues such as global warming prevalent within certain (significant) segments of the American populace. At least personally, I believe that we need to begin a gradual shift towards re-integrating nuclear energy into the standard renewable energy portfolio. Although nuclear fission is not ‘renewable’ in the traditional sense, additional money and research (from increased interest) would contribute towards the development and attainment of viable fusion energy technology, which is (at least for now) one of the most efficient form of clean energy known. Renewed interest and investment is vital in light of the current state of nuclear energy globally – the potential for nuclear proliferation aside, the nuclear accidents of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl have left the public wary of continued nuclear exploration (even more so in light of the recent Fukushima disaster), culminating in the current limbo state of nuclear energy – Much of the world’s nuclear energy plants were built in the ‘70s, and few additional (commercial) reactors have been built over the years, slowing down the pace of research and development in the field.

Will Hatfield

This article furthers the discussion we had in class on Thursday. The government must step in to limit greenhouse gas emission. I spent a few years of my childhood living next to a power plant called "Griffeytown" and kids in my neighborhood had higher rates of asthma and missed school due to repertory illness often. It became such an endeavor that the plant closed. Greenhouse gases pose a serious threat to our youth, our future economy, and our world.

The question that this article raises is, "is it more efficient to implement a carbon tax or to search for legitimate alternative energy?" In class we discussed that we usually jump from one problem to the next solving one issue and creating another. With this trend in mind, an alternate form of energy may not be the best solution. Then again, it may be politically unfeasible to raise taxes on natural gas.

Given the oil revolution going on in America and the recent breakthrough for companies such as Chevron, Chesapeake, and BP it would be in our best interest as an overall economy to continue drilling for oil. The carbon tax could help us reign in the budget deficit while protecting the environment, a supposed win-win. We must rely on good information to get in the hands of the voters and avoid market failures. Market failures could be an issue if people do not truly understand the issue and simply look at the price at the pump.

Courtney Ridenhour

I looked around on Bernie Sanders’ website and his office’s brief summary came out the day after John Whitehead posted about Sanders’ proposed climate bill. In addition to charging a fee to the most egregious polluters, Sanders called for “historic investment in efficiency, sustainable energy, advanced transportation infrastructure, and clean energy research and development. The measure also would end fossil fuel subsidies and tax breaks.”

The proposition is a sweeping one – clean energy, altered transportation, R&D, and a change in subsidies and the tax code. So is it politically viable? The assumption, as Zack Colman of The Hill points out, is that Republicans would block environmental legislation in both the Senate and the House. Operating under this hypothesis, Sanders’ proposal would not make it too far. A more conservative measure – one that say just addressed the fee for polluters – would have a greater likelihood of succeeding. That being said, the value of the discussion Sanders’ proposal creates on both Capitol Hill and in the public forum might be more powerful. It’s an interesting problem to have – do you try and tackle climate change all at once, or, instead, do you make incremental changes? Would public opinion sway legislators to making dramatic changes, and, if so, how quickly?

Summary from Sen. Sanders’ website: http://www.sanders.senate.gov/newsroom/news/?id=9c355769-b4e0-4138-8018-921bc3129a3b

Zack Colman’s article on The Hill:

Curtis Jay Correll

This is certainly exciting news. The fact that such an important issue has not only been mishandled by the government, as most issues seem to be, but actually outright ignored for so long is incomprehensible. It's good to see that at least someone is taking this issue seriously now, but the fact that it took the hurricane and countless other disasters to make it happen is just sad.
The indication that (though likely correct) only liberal politicians will back this action is a sign of the sad political state we are in. Nothing about this issue should be partisan, and it is tragic that congressmen from both sides of the aisle can't come together and address this issue. Hopefully politicians will resolve these petty squabbles, though it seems highly unlikely, and until then there will likely be no solution coming from Congress. The misinformation and apathy about the environment is just too great and widespread for us to find any solution to this tragedy of the commons. For the foreseeable future at least, it seems that politicians will continue to do what it takes to get reelected, and at the moment that is to ignore any environmental issues.

Cort Hammond

This is very interesting in relation to the Friedman article on carbon taxation. There are logically sound reason to favor a CO2 tax as a solution to the deficit and climate change. However, this article bluntly states that the bill is "highly unlikely to advance". I think that the reasons for this are lobbying and politiczation of a scientific debate. (many people still say that they don't "believe" in global warming as if it is optional). I see now how Friedman hoped to make the CO2 tax more attractive; the only way that anything will get through is if it passes the economic muster. If it can be construed in any way as hurting the economy (in the layman's sense; after all, we know that efficiency would increase as a result of a tax), then the bill simply won't make it.

Julia Murray

In my Chemistry 100 class that I took last semester, we spent a lot of time discussing the issue of Climate Change and possible solutions. The problem with most of the solutions we discussed was that they would be extremely costly, particularly to the U.S. government. A carbon tax, however, would not cost the U.S. government money, but would actually help reduce the budget deficit, which makes this option much more attractive from an economical standpoint. As Courtney points out, in addition, Sanders proposed several other measures, such as investment in efficiency, sustainable energy and clean energy research that would counterbalance the effect of a carbon tax on the deficit and possibly even increase it.

In my chemistry class we also discussed different approaches to the problem of climate change, usually motivated by self-interest, including waiting and studying the effects of climate change further before taking any action, and the opposite approach, quickly taking many actions to try and improve the problem. It seems that neither of these extremes are likely to alleviate the problem, in part because they are not likely to be approved by voters; therefore I think that proposing just a part of Sander's climate bill, the carbon tax, and putting off some of the other actions until the economy has improved, would be a more sensible option. As others have said, even if a carbon tax is unlikely to get passed, its proposal is definitely a step in the right direction.

Maggie Antonsen

Greenhouse gas emissions and global warming have been popular topics in regards to environmental protection and pollution. After reading that Sen. Bernie Sanders has proposed legislation to “impose fees on greenhouse gas emitters”, I realized that I do not actually know what greenhouse gases are, how humans have lead to more greenhouse gas emissions, how greenhouse gases cause global warming and why global warming is such a big threat. In order to really understand the proposed legislation I had to do a little bit of research. I will briefly answer these questions and provide helpful links.

What are greenhouse gases and how do they lead to global warming?
Greenhouse gases allow sunlight to enter the atmosphere. When the sunlight hits the Earth’s surface, some of it is “reflected back towards space as infrared radiation (heat)”. Greenhouse gases absorb this radiation and trap the heat in the atmosphere leading to global warming.
Link: http://www.eia.gov/oiaf/1605/ggccebro/chapter1.html

What role do humans play in greenhouse gas emissions?
“Many greenhouse gases occur naturally, such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone. Others such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) result exclusively from human industrial processes.” Because the US economy is the largest in the world and we meet most of our energy needs by burning fossil fuels, the US produces around a quarter of global carbon dioxide emissions. Furthermore, in the US energy use is the leading contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions are driven largely by “economic growth, fuel used for electricity generation, and weather patterns affecting heating and cooling needs.”
Link: See above

Why is global warming such a threat?
The negative effects of global warming and climate change are already apparent in record heat, storms, drought and wildfires. But the threats are not just related to weather and climate. Global warming can lead to water shortages (http://www.nrdc.org/globalwarming/) and many other health risks. I found an interactive map on the NRDC’s website that allows you to see the health risks brought on by climate change in your state (http://www.nrdc.org/health/climate/). In Virginia, climate change leads to worse smog and causes plants to produce more pollen, which affects asthma and allergies. Furthermore, residents of Virginia are exposed to dangerous heat, poor air quality, floods, drought, waterborne illnesses and infectious diseases like West Nile and Lyme’s. I found this last part really helped me to realize how global warming affects me personally, as I have somehow contracted Lyme’s disease twice.
Link: http://www.nrdc.org/globalwarming/

Now that it is clear the role greenhouse gases play in global warming and the risks associated with climate change it is important to decide how to remedy this problem. The NRDC lays out a solution the begins by calling for “Strong legislation that caps carbon emissions and makes polluters pay for the global warming gases they produce.” This is exactly what Sen. Bernie Sanders has proposed in his legislation. The NRDC further describes the benefits of this legislation explaining how it “will mobilize billions of dollars for investment and help address our collective energy, economic and climate crises” which will lead to more jobs, less pollution and fewer disasters in the future. The NRDC’s five-step plan is explained here: http://www.nrdc.org/globalwarming/solutions/.

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