The Politics of Change

Political decisions are designed to create policies based on some goal. Policies are rules or laws imposed to ensure the implementations of tactics chosen to fulfill the needs of a strategy that is in support of a goal. A suite of policies or tactics comprise the means by which the strategy will be carried out. Let's set a goal:

Maintain Average Annual Global Temperatures Between 12.50C and 16.50C - the optimum temperature regime for human well-being.

This goal is easily defined and relatively easily measured annually. Trends that move away from the optimum can be detected early enough to invoke management actions to correct the trend. The goal has the advantage that it is not just a reaction to an impending disaster but it has the potential to safeguard the planet’s optimum temperature regime for people and the biological environment we need for millenia. It is a single variable but can be viewed in the context of other variables such as pollution, biodiversity, human population trends, poverty, and many others.

So that was easy, now how tdo we get the politicians to implement the necessary strategies? If we accept that use of fossil fuels,CFCs, and poor land use practices are the main culprits, there are some pretty obvious strategies. First, stop emitting excess greenhouse gases. Second, remove excess greenhouse gases from the atmosphere from the atmosphere. Third, block or reflect excess incoming solar radiation. Fourth, monitor the results so that modifications to the strategies can be made if needed.

This sounds straightforward, but it is not easy to stop using the wonderful fossil fuels. The world absolutely needs energy to maintain its civilizations, so simply ceasing to use fossil fuels is not an acceptable policy all by itself; there will need to be substitutes equal to the energy demand. Removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere or the emission sources is also not as easy as it sounds. The technology is available for capturing and sequestering carbon from the atmosphere where it is broadly scattered,is technologically very difficult and expensive. Water vapour will decline if the temperatures decline, but not if the temperatures increase.

Moving from Goal to action

Our goal is set, now we need to some strategies to get there. We can set up an objective as a partial solution for the overall goal and develop a strategy to achieve the objective on the way to achieving the over all goal. There can be many objectives inside the idea of an overall goal. This is just one idea.


To reduce the excess emissions of carbon-based greenhouse gases to zero

Now we need to figure out how to do that without any negative consequences. Let's set a strategy to use an economic incentive based on pricing carbon so that the market forces gradually encourage a transition using alternative energy sources and innovative product and process designs to reduce emission s to zero.


Initiate a Gradually increasing Fee on carbon sources and imports combined with a Dividend that goes to every citizen in the country.

(aka Direct Tax or Direct Carbon Tax - Quote from Climate Lobby)

A fee is charged at the point of origin or point of import on greenhouse gas emitting energy (oil, gas and coal). The fee is progressive (increases gradually) over time. The fee is returned to the public. By assuring all of the fees are returned to the public, we don’t have the problem of special interests arguing about who gets the money. It ALL goes back to the public directly.


  • Set up a trust fund to deliver the money to citizens

  • Start the fee at $15 a ton and increase it annually

  • Monitor and adjust the rate of increase to match results

In Storms of My Grandchildren (Bloomsbury, 2009), James Hansen explained his calculation of the dividend:

“As an example, consider the point in time at which the fee will reach the level of $115 per ton of carbon dioxide. A fee of that level will increase the cost of gasoline by $1 per gallon and the average cost of electricity by around 8 cents per kilowatt-hour. Given the amount of oil, gas, and coal sold in the United States in 2007, $115 per ton will yield $670 billion. The resulting dividend will be close to $3,000 per year, or $250 per month for each legal adult resident; a family with two or more children will receive in the range of $8,000 to $9,000 per year.” (p. 209)

I’m sure we agree that $3,000 a year would be a significant benefit for the 42 million people who live below the official poverty line in the U.S., and that $9,000 for a two-adult, two-child family would make a significant difference in a country where the median household income in 2012 was just $51,000. Hansen estimates that 60% of people would receive more than they would pay, and to my knowledge no one has disproved that.

In Hansen's view, the fee, applied to oil, gas and coal at the mine or port of entry, is the fairest and most effective way to reduce emissions and transition to the post fossil fuel era. It would assure that unconventional fossil fuels, such as tar shale and tar sands, stay in the ground, unless an economic method of capturing the CO2 is developed.

The entire fee should be returned to the public, equal shares on a per capita basis (half shares for children up to a maximum of two child-shares per family), deposited monthly in bank accounts. No bureaucracy is needed.

Hansen feels the public can understand this and will accept a fee if it is clearly explained and if 100 percent of the money is returned to the public. In his view not one dime should go to Washington for politicians to pick winners. No lobbyists need be employed.

The public will take steps to reduce their emissions because they will continually be reminded of the matter by the monthly dividend and by rising fossil fuel costs. It must be clearly explained to the public that the fee rate will continue to increase in the future.

When fuel prices decline, the fee should increase, to retain the incentive for transitioning to the post-fossil-fuel-era. The effect of reduced fossil fuel demand will be lower fossil fuel prices, making the fee a larger and larger portion of energy costs (for fossil fuels only). Thus the country will stop hemorrhaging its wealth to oil-producing states.

Fee and dividend is progressive. A person with several large cars and a large house will have a fee greatly exceeding the dividend. A family reducing its carbon footprint to less than average will make money. Everyone will have an incentive to reduce their carbon footprint. The dividend will stimulate the economy, spur innovation, and provide money that allows people to purchase low carbon products.

A carbon fee is honest, clear and effective. It will increase energy prices, but low and middle income people, especially, will find ways to reduce carbon emissions so as to come out ahead. The rate of infrastructure replacement, thus economic activity, can be modulated by how fast the carbon fee rate increases. Effects will permeate society. Food requiring lots of carbon emissions to produce and transport will become more expensive and vice versa, encouraging support of nearby farms as opposed to imports from half-way around the world.

Hansen issued a warning: "Beware of alternative approaches, such as ‘percent emission reduction goals’ and ‘cap and trade’."  These are subterfuges designed to allow business-as-usual to continue, under a pretense of action, a greenwashing. Hordes of lobbyists will argue for these approaches, which assure their continued employment. The ineffectiveness of ‘goals’ and ‘caps’ is made blatantly obvious by the fact that the countries promoting them are planning to build more coal-fired power plants. Hansen has attracted some considerable opposition because this directly criticizes legislation already proposed.

The Climate Lobby proposes to have legislation introduced that would enact a fee and dividend system in the US. The following is the text of their proposal.


1.  Causation: Whereas the weight of scientific evidence indicates that greenhouse gas emissions from human activities including the burning of fossil fuels and other sources are causing rising global temperatures,

2.  Mitigation (Return to 350 ppm or below): Whereas the weight of scientific evidence also indicates that a return from the current concentration of more than 400 parts per million (“ppm”) of carbon dioxide (“CO2”) in the atmosphere to 350 ppm CO2 or less is necessary to slow or stop the rise in global temperatures,

3.  Endangerment: Whereas further increases in global temperatures pose imminent and substantial dangers to human health, the natural environment, the economy, national security, and an unacceptable risk of catastrophic impacts to human civilization,

4.  Co-Benefits: Whereas the measures proposed in this legislation will benefit the economy, human health, the environment, and national security, even without consideration of global temperatures, as a result of correcting market distortions, reductions in non-greenhouse-gas pollutants, reducing the outflow of dollars to oil-producing countries and improvements in the energy security of the United States,

5.  Benefits of Carbon Fees: Whereas phased-in carbon fees on greenhouse gas emissions (1) are the most efficient, transparent, and enforceable mechanism to drive an effective and fair transition to a domestic-energy economy, (2) will stimulate investment in alternative-energy technologies, and (3) give all businesses powerful incentives to increase their energy-efficiency and reduce their carbon footprints in order to remain competitive,

6.  Equal Monthly Per-Person Dividends: Whereas equal monthly dividends (or “rebates”) from carbon fees paid to every American household can help ensure that families and individuals can afford the energy they need during the transition to a greenhouse gas-free economy and the dividends will stimulate the economy,