As we’re sure most readers already know, leaders from around the world are meeting at the COP21 conference in Paris, France this week with one singular purpose: to set in stone a series of emissions targets and policies which will try to mitigate or at least reduce the catastrophic effects of manmade global warming.
In its own words, COP21 seeks to “achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 2˙celsius,” although it’s still far too early to decide if it will manage its singular, imperative goal.
In addition to playing host to leaders from all over the world, Paris has also welcomed a great number of business leaders, scientists and influencers this week. Each, hoping that their own skills and expertise will play a positive part in the COP21 discussions, are making their own voices heard in what could be the biggest decision the world has ever faced.
Given the high stakes and the emphasis on reducing the very carbon emissions which have got the human race into this particular situation in the first place, it’s no surprise that Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been one of those people calling for world leaders to act decisively to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
Talking at the Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne earlier today, Musk addressed students with his own take on the effects that climate change will have on the human race, as well as his vision of how the world could act together today to minimize those effects. His lecture, more than an hour in length when combined with the usual question and answer session at the end, was part science, part social studies, and part business studies, reiterating Musk’s personal view that climate change is the “dumbest experiment, ever.”
Arguing that there is a “hidden subsidy on all carbon-producing activities,” Musk called for agressive carbon taxation, arguing that the transition to renewable, zero-carbon energy was being held back because society didn’t fairly tax heavy carbon producers for the true cost their emissions had on society.
It’s not a new idea: in climate change science, it’s generally referred to as the social cost of carbon. In addition to the costs associated with mining, refining and using fossil fuels, the social cost of carbon measures the impact on society due to poor air quality, increased healthcare costs and premature death. Rather than charge those producing the pollution for the economic costs associated with lost days at work, increased healthcare and poor air quality Musk argued, society as a whole is paying the price.
Implement a carbon tax proportionate to the amount of pollution being produced, he argued, and the switch to lower-carbon and renewable energy sources would be a business no-brainer.
“This cost to society is not being paid,” Musk said. “The net result is 35 gigatons of carbon per year being put into the atmosphere. This is analgos to not paying for garbage collection…it’s important people pay for the garbage collection.”
Noting the $5.3 trillion in annual global subsidies given to the fossil fuel industry and comparing the activities of the fossil fuel industry to that of the tobacco industry in trying to find academics who disagree with general scientific consensus of the health risks associated with high carbon emissions, Musk called for swift change.
His proposed solution? To remove the subsidies currently afforded the fossil fuel industry, and introduce a revenue-neutral carbon tax. Instead of increasing overall taxes, Musk proposed that governments lower taxes such as VAT or income tax but raise taxes on carbon emissions by an identical amount.
That way, he argued, companies which lowered their carbon emissions and supported renewable energy sources would benefit financially, while those who did not would suffer a negative impact. It is, the classic stick from the ‘carrot and stick’ methodology.
Imploring those at the event to talk to their respective political representatives, Musk said that asking world leaders to enact a carbon tax would dramatically change our future. Rather than wait for the remaining fossil fuel to run out, accelerating the effects of catastrophic climate change, acting now and switching to a cleaner, greener alternative would lessen the blow and ensure our society could smoothly transition to renewable fuels, he explained.
We wonder who in the world’s governments will listen — because we agree with Musk wholeheartedly.
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