Just Economics: Conservative not hegemonic


How can the United States achieve lasting greatness? I contend that the best way to achieve truly lasting notoriety is to dismantle our pernicious military-industrial complex and become a complete environmental conservator. Evidence from climate change, reviewed below, strongly supports this claim.

The Paris Climate Agreement (PCA) is an international climate change treaty adopted at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference held near Paris, France. The agreements have been accepted by 193 countries. The United States left the PCA under Trump but returned in 2021 under Biden. Iran is the only major carbon emitter that has not accepted the Paris climate accords.

The ACP’s goal is to keep average global temperatures well below 2 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels. Preferably, average global temperatures would be limited to 1.5 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels, but this would require halving global carbon emissions by 2030. A related PCA goal is to achieve net-zero global carbon emissions by 2050.

The Paris Climate Accords require every country to set carbon emissions targets and report regularly on progress towards those targets. Every five years, new stricter emissions should be established. The Accords also encourage developed (ie wealthy) countries to provide financial support to developing countries to enable them to meet their emissions targets.

Environmentalists have criticized the PCA for several reasons. First, countries are free to set whatever emissions targets they wish. Second, there is no enforcement mechanism requiring countries to actually meet their emissions targets. Third, the targets actually chosen are quite insufficient to achieve even the 2 degree Centigrade target. PCA supporters acknowledge the validity of these criticisms but interpret the Accords as a valuable basis from which progress can be made.

Every two years, the United Nations Environment Programme, in collaboration with the Stockholm Environment Institute, publishes a comprehensive report on production gaps which “tracks the gap between projected fossil fuel production by governments and global production levels consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C or 2°C”. C.” The report for 2021, based on a collaboration of more than 40 climate experts, is not encouraging, to put it mildly.

Report finds governments plan to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than is compatible with 1.5 degrees Celsius warming and 45% more than is compatible with 2 degrees warming . The report also finds that since the COVID-19 pandemic, the world’s largest economies (G20 countries) have provided more funding to fossil fuels than to clean energy generation. In fact, the current fossil fuel production plans of the countries of the world are considerably higher than the fossil fuel production implied by their PCA promises.

These worrying output gaps appear dramatically in the chart above from the 2021 Output Gaps Report. The graph contains four lines projecting fossil fuel production to 2040. The purple line indicates fossil fuel production consistent with 1.5°C warming. The green line shows the production of fossil fuels compatible with a warming of 2 degrees Celsius. The brown line indicates the fossil fuel production implied by PCA commitments. The red line shows the fossil fuel production implied by the current plans of the 193 countries that have accepted the Paris climate agreements.

The graph illustrates three main output gaps. The gap between the red and brown lines shows the projected difference between what countries have promised to do and what they are actually doing. This gap currently represents around 3% of global carbon emissions (GCE) and is expected to increase slowly over the next 30 years. The gap between the red and green lines indicates the difference between the fossil fuel production countries actually plan to make and what would be needed to keep warming below 2°C. This gap is growing rapidly and by 2040 it is expected to reach 45% of current GCE. The third gap, between countries’ plans (red line) and the GCE required to keep global warming below 1.5°C (purple line), is even more enormous. By 2040, it should represent 65% of the current GCE.

The 2021 Output Gap Report highlights that the climate change situation is perilous but not hopeless. He also points out that “governments have a vital role to play in closing the output gap and ensuring that the transition away from fossil fuels is just and fair.” Sadly, no major country has taken bold leadership in tackling the climate crisis.

The actions of our own country are hardly exemplary. Although President Biden has announced a goal of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050, the United States is currently the world’s largest producer of oil and gas and the second largest (in terms of energy) for the coal. Our government has encouraged the expansion of oil and gas production in many ways. This includes supporting research and development of fracking technologies and promoting fossil fuel infrastructure such as pipelines. Our current production trajectory will not even come close to zero carbon emissions by 2050.

If our country truly desires enduring greatness, it should abandon the futile and destructive endeavor of being the world’s military and political hegemon. Instead, he should strive to become a global conservative, showing how a great country could comprehensively reorganize to deal with the climate emergency. This will require sweeping and sometimes painful changes in American society. However, the rewards of such a massive environmental transformation would be enormous. The United States would earn the deep admiration and gratitude of future generations, and American society would gain a long and healthy life.

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.


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