Why have all the political climate plans failed so badly? Targets are set, with big announcements, and yet greenhouse gas emissions just keep going up, and up.
Canada’s Professor Mark Jaccard has developed scientific models, to study how governments cope with the climate challenge. His results are solid, and controversial.
Just knowing about the climate threat is obviously not enough. As consumers, we know, but just keep polluting. Some politicians mean well, but we can’t seem to change our carbonized society. If knowing is half the battle, getting real protection for our atmosphere requires the other half: the dirty work we all want to avoid: taxes and compulsory controls on greenhouse gas emissions. Laws with teeth.
This talk is about how nice guys finish with a wrecked climate. Maybe we have to seek other arrangements – with plans that nobody likes. Comfortable consumers don’t want to change, politicians don’t want to lose votes, business doesn’t want to lose money. So, how can we really get emissions down?
Who is Mark Jaccard? Professor Mark Jaccard is a much sought advisor, to many levels of government. Based out of Simon Fraser University, in British Columbia, Canada – Jaccard has served on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He leads the School of Resource and Environmental Management, at Simon Fraser University, in Vancouver, Canada. For several years Jaccard Chaired the B.C. Utility Commission – in charge of the energy supplies for millions. Jaccard is the author of 90 scientific papers, and three books – including “Sustainable Fossil Fuels” and his latest: “Hot Air,” co-authored with famous Canadian journalist Jeffery Simpson.
As one of the few people with real solutions for governments, Jaccard is in constant demand. He has advised the Chinese government, the Canadian government, and worked with other scientists around the world. In addition to a 20 year teaching career at Simon Fraser University, Jaccard has his own consulting company, and is also funded by the C.D. Howe Institute.
Throughout all this, Mark Jaccard tries to maintain the unbiased stance of science. He is not an environmentalist, a business hack, or a politician. Jaccard has analyzed why climate policies fail, and how they could work, in any country. The facts, as he finds them, are controversial, and yet increasingly implemented by governments. That is why we need to learn from this speech delivered in Vancouver on March 4th, 2008 at the Canadian Memorial United Church.
The speech was organized by VTAAC, Voters Taking Action on Climate Change. It was recorded by Radio Ecoshock.
Studies and models by Jaccard’s team, and bolstered by other social scientists all over the world, tell us that human habits are very hard to change. I guess we can include oil addiction.
It also seems there are several layers of “knowing” about something. I may “know” that smoking is bad for me, and still smoke. But at some point, I “know” I have to quit, and do. Reaching that gut level of knowledge that leads to real action is the key, when it comes to controlling greenhouse gas emissions. How can we do it?
The problem gets worse because governments are basically geared to inaction on any contentious issue. They don’t want to upset voters. Jaccard says environmental groups haven’t helped, by insisting that solutions to the carbon energy problem are “easy” and “cheap”. The Greens say we don’t need new power plants, because energy efficiency will take care of the problem. In his speech, Jaccard goes over a long history of seeking energy efficiency, and says the reality isn’t so easy or cheap at all.
Just take the example of refrigerators. Fridges got more and more efficient from the 1950’s to the 1970’s, without any real government pressure. But that good news was blown away by people buying larger fridges, bar fridges, coolers to take to the beech, and just plain more fridges per household. Sometimes efficiency just leads to people using more of the product, not less.
The solutions of subsidizing green choices doesn’t work either, says Jaccard. First of all, some people will buy energy efficient appliances, for example, without any government subsidy. The real trick is to find those people who were going to buy a gas hog, and give the subsidy to them – that leads to a real gain. But how can you find the people who need the subsidies?
And how can you develop a subsidy for all the new and crazy uses people find for energy? A government just works out rules for gas BBQ’s (with an accompanying growth of bureaucracy) – and then people start bringing “outdoor heaters” to soccer games, not to mention patio heaters for bars, and a thousand other uses not envisioned by anyone. The subsidy games ends up very wasteful, not hitting the right people, and creates more and more government workers and offices to look after it.
Anyway, countries like Canada who have depended on the light touch methods – like “information,” “energy efficiency,” subsidies, and “change your light bulbs” – have already experienced 20 years of failure. Like almost every other country in the world, including the United States and Europe, Canada’s carbon emissions have just kept skyrocketing. None of that works in the real world.
The awful truth is: when it comes to a problem this big, the individual cannot solve it. Jaccard asks: “What did you do to reduce your sulfur dioxide emissions?” back in the ’80’s when Acid Rain was the big problem. Obviously, governments made big industry clean it up. We didn’t do much, other than complain the lakes were dying.
Same thing for climate. When the modelers add up all the benefits of changing light bulbs, going for more mass transit, and buying green – the planet still goes under with climate change. In fact, it takes massive social change, including big industry, to have a hope of preventing the worst of climate change. And that takes a kind of bravery of leadership in governments – that we haven’t seen so far.
The inconvenient truth about social behavior: somebody has to make us do it. Again, Jaccard gives the example of school zones. Almost any sane person will agree that drivers shouldn’t speed through school zones when there are children about. Surely, just common sense, good will, and love of kids will make these school zones safe, since we all agree it is good? No…we have patrol cars handing out tickets, stiff laws, fines – because someone needs to enforce the law.
Ditto carbon emissions.
Despite his earlier book “Sustainable Fossil Fuels” – Jaccard isn’t pushing “clean coal” or anything like that. In this speech, he claims to be agnostic when it comes to using a carbon tax, a cap and trade system, or a hybrid that uses market mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gases. Any of those can be designed to work, he says, so long as the government is willing to enforce laws that work in reality.
Personally, as soon as I hear the words “climate policy” my eyes glaze over. I’ve heard so much bull-shit, and seen so many fabulous announcements and “super-green” plans go down uselessly. So, I had low expectations for this speech. Surprise. Professor Jaccard has been lecturing for 20 years, with students who challenge him – so he does know how to communicate. It’s a good speech – which taught me some of the realities we need to know, if we demand that governments act on climate. Act how? What really works?
I’m hoping people in many countries will check out this speech, especially in America, where a lot of tough decisions need to be made, to reduce the load from one of the world’s biggest polluters. The climate threat is so huge, we all need to understand “climate policy” – and what to demand.