Speaking with MSNBC host Chris Hayes recently. Elon Musk said he is pessimistic about slowing or reversing the effects of carbon pollution on global climate change. Doing so will require an effective means of pricing carbon emissions agreed to and implemented by all nations, he told Hayes. In his remarks, Musk made reference to what economists call “the tragedy of the commons.”
According to Wikipedia, that is a “situation within a shared-resource system where individual users acting independently according to their own self-interest behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting that resource through their collective action.” Another way to put it is the popular expression, “Everybody’s property is nobody’s property.”
In an agrarian society, if public lands are made available for grazing, farmers will use them to feed their herds in order to lower their own costs of production. Some will overuse the privilege in order to deny the benefit of free grazing land to their neighbors. Ultimately, all the grass will be eaten and the animals will starve. The analogy to how mankind treats the earth should be obvious to anyone with more than a 3rd grade education (which excludes the majority of the US Congress, sadly).
Musk uses an analogy to offshore fishing grounds. “Since no one owns a particular fishing area, it will get fished to extinction — because there’s no price for that.” No one owns the earth’s atmosphere, he points out, leaving it open to a similar fate. “There’s no price for carbon, so we do all these things that cause long-term damage,” he said.
The task is huge. The vast majority of the world’s transportation and manufacturing base relies on burning fossil fuels. Trillions of dollars worth of investments have been made in carbon-based enterprises. Naturally, those who have invested all that money don’t want to see any changes that threaten the status quo. But Musk says things must change because the ability of the oceans and the atmosphere to absorb any more carbon emissions is rapidly coming to an end.
Many people believe that mankind can innovate its way out of the coming crisis. Musk agrees the free market can work wonders but only if the game is not rigged. By failing to put a market price on carbon, people and corporations are free to spew as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as they wish without any financial penalty.
“I’m ordinarily quite a big believer in the market — because the market is just the sum of individual decisions. But when there’s a breakdown in the market, that’s where things go awry,” he said. The lack of a price on carbon is just such a breakdown. “It makes things that are carbon producing very rewarding, because the true price is not being paid,” Musk says.
Is there any hope? If you look at the number of people who firmly believe climate change is a gigantic hoax perpetrated by communists, socialists, and liberals, the answer is no. But just this week, China and the United States both confirmed their commitment to the Paris climate change agreement.
In a few days, the annual G20 economic summit will take place in Hangzhou, China. Leading up to that meeting, a group of 130 investors with assets worth more than $13 trillion have penned a letter to world leaders urging them to initiate carbon pricing measures that would level the playing field between carbon and non-carbon enterprises. Once the market has the correct pricing signals, Musk believes that innovation in zero-carbon technology will explode.
Right now, because there is no cost associated with putting more carbon emissions into the atmosphere, a person can make a “tremendous amount of money” being a petrochemical engineer, Musk told Hayes. Once producing carbon emissions becomes more costly, people will switch to promoting zero-emissions technologies.
There is not a moment to lose, Musk believes. With several billion fossil-fueled vehicles on the roads worldwide and with 100,000,000 more new ones sold every year, he says if every new car was electric today, it would still take two decades to replace all the existing vehicles with zero emissions transportation.
A year ago, I was one of those people who thought a “carbon tax” was a drastic and unwise idea, one that would cause the global economy to collapse. Then I went to a presentation hosted by Alan and Jessica Langerman at their home in Wellesley, Massachusetts. The featured speaker was Massachusetts senator Mike Barrett, the sponsor of a bill that would impose a fee on carbon emissions within the state. I was skeptical.
But after Barrett’s presentation and a powerful endorsement of his ideas by Jessica Langerman, I started to open my mind to the concept. Then I saw Elon Musk’s simple but brilliant address to an audience at the Sorbonne during the Paris climate change summit. The clarity of his argument opened my eyes.
When I realized that the International Monetary Fund estimates the total value of all direct and indirect subsidies received by the fossil fuel industries each year exceeds $5 trillion (i.e., is idiotic), I came to see that low- and zero-carbon alternatives were being unfairly excluded from the marketplace of ideas, swept away in the tide of public and private money flowing to the polluters. I decided it was time to change my mind. I am hopeful reading this story and following the links will help you change your mind, too.
There is much to do and very little time to do it in. We are at a tipping point. The cost of renewable energy has plummeted to the point where both solar and wind energy are cheaper than electricity made from burning fossil fuels or splitting atoms. Tesla, with its commitment to building electric cars that people actually want to buy, is sending shock waves through the automobile business. Those waves are having ripple effects in several related industries.
The times really are a’changing. The only questions is, will the change come soon enough and how much is each of us willing to do to make it happen? You can start by refusing to vote for candidates this November who do not support a clean, non-toxic environment for all. Don’t waste your vote by thinking there is nothing one person can do. Together, we can make a difference, but first we have to elect leaders who won’t kowtow to the fossil fuel industry.
Source: Daily Planet