On January 28, 2014, the President will give his annual State of the Union Address. And every year since 2011, the TSAP has been giving our annual State of the Planet Address around January 20. Yes, we know it is a bit of a downer to say the least. So sit down, take off your rose-colored glasses, and read on:
Our planet is in grave danger, and has been for quite some time now. We
face several serious long term
problems: climate change, deforestation/desertification, loss of
biodiversity, overharvesting, energy crises, and of course pollution of
many kinds. Polar ice caps are melting. Rainforests have been
shrinking by 50 acres per minute. Numerous species are going extinct
every year. Soil is eroding rapidly. Food shortages have occurred in
several countries in recent years. Weather has been getting crazier
each year, most likely due to climate change. We have had numerous
wildfires, floods followed by long periods of drought, and a "storm of
the century" at least once a year for the past few years. We need look
no further than Superstorm Sandy (which was partly caused or at least enhanced by global warming) to see how crazy our weather has become lately.
None of this is an accident of course. These problems are man-made,
and their solutions must also begin and end with humans. We cannot afford to
sit idly by any longer, lest we face hell and high water in the not-too-distant future. Our unsustainable scorched-earth policy towards the planet has to end. NOW.
While we do not invoke the precautionary principle for all issues, we
unequivocally do for the issue of climate change and any other
environmental issues of comparable magnitude (we support the Rio
Declaration's version, to be precise). With no apologies to hardcore
libertarians or paleoconservatives, in fact. We are not fazed one bit by
the naysayers' pseudoscience (*cough* Rush Limbaugh *cough*) as it does not really "debunk" the scientific
consensus on anthropogenic global warming. The only serious debate is
about how fast it will happen, and when the tipping point will occur. It
is not a matter of if, but when. And the less precarious position is to
assume it is a real and urgent problem. We need to reduce CO2 emissions to the point where the CO2 concentration is at or below 350 ppm, ASAP. And it is currently at an unsustainably high level of 400 ppm, and growing.
Solving the problem of climate change will also help to solve the other
ecological crises we are facing, for they all ultimately have the same
root causes, not least of which is our insatiable addiction to dirty
energy. However, there is a right way to solve it, and several wrong
The TSAP endorses the ideas embodied in Steve Stoft's new book Carbonomics,
most notably a tax-and-dividend system that would tax carbon (i.e.
fossil fuels) at the source, and give all Americans an equal share of
the revenue generated from this tax. (Note that our proposal to tax
natural resources and pay out an Alaska-like citizen's dividend already
includes this.) Yes, prices for various things would
undoubtedly rise due to this tax, all else being equal, but the
dividend will allow Americans to pay for this increase. The average
American would in fact break even, but those who (directly or
indirectly) use less energy than average will effectively pay less tax,
while the energy hogs will effectively be taxed more, as they should be.
Thus it is certainly not a regressive tax, and may even be mildly
progressive. This is both the simplest and most equitable way to reduce
carbon emissions as well as other forms of pollution, not to
mention waste of dwindling non-renewable resources. The real challenge
is getting the feds to accept something that won't directly benefit them
(in the short term). Carbonomics also includes other good ideas, such
as improving how fuel economy standards are done, and crafting a better
verison of the Kyoto treaty.
In addition to the ideas in Carbonomics, we also support several other measures to help us end our addiction to fossil fuels once and for all. Our Great American Phase-Out plan would phase out all fossil fuels by 2030 at the latest, via alternative energy, efficiency, and conservation. One good idea to further the development of alternative energy would be the use of feed-in tariffs for renewable power sources.
We support ending net deforestation completely, and putting carbon back
in the ground through carbon sequestration. One method is known as biochar,
a type of charcoal made from plants that remove carbon dioxide from the
air, that is subsequently buried. This is also an ancient method of
soil fertilization and conservation, originally called terra preta. It also helps preserve biodiversity.
We've said this before, and we'll say it again. We need more nuclear
power plants as well. Nuclear emits no greenhouse gases directly, and
even indirectly it pales in comparison to fossil fuels. Done properly,
it is just as green as solar photovoltaic power, produces less radiation
than coal power, and is much safer than in the past (and even those
dangers were exaggerated). Since nuclear plants take many years to
build, we need to get cracking ASAP. Nuclear power is not a substitute
to renewables; it is a necessary complement to them since we need a continuous power source as well, not just intermittent power. Our nation's
irrational fear of all things nuclear needs to die NOW. Right now.
But the biggest elephant in the room (make that the elephant in the
Volkswagen) is overpopulation. It does not make for pleasant dinner
conversation, but it must be addressed or else all other causes become
lost causes in the long run. We absolutely need to have fewer kids, or nature will
reduce our population for us, and the latter will NOT be pleasant to say the least. The
TSAP believes in voluntarily reducing the total fertility rate (TFR) to
1.5-1.9 children per woman to do so, along with reducing immigration
dramatically, but let us be clear that we do NOT support draconian and/or coercive measures
of population control (like China has used). We believe more liberty is the answer, not less.
But the current tax and
benefit incentives that perversely reward having more than two children need to be
jettisoned at once. Fortunately, America's TFR has recently dropped to below 1.9, though it remains to be seen if that is a secular trend or just a temporary blip. But
clearly we cannot keep growing and growing, that's for sure (in fact, we need to
shrink). And our insatiable addiction to economic growth (despite being
recently decoupled from well-being) is also part of the problem. Growth
for the sake of growth is clearly one of the most asinine obsessions
our nation (and world) has ever had. Put another way, we need to leave room for Nature, lest it not leave room for us.
Bottom line: we need to take the environment much more seriously than we do now. We ignore it at our own peril.