Friday, 10 January 2020
Thursday, 14 November 2019
The new book will be available end of January 2020. Pre-order on Amazon or Cambridge University Press.
Several reviews have already appeared. To read them, follow the links below:
"Meet the MythBuster for climate change" by Nathanael Johnson, Nov. 5, 2019, Grist.org
"Climate Confusion, Angst, and Sleeplessness" by Robert Hunziker, Nov. 12, 2019, CounterCurrents.org
- Picked up by DissidentVoice.org
- Picked up by Counter Punch
"From a climate change guide to a case for Indigenous justice: five new books to keep your eye on" by Neil Moss, Nov. 18. 2019, HillTimes.com
"What you can do in 2020 to keep the world from burning up" by Don Pittis, Dec. 30, 2019, CBC News
"Take Your Climate Activism to the Next Level With January’s New Environmental Books" by John R. Platt, Jan. 10, 2020, therevelator.org
On February 6, 2020, my latest book will be published by Cambridge University Press
Humanity has failed for three decades to decarbonize our energy system to address the climate threat, yet average citizens still don’t know what to do personally or what to demand from their politicians. For climate success, we need to understand the combined role of self-interested and wishful thinking biases that prevent us from acting effectively and strategically. Fossil fuel and other interests delude us about climate science or try to convince us that every new fossil fuel investment is beneficial. But even climate-concerned people propagate myths that hinder progress, holding to beliefs that all countries will agree voluntarily on sharing the cost of global decarbonization; that carbon offsets are effective; that behavioral change is critical; that energy efficiency and renewable energy are cheap; and that carbon taxes are absolutely essential. For success with the climate-energy challenge, we must strategically focus our efforts as citizens on a few key domestic sectors (especially electricity and transportation), a few key policies (regulations and/or carbon pricing); and the identification and election of climate-sincere politicians. As leading countries decarbonize their domestic electricity and transportation sectors, they must use various measures, including carbon tariffs, to ensure that their efforts spill over to affect the efforts of all countries. And although wealthier countries are unlikely to provide the support that developing countries desire to forego dependence on coal and oil, the combination of tariff threats and the local air pollution and climate benefits from decarbonization will motivate efforts even in these poorer countries. This book offers a clear and simple strategic path for climate-concerned citizens to drive climate success by acting locally while thinking globally.
A free PDF version of this book will also be available as Open Access on Cambridge.
The book is also available for pre-order at Cambridge and at Amazon.com and Amazon.ca
Sunday, 6 October 2019
A Trudeau minority government may do some good things. But claims that such a minority would achieve all the goals of the smaller parties to whom it would be beholden are unfounded. I repeat the brief case I made in a twitter stream on October 6, 2019.
Tweet thread of October 6, 2019
I frequently hear claims that NDP and Green MPs will force a post-election minority Trudeau government to cancel TransMountain Pipeline Expansion, implement proportional representation, and rapidly intensify national climate policies. I am not a political scientist, but this thinking seems delusional to me.
Polls consistently show that either the Liberals or the Conservatives will lead the next government. Two out of three Canadians support one of these parties. And both parties support TMX and are unlikely to implement proportional representation without holding a referendum first.
If Canadians elect a minority government October 21, to survive it will most likely (1) negotiate on a bill-by-bill basis to prevent losing a confidence vote (like the Martin government of 2004-06 and the Harper government of 2006-11) or (2) negotiate a confidence agreement with a small party (like today’s governing agreement in BC between the NDP and Greens).
Federally, these types of agreements will not enable smaller parties representing just one third of voters (NDP, Greens, Bloc) to impose their will on the two parties who represent two thirds of voters. Why? Because the Liberals and Conservatives can join forces as necessary to prevent the smaller parties from getting their way on TMX, prop-rep and a radically more ambitious climate effort.
A Liberal minority, to maintain enough NDP and/or Green support to stay in power, might intensify its climate effort and agree to hold a referendum on proportional representation, just as in BC the NDP gave these concessions for Green support. But it is unlikely to halt TMX, just as the BC NDP didn’t halt the Site-C dam or LNG development in spite of Green opposition.
If the NDP and/or Greens make TMX their line in the sand for supporting a Trudeau minority, they risk triggering another election, which could produce a Conservative or Liberal majority. The Greens in BC understand this, which is why they sustain a gov that has done many things they support, in spite of its continuation with Site-C and LNG.
Federal Greens and NDP might make strong, uncompromising statements now while campaigning in an election. But after an election their tone will change as they weigh the benefits of influencing policy under a minority Trudeau government versus the risk of forcing a second election that the Conservatives might win.
It is interesting to look at detailed opinion polls on these three key issues: TMX, proportional representation and climate policy effort. The percentage of Canadians intending to vote Liberal or Conservative is similar to the percentage who support TMX, who don’t support proportional representation, and who don’t seem to want to pay extra for more ambitious climate efforts (as indicated by current support levels for Conservatives and Liberals).
Sorry folks, but if Trudeau forms a minority government thanks to support of NDP and/or Greens, you still won’t get him to reverse the big decisions that so angered you – at least not until more Canadians adopt your views. That’s democracy.
Thursday, 1 August 2019
If Canadians elect a climate-insincere government in 2019, climate-concerned voters may need to look in the mirror when allocating blame
Two decades ago, I was not alone in predicting that humanity’s chances of rapid decarbonization were low. The reasons were obvious back then, and with hindsight are even more so now.
Climate success requires a coordinated global effort to switch away from burning fossil fuels, yet we lack a global government to impose hard targets and ensure universal compliance. In this context, climate-sincere politicians are constrained from making quick progress because unilateral GHG reductions in their jurisdiction will cause industries (and voters’ jobs!) to flee to laggard jurisdictions, without appreciably lowering global emissions.
And even if the challenge were national rather than global – meaning that one country’s decarbonization would spare it alone from climate change – progress would be extremely difficult. First, as a high-quality energy source, fossil fuels still offer the cheapest path to economic development for the planet’s poorest people. And since fossil fuel endowed regions benefit economically from their continued exploitation, self-interest motivates corporations and individuals to delude themselves and others that each new fossil fuel investment is somehow locally and globally beneficial.
Second, as a multi-decadal project, energy system transformation is out of sync with the 4-year electoral timeframes of democracies. This disconnect enables climate-insincere politicians to mislead voters by promising to achieve distant GHG targets without increasing energy costs. Of course, this is a lie. GHG emissions will not fall without cost-increasing regulations or carbon pricing. But it only takes a small percentage of voters to believe this for climate-insincere politicians to succeed electorally. Effective climate policy is always politically difficult.
With the strong likelihood of continued global failure, we climate-concerned citizens cannot afford to be self-indulgent. What I mean is that we cannot allow ourselves the luxury of righteously rejecting climate-sincere elected officials just because they are neither perfect nor always consistent in our eyes. To get elected, politicians must balance the diverse interests and frequently contradictory demands of voters – “reduce GHG emissions but don’t increase gas prices, transition to renewable energy, but let us do this fossil fuel project, invest in green infrastructure but don’t increase our taxes.” In this world, climate-sincere politicians will not always appear perfect, so climate-concerned citizens need to embrace the adage that we must not allow perfection to be the enemy of good. If we reject climate-sincere politicians because they are not perfect, we could help elect climate-insincere politicians instead. In Canada, sadly, we know this all too well from the experience of 2006 to 2015, when a climate-insincere government supported by less than 40% of voters was able to hold on to power while doing virtually nothing to reduce GHG emissions.
In spite of this recent, stark experience, I nonetheless detect a similar self-indulgence among many climate-sincere Canadians today, especially in my home province of British Columbia. Trying to govern all Canadians involves making compromises. On the climate file, I may disagree strongly with Prime Minister Trudeau’s efforts to expand the TransMountain pipeline (and I do, as I explained in a February 2018 Globe and Mail op-ed) but this is no excuse for overlooking the rapid development of effective federal climate policy in Trudeau’s first term. In contrast, all previous federal governments were climate-insincere. One should not measure sincerity by the willingness to make GHG commitments (Mulroney, Chretien, Harper), as these are meaningless without compulsory policies. Nor by the willingness to spend money (Martin), as government spending can have only a tiny effect when it is private investments in houses, vehicles and industrial plant and equipment that determine emissions. As I explained in the book Hot Air (with co-authors Jeffrey Simpson and Nic Rivers) climate-concerned citizens can detect climate-sincere politicians because these will be rapidly implementing carbon pricing and/or regulations that independent experts agree will reduce emissions significantly. Climate-sincere politicians will also be working to parlay our domestic GHG reduction efforts into an effective global effort.
In an April 15 Globe and Mail op-ed I briefly summarize the climate-energy policy efforts of the Trudeau government. (The text of that op-ed is appended below.) I explain why the Trudeau government’s policies are impressive and why Trudeau’s TransMountain pipeline issue is of less importance when assessing his government’s climate-sincerity. For success, humanity needs governments in wealthier countries that move quickly to decarbonize their electricity and transportation sectors, while seeking ways to transfer this effort to the developing world. The Trudeau government has been making a significant effort in this direction.
Climate-concerned Canadians need to vote strategically this fall to make sure they don’t elect a climate-insincere government. At the time of writing this blog, the most likely outcome is that the 65% of Canadians who tell pollsters they want a climate-sincere government will split their vote among three parties and enable the election of a climate-insincere government, just as in 2006-2015. When blaming our country for climate inaction, and the continued failure of an effective global effort, it’s time for us self-indulgent perfectionists to look in the mirror.
For more details, stay tuned for my forthcoming book with Cambridge University Press – The Citizen’s Guide to Climate Success: Overcoming Myths that Hinder Progress.
Finally, Canada is a Global Example on Climate Action
Mark Jaccard, Globe and Mail, April 15, 2019
Since 1993, I have occasionally participated as a climate policy expert on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. At our Edinburgh meeting the first week of April, I was struck by the sharp contrast between the consensus of foreign experts that Canada has become a global climate policy leader and the frequent assumption among concerned Canadians that our government is failing on climate. Why this discrepancy?
The Trudeau government’s support of the TransMountain pipeline is one obvious reason. People ask, “How can a sincere government build an oil pipeline?” Another is the government’s admission that its climate plan won’t quite meet its 2030 target. “Isn’t this a repeat of previously ineffective Conservative and Liberal administrations?”
Increasingly, however, I detect a third, less obvious reason: Few climate-concerned Canadians know much about the slate of new federal climate polices, except for the contentious carbon tax. And while global experts agree that the national carbon tax is impressive, they are equally impressed with several other climate policies.
The government’s phased closure of coal plants is crucial to climate-policy experts who know that humanity must eliminate coal-fired power, first in rich countries and soon after in developing countries. To advance this global objective, the Canadian government has leveraged its policy leadership by co-founding with Britain the Powering Past Coal Alliance, a growing force of jurisdictions committed to phasing out coal. My counterparts in China and India already notice the influence on their own countries’ policies.
Global success depends, however, on co-ordinating electricity decarbonization with increasing its use in vehicles, buildings and industry. Our government understands this. In addition to its carbon tax, its clean fuel standard will accelerate the switch in transportation from gasoline and diesel to electricity and sustainably-produced biofuels. Experts around the world are studying this policy, which comes fully into force in two years – if the government is re-elected. It offers a viable alternative for the many jurisdictions unable to implement significant carbon pricing for political reasons. Several U.S. states are considering a version of this policy that California and British Columbia originated a decade ago, called the low carbon fuel standard.
Our hopes for global success increase as political leaders in developing countries realize that the rapid adoption of electric vehicles will abate the smog choking their cities – and their families. Policies such as the clean fuel standard can accelerate this transition and, if co-ordinated with coal phase-out, ensure that falling emissions from gasoline and diesel will not be offset by rising emissions from electricity generation.
The government’s pending regulation on methane emissions is another example of a policy of global significance that is unknown in Canada. Flexibility provisions in the policy will ensure that emitters such as the oil and gas industry can choose the least-cost options to reduce these emissions. Again, other countries are studying this policy.
Yet another key policy recognizes that forcing costly reductions by Canada’s emissions-intensive industries is ineffective if it simply causes an increase in production elsewhere. By adopting Alberta’s regulatory ingenuity, the federal government’s new output-based pricing system for large industries incentivizes their emission reductions without significantly increasing their production costs. Rather than avoiding industrial regulation altogether, like some jurisdictions, Canada is innovating a model of growing interest to policy-makers in developed and developing countries.
In just four years, these and other policies have transformed Canada from a global pariah under the Harper government to a model for climate action under Trudeau. Perhaps the government will build a new oil pipeline and will also miss its 2030 target. But these don’t matter much for the global climate challenge. What matters enormously is the continued implementation of Canada’s emerging, effective climate policies, especially those with global influence. And if the resulting intensified global effort more quickly reduces the world-wide demand for gasoline and diesel, which the planet so desperately needs, then the TransMountain pipeline can shift to transporting different Albertan products, perhaps hydrogen produced from the oil sands or sustainably-produced biofuels on the prairies.
In climate policy, experts agree that Canada is finally a global leader. I wonder if enough climate-concerned Canadians will recognize this, before it’s too late.
Monday, 17 December 2018
Below is a link to a fun podcast chat I had with the very sharp interviewer Jayme Poisson on the un-necessity of carbon pricing. My 15 minute discussion starts at minute 5:45.
Please share widely.
Saturday, 15 December 2018
I am a climate-energy economist open to incorporating in my analysis and policy prescriptions lessons from other disciplines, in this case political science and social psychology. This is why almost 20 years ago I started studying and writing about 'market-oriented regulations’, which I now refer to as 'flex-regs.' It is also why, 14 years ago, I proposed a ‘carbon management standard’ in my book, Sustainable Fossil Fuels. And it is why I have explained for over a decade to sincere politicians and their advisors how to integrate political acceptability as a policy evaluation criterion alongside cost-effectiveness. Sadly, whenever sincere politicians get interested in climate policy, voices like mine can get drowned out by suggestions from people who have never been interested in the empirical research, especially on the challenges of carbon pricing in first-past-the-post electoral systems where victory often depends on a tiny percentage of voters in a few swing suburban ridings. Also, these people seem to naively assume that this small percentage of voters are willing to invest the necessary time and smarts to carefully assess the verity of misinformation campaigns claiming that carbon pricing is highly punitive and economically disastrous.
Is it any surprise that many in the fossil fuel industry are keen to propose carbon pricing for all emissions of domestic consumers, but only a tiny percentage of their emissions?
Much more to come in a book I have written but not yet published.
Here is a link to my article in the December 15 Globe and Mail and the text is below:
Is it any surprise that many in the fossil fuel industry are keen to propose carbon pricing for all emissions of domestic consumers, but only a tiny percentage of their emissions?
Much more to come in a book I have written but not yet published.
Divisive carbon pricing. Much ado about nothing.
I am a climate-energy economist. Most of us tell politicians: “You must price carbon to succeed against climate change.” Later, after an election, we say, “You opposed carbon pricing and won. That’s bad policy.” Or, we say, “You promised carbon pricing and were defeated. You would have won had I designed and explained it. My students say I’d have been a great politician.”
Fiction? Think again. This has been the economists’ narrative for decades as politicians wrestle with the unforgiving task of decarbonization.
But guess what? Carbon pricing is not essential to stop burning coal and gasoline. We economists only say it is because we prefer it. If we were honest, we would explain that decarbonization can be achieved entirely with regulations. These will cost more, but not a great deal more if policy-makers use flexible regulations, or “flex-regs,” that allow companies and individuals to determine their cheapest way to decarbonize.
Thus, policy-makers can require the phase-out of coal plants while allowing competing electricity generators to determine the cheapest mix of low-emission wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, nuclear, wood, biomethane and natural gas. Likewise, policy-makers can require the phase-out of gasoline vehicles while allowing manufacturers and consumers to determine the contributions of electric, biofuel and hydrogen vehicles.
We economists should also explain that while carbon pricing gets all the media attention, flex-regs quietly do the heavy lifting. A decade ago, I helped design British Columbia’s mix of a carbon tax and flex-regs. One flex-reg caused BC Hydro to cancel intended coal and natural gas plants and instead develop low-carbon options from competitive bids. This flex-reg is three times more effective than B.C.’s carbon tax, and it faced no opposition. Last week, the B.C. government copied Quebec in implementing a zero-emission vehicle standard, a flex-reg to eliminate the purchase of gasoline vehicles by 2040.
The California Air Resources Board acknowledges that California’s carbon-pricing policy, which Quebec shares and Ontario did briefly, accounts for only 15 per cent of recent and projected emission reductions in California. Again, the key policies are flex-regs, namely electricity’s renewable portfolio standard and transportation’s low carbon-fuel standard and zero-emission vehicle standard.
Pollsters say Alberta Premier Rachel Notley’s carbon tax contributes significantly to her dim re-election prospects. Ironically, my research team finds the new tax will cause no more than 5 per cent of her climate plan’s projected reductions. The heavy lifting is from her coal-plant phase-out, methane regulations, a pre-existing flex-reg on large industries, and a cap on oil sands emissions. I’ll bet she wishes an economist had told her she didn’t need the tax, and that it does almost nothing anyway.
According to analysis by my research team, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s court-challenged carbon tax contributes 15 per cent of his climate plan’s reductions. He can easily replace it by tightening the stringency of his planned clean fuel standard, a flex-reg that applies to the same fuels as the carbon price. I’ll bet he wishes an economist had told him that, as I tried to in an article in Policy Options magazine shortly after his election.
But if carbon pricing is doing little to decarbonize the economy, why does it get all the attention? The reason is obvious to political scientists.
Surveys have long shown that taxes are a toxic issue for some voters. Unless it is an obvious tax cut, any other tax change for societal benefit can easily be framed by opponents as economically harmful. A politician proposing carbon pricing presents an irresistible target, especially if political opponents only need to swing 5 per cent of voters in key suburban ridings for electoral success.
Even if most voters support carbon pricing, this doesn’t matter in our first-past-the-post electoral system. What matters is small success with misinformation campaigns claiming that carbon taxes hurt middle-class suburbanites and rural residents. Some will believe it, and even if government returns carbon-tax revenue as tax cuts or dividend payments, some of these voters will still accept the untruths that carbon pricing is personally punitive.
Thus, a carbon tax puts a bulls-eye on a politician’s back, making it easier for opponents to promise to axe the tax and replace it with ineffective policies they untruthfully claim will cause decarbonization. They might even hint at regulations, without giving a timeline.
In 2008, then-Liberal leader Stéphane Dion asked to meet with me to discuss his plan to campaign on a carbon tax. I told him this was good policy, but bad politics, and that it would cost him the election. He did it anyway. Sure enough, Stephen Harper focused his campaign on “job-killing carbon taxes.” Mr. Harper’s victory ensured a lost decade of faking-it climate policies.
This time last year, I gave talks in France at the invitation of some academics trying to warn President Emmanuel Macron’s advisers that relying on carbon taxes would be a political disaster, stalling rather than advancing decarbonization. Unfortunately, their warning went unheeded, and now the violent gilets jaune protests in Paris have forced Mr. Macron to backpedal on the plan.
As long as we economists tell politicians they must price carbon, instead of admitting that flex-regs and other mechanisms can do it all, humanity will continue to flounder in the face of the decarbonization challenge. Sincere politicians cannot use carbon pricing as their lead policy. Even modest pricing efforts can help elect insincere politicians. But fortunately, we don’t need to price carbon.
When allocating blame for humanity’s inaction on climate, it’s time for us economists to look in the mirror – instead of convincing our students what great politicians we would have been.