An opinion for the City of Light

For the past few weeks, darkness has prevailed in Paris. While we usually don’t plan for an early spring in December, new light could uplift Paris next week, driven by commitments from all the world’s major economies to do something about climate change.  We should embrace the moment.

China has proposed a national cap-and-trade system to curb its emissions as early as 2017. India plans to produce 40% of its energy from non-fossil sources by 2030. Brazil promises to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 43% by the same year.  And, with Obama’s Clean Power Plan, the U.S. is poised to cut its emissions by about one-third over the same period.  Some of these may turn out to be hollow promises, but some may be the beginning of something even bigger than what we see right now.

Celebrity leaders, including Pope Francis, Exxon’s Rex Tillerson, Former Mayor Bloomberg, and Former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, all acknowledge that climate change is a big problem that we need to do something about.  New York’s Senator Schumer and Tillerson favor a national tax on fossil carbon emissions, because it would be fair, easy and effective (think FEE).  I strongly favor a carbon FEE as well, as it is less likely to be scammed than cap-and-trade programs.

Of course, the Republican leadership in Congress may try to undermine whatever commitments the U.S. tries to contribute to the effort in Paris.  There are those who will cry out loudly that even with the commitments that will be brought to the negotiating table, the world will continue to warm—so why join the parade?  On one hand, we can praise them for acknowledging that rising CO2 from human activities plays a role in the Earth’s climate. On the other hand, we can certainly poke them hard for suggesting that we do nothing about it.

As we move to the Conference of the Parties (COP) in Paris, now is the time for all Americans to support the President’s stand on climate change.  It is based on the first principles of science and consistent with the second, third, and fourth scientific opinions that have weighed in on why the Earth is running a fever.  We have a few short years—perhaps only a couple of decades—to do something about the rise of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere, before the absolute amount that has accumulated there is destined to bring harmful rapid changes to Earth’s climate. Already the seas are rising, threatening coastal communities worldwide.

To do nothing when things are changing very fast is not a conservative thing to do, and in history, doing nothing about climate change will make us look like a ship of fools.



Schlesinger, W.H.  2006. Carbon trading.  Science 314:1217.

Schlesinger, W.H. 2011.  Climate Change.  Interpretation 65(4):378-390.