Table of Contents
Business as Usual
The debate has been raging for almost three times the age of the average college student and the end does not appear to be in sight any time soon. Climate change and its solutions have been accepted to varying degrees in the United States since it was brought to the lime-light by the book Silent Spring in 1962. In this paper I will define the problem of climate change. Then I will identify the key stakeholders and what guides their decisions on the environment. Finally, I will introduce four policy alternatives and evaluate them for their ability to be enacted and effective. While this problem is large and complex there is a solution to be found.
Climate change means different things to different groups of individuals. In its current use, most people refer to it as climate change instead of the previous vernacular of global warming. One reason for this is a commonly known example of Senator Inhofe bringing a snowball into Congress as proof that there is still cold even though it was a record hot year (Bump, 2015). For the purposes and scope of this analysis, “[c]limate change… is a change in the typical or average weather of a region or city. This could be a change in a region’s average annual rainfall, for example. Or it could be a change in a city’s average temperature for a given month or season” (Dunbar, 2011). Weather refers to the short-term changes in atmospheric conditions from day to day. These conditions can change dramatically with outliers to the overall climate trend. With climate change, weather is expected to be intensified leading to the possibility for severe blizzards even during the hottest year on record.
For further clarification, the climate on Earth is always changing. This is an accurate statement that can be made by all individuals on either side of the issue. However, over the last century scientific records have indicated an over-all increase of one degree Fahrenheit (Dunbar, 2011). This may not seem like much, but that is a change over the entire surface of the planet which equals an incredible amount of extra energy being stored under our atmosphere. The expected impacts of the changing climate that have already started are rising sea levels, melting snow and ice caps, intensified and increased precipitation and drought events (Dunbar, 2011). As of right now,
[m]ultiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities. In addition, most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position. The following is a partial list of these organizations, along with links to their published statements and a selection of related resources (Shaftel, 2016).
From this widely shared information each stakeholder has formed their own position and view on climate change and the necessary actions towards it.
Stakeholders for the issue of climate change encompasses every human being on Earth. This is not a feasible group to fully assess in this analysis so I will shorten the list to those I believe are most critical. All of my stakeholders are based in the United States because 1) as one of the earliest industrialized nations we have produced a lion’s share of the carbon pollution in the atmosphere and 2) as arguably the top world leader, what our nation does will have a major impact as to what happens in the rest of the world. I have compiled my list of stakeholders to be the two major political parties with two factions listed for Republicans. I have also chosen a variety of businesses and three basic groups of citizens to view this policy issue from. Further research will be beneficial in assessing how these policies will impact other nations, especially third world nations.
The Democratic Party is relatively unified in their acceptance and stance towards climate change. On the whole, this group of stakeholders accepts the consensus that climate change is happening and that humans are responsible for this change. One defining note amongst Democrats though is the level to which they believe action should happen.
The range of desired action lies on a highly varied continuum from pragmatic and slow to abrupt and in totality. The act of accepting the need for any change at all carries the common belief that sacrifices will have to be made to ensure long-term prosperity and survival with an acceptable standard of living. The sacrifices that will have to be made are not just from businesses and industry, but also from the general population. Democrats want legislation pushing for increased efficiency from appliances, homes, buildings, transportation, and manufacturing. They also want to see the phasing out of petrol fuels and coal for energy production with a move to renewable and cleaner sources of energy. Democrats tend to view the cost of actions now as minimal and acceptable in comparison to the actions required if nothing is done soon for the preservation of livelihood for all. Democrats generally view politics through the moral frame of the nurturant parent model. This model places responsibility on the government to ensure that everyone is treated fairly and properly provided for. It believes that everyone should start with the same opportunities and that if a person cannot provide for all of their own needs society as a whole should provide it (Lakoff, 2002, p. 108-143). This model of morality pushes for fairly intensive action by the government for what is seen as the protection of all.
The current plan for Democrats is to plan for mitigation with minimal adaptation. Mitigation is the reduction of severity and impact of a foreseen complication while adaptation is the adjustment to changes that have already happened. It is much easier to price out action in our current situation versus potential actions under varying conditions in the future. These factors add up to a party that wants wide-ranging action now and is willing to have the nation pay for most to all of it as soon as possible.
Republican (conservative/tea party)
For the analysis of the Republican Party I have chosen to examine the most conservative portion of the group and coastal state Republicans as they can be the most predictable. More moderate conservatives have ranging views on climate change that cannot be as easily summed up in such a short analysis for an issue of this proportion.
The issue of climate change poses many issues to the conservative republican ideal of government involvement in the life of citizens and business. While most Democrats believe that regulations are needed to push environmental changes in the nation, this intrudes on the idea of limited government, free markets, and self-reliance. Author and researcher George Lakoff points to the strict father model for morality as a basis for many of the decisions conservative republicans make. This model focuses on self-reliance in one’s own abilities and that the government should not intrude on individual’s lives except to ensure that people’s freedoms are not hindered (Lakoff, 2002, p. 65-108). When the uncertainty of severity for climate change impacts is added it leads to an unnecessary intrusion of freedom by the government to act. To an extent politicians expand this uncertainty in severity of climate outcome to also include the uncertainty in climate change itself.
One final view that regularly gets offered up is the previously stated fact that the Earth’s climate is constantly changing. In this argument the amplitude of change is not what matters. Instead the only pertinent fact is the constant change in atmospheric conditions. Under this perception of the issue, it allows for the acceptance of the statement of climate change without the acceptance of human induced. This takes the control of the environment out of the hands of humans meaning that there is nothing we can do to address the change in climate. The only action there should be is in response to natural disasters such as hurricanes, droughts, floods, and earthquakes.
The Republicans from coastal states received their own group because their geography makes them outliers within the traditional reaction of Republican politicians towards climate change. The key factor in the change for this group is the impact of rising sea levels. Many of these states have large cities that lie right on the coast and are subject to major potential losses to the rising waters. Within this group, it is not the human cause that carries any importance. However, the overwhelming impact and cost that rising seas will cause is great enough to induce a call to action. Florida is a prime example of a state that will incur great costs with any amount of sea level rise. In this case, it is in the best interest of citizens, businesses, and politicians to protect the communities from the impacts that have already begun. This idea does fall under the reaction to natural disasters that is considered acceptable government involvement, it just doesn’t fall under the traditional rapid time frame of natural disasters.
Businesses (petroleum, “Green,” generic)
The business group of stakeholders is another large and diverse group that I have simplified into three main categories. The first group consists of petroleum based organizations. While many companies under this category have begun diversifying their profits to include other sources of production, their number one product is energy through petroleum. It is clear that for this group the current conditions are ideal in which production and demand are both very high. Any call for regulations on efficiency or energy diversification within the power system can be considered an attack on their ability to act within a free-market to achieve a profit. A statement with confidence cannot be made about this group’s acceptance of human impact on climate. However, business actions show that profits under current conditions while they last are a priority.
The opposing group to the petroleum industry are “Green” or environmentally friendly businesses. This group is in support of legislation that will push the nation towards a sustainable future. This group defines sustainability as one that ensures future generations can enjoy the same standards and resources current society has. Many of these companies have some form of naturalist perspective to their business operations such as selling organic produce or supplying outdoor gear.
The final group comprises the rest of the business community that does not fit the two extremes. Like the moderate republican group, this group is hard to define as one particular thing. Each business will have varying aspects and degrees of support for or against legislation. Some determining factors include geographic location, local demographics, and personal beliefs. While hard to define, this group will make up the majority of businesses within the country.
Citizens (change worth it/not worth it, unaccepting)
The citizen stakeholder group is interesting because of the variety of categories they can fall under. The descriptions of the political parties can apply to the views of citizens as well, but I added three groups to the citizens that are specifically focused on the willingness to accept the necessary change and the acceptance of climate change as an issue. The first group I will address are those who do not accept climate change as a valid issue. This group believes there is serious uncertainty and a lack of consensus in the scientific community on the issue of climate change. With such a high level of believed uncertainty there is almost no room for response to climate change except for what businesses choose to do on their own in the free-market. If a business chooses to produce a more efficient product it may be considered a great option, but it should not be forced by the government especially if it is going to increase the price of the product. This group is the most restrictive of the citizen groups.
The next group is restrictive, but may be more open to changes as compared to the first citizen group. This group consists of individuals who accept that the climate is changing, but they either do not think it is caused by humans or they think that there is nothing humans can do to stop what has already been done. Another aspect of this group are individuals who think that moving to more environmentally friendly methods will be too detrimental to the standard of living that they currently enjoy. This group may tolerate minor to moderate changes in legislation on the condition that it does not have immediate negative impacts that are considered too high. Some of these negative impacts would be increased costs and limited choices such as the recent reduction in light bulb options.
The final group of citizens are very similar in regards to the Democratic group though they may not identify as democrats. This group recognizes the impact of climate change and identifies the long-term impacts as sufficiently requiring current action. While this group may not support an immediate switch away from all forms of petroleum use, they are much more willing to accept lifestyle changes to preserve future lifestyles. A relatively small cost now is acceptable to reduce the need to endure major overhauls in the future with an emphasis placed on community action and preservation as a whole.
There are an infinite number of policy options in addressing climate change. I have paired it down to a list of four options ranging on a spectrum of no action to immediate and total regulation and restriction. While these options may not be the exact fit for the United States, some slight variation of one will address the issue with acceptance by most groups.
Business as usual
The business as usual approach requires there to be no changes in current legislation and a reliance on a free-market to evolve as it sees fit. Under this model any change towards efficiency can be expected to increase in a slow and undulating manner. We have seen this trend in the efficiency of vehicles being sold. As the price of gas rose over four dollars citizens were trading in their trucks for more efficient vehicles. However, as the price recently dropped back down trucks and large SUVs gained in popularity again. Due to this variability, consistent and significant change cannot be expected in any reasonable timeframe to address climate change.
On the other side of this model are the economic conservations. In the short-term at least it can be expected for businesses to maintain their current profit margins. If nothing were to change in the long-term though, profits can be expected to decrease as populations increase with demand and the finite supply of fossil fuels diminishes. While this reduction in supply may push petrochemical companies to move to renewable sources, it will not be in a timeframe to have an impact on the climate.
The next step up the scale for policy action is regulations for just efficiency and not on supply. This option will have minor to moderate at best results for impacting greenhouse gas emissions. This option will require companies to innovate new ways to improve their products bringing them an increased cost which will be passed along to the consumer. In return for this initial increased cost, consumers should see a return in energy costs within homes and businesses. Like the previous option, it may eventually have an impact on the amount of emissions released into the atmosphere, but not at a level or rate sufficient to protect against the impacts of climate change.
Phase out is a multi-faceted approach that focuses on a comprehensive and smooth transition from current fossil fuel use and standards to a new and highly strict model. The end model in the relatively distant future would end with a complete transition away from fossil fuels and the maximum attainable efficiency standards. The concept behind this model is for the government to use regulation to push innovation by industries to move away from the current standards at a faster rate than is being produced by the free-market model.
Impacts of this model are wide ranging from negative to positive. The negative impacts of this model are focused at the beginning of implementation. Businesses will be the first to deal with this model by having to invest in new products or methods of production. This cost will then be transferred to citizens similar to the previous model. As the technology advances and become more widespread the costs will come down as they regularly do in our economic system. In the long run businesses will be able to “enjoy” a slow transition spread out over many years to decades versus a last minute reactionary approach that would result from the business as usual model.
The expected environmental impacts of this approach with bring us close to the estimated pollution reduction need depending upon timing and rate of implementation. Obviously, if it takes ten years to begin this plan it will be much less effective as compared to beginning this year. Similarly, if it is implemented over forty years it will be much less effective at reaching pollution goals as compared to an implementation of ten years. The effectiveness of this model is highly subject to those involved in the creation and implementation of it.
Full renewables with efficiency: no phasing
This policy option is the most ambitious of the four that I have selected to analyze. To adhere to this policy it will require the immediate halting of oil and coal production and an immediate transition to renewable sources of energy. This change will also apply to a complete overhaul of the transportation system to handle only electric vehicles. This option also includes the efficiency standards of the previous two models. The positive aspect of this policy option is that it is the most effective in achieving the reduced pollution goals to mitigate the risk of climate change.
The list of negative impacts is quite a bit longer for this policy alternative. First, the total transition of our entire system will be extremely expensive to perform in a short timeframe. No industry has the resources currently to handle the no phase-out option. While the auto industry may have the closest option in producing electric vehicles, our current solar and wind power production plants are not large enough to handle the production needs of a rapid transition. Second, this option would force many companies to go out of business such as oil drilling and coal mining. This would put hundreds of thousands of people out of work simultaneously without the education to immediately transition to renewable work. Third, our entire infrastructure would have to be overhauled to handle the new network of energy production and use. Our current system uses central power plants distributing to a wide network of users. The new system will remove the central production and move to a distributed source that needs all new transmission lines and control systems. Also, by transitioning the entire transportation system over to electric, it will require all current fueling stations to remove their gas tanks and upgrade their electrical systems to handle high power rapid charging stations. This option packs all of the negative impacts tightly at the beginning of implementation with benefits that some will argue are unnoticeable because they are preventative.
Policy matrix analysis
To assess each of these policy options I have selected the criteria of efficiency, cost, political feasibility, social feasibility, and effectiveness. The original assessment I performed was based off of a general idea of what citizens would prioritize as a whole. The policy alternative of efficiency only received the highest score because it achieves much for little cost bringing us close to the desired outcome scientists have set. It also ranks high for social feasibility because it will have a relatively small initial cost to citizens with a return on their energy bills. The business as usual option ranks the second highest in this matrix analysis. The main reason that is scored so high is that there is no early cost to this option and the political and social feasibility is very high. If this analysis could accurately assess the future costs to this option it would surely bring its score down significantly. The next policy alternative is the phase out option. While the political feasibility and initial cost bring this one down, the ability of it to maintain effectiveness near desired results keeps the score close. With an increased emphasis on attaining the pollution goals this option would rise to first selection for its ability to almost achieve the goal without over burdening the financial system. The immediate implementation policy comes in last because it lacks political and social feasibility, the initial cost is very high, and it has a reduced efficiency compared to the phase out. This analysis gives some guidance, but still leaves room for adjustment.
Based upon this analysis, it would suggest that efficiency only is the way to go. Should environmental emphasis increase over the next couple years, it will shift the phase out option to the top spot. This is an acceptable and feasible option due to their overlap for our country to move forward. Focus then should be placed in the short-term on efficiency based legislation with a long-term focus on greater change to the system with a phase out of older production methods and supplies. With this combined approach the United States can hope to protect its environmental and economic future with a method that is acceptable to politicians, citizens, and businesses alike.
Bump, P. (2015, February 26). Jim Inhofe's Snowball Has Disproven Climate Change Once and For All. Retrieved April 27, 2016, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/02/26/jim-inhofes-snowball-has-disproven-climate-change-once-and-for-all/
Dunbar, B. (2011, October 26). What are climate and climate change? Retrieved April 26, 2016, from http://www.nasa.gov/audience/forstudents/5-8/features/nasa-knows/what-is-climate-change-58.html
Lakoff, G. (2002). Moral politics: How liberals and conservatives think. The University of Chicago Press.
Shaftel, H. (2016, April 27). Scientific consensus: Earth's climate is warming. Retrieved April 27, 2016, from http://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/