Common Ground: Energy and environment


After watching the first presidential and vice presidential debates, one thing is for sure — climate change is on the ballot.

Since before 2016, President Donald Trump has perpetuated the baseless theory that climate change is a Chinese hoax. But on Sept. 29, he confirmed on live TV that he believes the climate is changing and that human behavior is a contributing factor. Unfortunately, he seems to be more focused on finding loopholes for big businesses than he is on protecting the planet from them.

That said, Joe Biden’s watered-down Green New Deal and Sen. Kamala Harris’s refusal to ban fracking is a clear and obvious coordinated attempt to reconcile a need to win the rust belt and turn out the progressive vote. This election is going to be a referendum on leadership, but it will also be a referendum on environmental policies that are likely to impact decades of climate phenomena.

We could take this opportunity to elaborate on what climate change is and why it’s a problem, but we’d rather talk about solutions.

1. Environmental economics

Traditional methods of accounting tend to ignore the impact that environmental and social assets have on the triple bottom line. One way to ensure that the total cost — including the environmental cost — of a good or service is being accounted for is to utilize full-cost algorithms. These equations strive to incorporate externalities in the strategic decision-making that affects overall asset valuation. Theoretically, if balance sheets account for the total cost of a good or service, market prices should reflect that adjustment. As a result, products that are better for the environment will be proportionately less expensive, and those that are detrimental will slowly be phased out.

Another way to move the economy forward is to spur innovation in energy-efficient technology. Expanding access to sustainability grants and providing tax credits for capital gains from impact investments would encourage entrepreneurs and investors to support companies that generate specific social or environmental benefits.

2. Carbon tax

The idea of a net-neutral carbon rebate has been floating around for some time, but the political improbability of getting it passed has resulted in years of manipulating regulations without taking action to reverse the damage we have already caused. The first order of business is to establish a sales tax on carbon similar to a luxury tax. Opponents argue that a carbon tax would be regressive and end up hurting the lower class, but a border-carbon adjustment policy can protect American industry while the market recalibrates and the federal government collects tax revenues from big polluters for taxpayer rebates.

3. Green infrastructure

Construction projects are a massive part of our environmental impact. Through harvesting, milling, shipping, heating, cooling and lighting, we hardly appreciate the energy required to use the shelter that we build. To install and maintain just one square meter (or 11 square feet) of decking, the Environmental Product Declaration estimates that 73,000 BTUs of non-renewable energy is consumed, 23 gallons of freshwater are removed from the watershed, and 15 pounds of CO2 are released into the atmosphere. The federal government needs to make a concerted effort to update the electric grid and ensure that all future infrastructure projects will be constructed according to the most updated LEED certification.

4. Nature-based solutions

What if one of our best weapons against climate change was actually mother nature? Regenerative agriculture is the process of working with the environment to utilize photosynthesis and microbiology to sequester carbon and minimize the effects of climate change. Widespread implementation of techniques such as conservation tillage, enhanced crop rotations, and nutrient retention strategy can help reduce atmospheric carbon and fix our soil system. If we switch from fossil fuel-intensive farming to organic, low-till practices that put carbon back into the ground, we can improve soil quality, grow more nutritious food, and move more carbon from the air to the ground. Throughout this transition, the federal government will need to provide temporary subsidies to farmers to stabilize prices at restaurants and grocery stores.

5. Multilateral approach

Since the Environmental Protection Agency gutted Obama-era national standards for air and water purity, nine states and the District of Columbia have bolstered the minimum requirements of their hazardous waste generator categories. Air and water know no borders, so the federal government must set high national standards and work with neighboring countries to do the same.

The ubiquitous nature of climate change demands the sort of intergovernmental cooperation that has not been necessary since the end of World War II. The Paris Climate Agreement offers a rare opportunity for the civilized world to come together and solve the most substantial existential crisis of our time. We expect to be a part of that solution.

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  1. Bruce Haines ‘67 on

    Many of your ideas on climate change have merit including border adjustments to protect industries impacted by carbon tax or other programs hurting vital industries.

    The part you neglect to acknowledge is that the Paris Climate Accord unduly cost the American taxpayers an unfair share of the burden. In addition it provided China & other major polluting nations favored nation status to allow them to pollute playing by different ground rules.

    Trump got us out of a very bad agreement for America while at the same time presiding over an economy that reduced emissions significantly even before the China virus.

    In addition we have achieved energy independence versus being captive to the Middle East. We don’t want to do anything that reverses that independence which Green New Deal ignores.

  2. “But on Sept. 29, he confirmed on live TV that he believes the climate is changing and that human behavior is a contributing factor. Unfortunately, he seems to be more focused on finding loopholes for big businesses than he is on protecting the planet from them” Being a politician DJT is always trolling for votes. It’s hard to tell what he believes and what he says to get votes. One can hope that he is not reelected or that he acts in our best interest, Trump sycophants be damned.

    You on the other hand, not being a politician, have put out some useful information.

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