The Global Math

If there’s one article that we all should read it’s this one in Rolling Stone on Global Warming.

I’ll cut to the chase as I read it. Our little individual cutbacks in energy use isn’t exactly the issue. The problem is more about the big fossil-fuel companies that are producing at a rate that is causing carbon dioxide to poison the planet.

If you told Exxon or Lukoil that, in order to avoid wrecking the climate, they couldn’t pump out their reserves, the value of their companies would plummet. John Fullerton, a former managing director at JP Morgan who now runs the Capital Institute, calculates that at today’s market value, those 2,795 gigatons of carbon emissions are worth about $27 trillion. Which is to say, if you paid attention to the scientists and kept 80 percent of it underground, you’d be writing off $20 trillion in assets. The numbers aren’t exact, of course, but that carbon bubble makes the housing bubble look small by comparison. It won’t necessarily burst – we might well burn all that carbon, in which case investors will do fine. But if we do, the planet will crater. You can have a healthy fossil-fuel balance sheet, or a relatively healthy planet – but now that we know the numbers, it looks like you can’t have both.

What a surprise. The problem is greed. Oh and wait, it’s also because these companies get one big break that nobody else gets: they can dump as much CO2 as they want.

Much of that profit stems from a single historical accident: Alone among businesses, the fossil-fuel industry is allowed to dump its main waste, carbon dioxide, for free. Nobody else gets that break – if you own a restaurant, you have to pay someone to cart away your trash, since piling it in the street would breed rats. But the fossil-fuel industry is different, and for sound historical reasons: Until a quarter-century ago, almost no one knew that CO2 was dangerous. But now that we understand that carbon is heating the planet and acidifying the oceans, its price becomes the central issue.

If you put a price on carbon, through a direct tax or other methods, it would enlist markets in the fight against global warming. Once Exxon has to pay for the damage its carbon is doing to the atmosphere, the price of its products would rise. Consumers would get a strong signal to use less fossil fuel – every time they stopped at the pump, they’d be reminded that you don’t need a semimilitary vehicle to go to the grocery store. The economic playing field would now be a level one for nonpolluting energy sources. And you could do it all without bankrupting citizens – a so-called “fee-and-dividend” scheme would put a hefty tax on coal and gas and oil, then simply divide up the proceeds, sending everyone in the country a check each month for their share of the added costs of carbon. By switching to cleaner energy sources, most people would actually come out ahead.

It’s time to lobby congress and take these matters into our hands as citizens. Our President continues to say we should drill and his opponent does as well. This should be the biggest issue of the campaign and yet, nobody’s on the opposite side of either of these guys. I intend to try to stop purchasing from any of the fossil fuel companies and move to more sustainable green energy in whatever way I can. I’m moving towards a more vegetarian diet as well–more for health reasons but also because we have to stop feeding the greed.

What does the Catholic Church say about this?

The tenet of prudence takes central stage here:

“Prudence does not mean failing to accept responsibilities and postponing decisions; it means being committed to making joint decisions after pondering responsibly the road to be taken, decisions aimed at strengthening that covenant between human beings and the environment, which should mirror the creative love of God, from whom we come and towards whom we are journeying.” —Pope Benedict XVI, World Day of Peace Message, December 2007

The Coalition accepts overwhelming scientific consensus about climate change. There is nearly unanimous agreement that human actions are creating a warming planet. As stewards of all Creation, we must identify wise, careful actions that will reverse this climate change and avoid its potentially dangerous impact on all life-especially human life.

State and local Catholic leaders can play a central role in bringing together scientists, theologians, business and labor leaders, government officials, human service providers and other stakeholders to shape a wise and careful approach consistent with our principles. With such leadership, the Catholic community will answer God’s call to be faithful stewards.

Check out some more from the Catholic Climate Covenant and then do what I did: Take the St. Francis Pledge.

We are one body in Christ, called to protect the earth from greed and toxicity. May we stand together and bring an end to all that could cause harm to the Earth.

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