Friday, July 25, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Per Capita Davis: Turning away from fossil fuels on a dime

JohnMott-SmithW

By
From page A3 | July 17, 2014 |

The movement to persuade institutional investors to “divest” their portfolios of stocks of corporations primarily engaged in producing or combusting fossil fuels is picking up steam. The World Council of Churches, representing nearly 600 million churchgoers in more than 150 countries, voted to divest its own holdings and to encourage all of its member churches to do the same.

What started on college campuses has spread to more than 100 cities, counties, religious institutions, foundations and other citizen-based organizations. The targets for divestment are 200 publicly traded companies that control most of the known coal, oil and gas reserves.

Why focus on “reserves?” Scientists recently calculated our planetary “carbon budget.” First, they determined that if humans increase global temperature by just 2 degrees centigrade (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) we could expect to cross one or more “tipping points” and find ourselves in a world of hurt.

Next, they calculated the number of gigatons of carbon dioxide it would take to reach this threshold and how much of this amount has already been emitted into the atmosphere. Doing the math, they came up with the number of gigatons we could spew into the atmosphere in future years and stay below the target global temperature increase. Basically, we can add another 585 gigatons.

The problem is that “known reserves” of coal, oil and gas contain five times that amount.

So, the divestment movement is asking the companies that hold these reserves to: 1) Stop exploring for more; 2) Stop lobbying for tax breaks for fossil fuels and against development of renewables; and 3) Commit to keeping 80 percent of their reserves in the ground, never to be burned.

This is a big ask. For No. 3 it’s a huge ask: “Excuse us, fossil fuel companies, but we’d like you to write off about $20 trillion in assets in order to save the planet.”

And, this doesn’t count the infrastructure that supports our dependence on fossil fuels, such as gas- and coal-fired power plants, gas stations, pipelines and refineries.

It has been said that one reason the Exxon Valdez crashed and spilled tens of millions of gallons of crude oil in 1989 was that even when the people piloting the ship became aware that things were amiss, it was too late to prevent the disaster. If I recollect correctly, the ship was so large, more than three football fields in length, that just to stop the ship’s forward motion and begin turning it required more than a mile.

Turning the world off the fossil fuel path will require much more than just stopping or turning that one ship, and the enormity of the “ask” is some measure of the almost unimaginable effort required and the political and economic friction that will ensue. Bottom line, the transition from fossil fuels to a sustainable energy economy will not be without pain and it is difficult to imagine that the fossil fuel industry will quietly agree to go along.

So, what forces can turn the USS Fossil Fuel and keep it from spilling its guts on a reef? The divestment movement calculates that the top 500 university endowments collectively invest close to a half a trillion dollars, and if you add in pension funds and investments by foundations and religious institutions, pretty soon you’re talking about real money.

The website www.gofossilfree.org/commitments lists some of the participating organizations, including, of local interest: Stanford and SF State, not to mention the cities of San Francisco, Berkeley, Richmond and Oakland, as well as numerous religious organizations.

Divestment is a potentially powerful tool in terms of influencing corporate change. Another is making people (corporations, in case you had not heard, are people) pay to dump carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. I’ve mentioned in a couple of prior columns the idea from the Citizens Climate Lobby of charging emitters a gradually increasing fee and, rather than keeping the money, government would return the funds to U.S. residents. This idea keeps popping up in the most interesting places.

What is that old saying? “Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery.” So now a recent article in Bloomberg Businessweek cites a proposal from the Brookings Institute to charge $16 a ton for CO2 emissions and increase it 4 percent per year above inflation. This, they calculate, would raise the price of gas about 16 cents, and increase household energy costs by anywhere from 5 to 20 percent.

The proposal estimates the tax would raise $3 trillion over 20 years and dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The article further indicates that this would permit the government to send a check for $300 ($1,200 for a family of four) to every resident in the country in year one, with the amount increasing over time. Or, to assuage any tax phobias, the offer could be made to reduce other taxes on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

Sound crazy? Well it appears to be working in British Columbia. After six years of implementation, the carbon tax has cut carbon emissions, produced jobs and grown the economy, and B.C. now has the lowest income tax rate in Canada and one of the lowest corporate tax rates in North America.

— John Mott-Smith is a resident of Davis; his column publishes on the and third Thursdays of each month. Send comments to johnmottsmith@comcast.net

John Mott-Smith

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 15 comments

The Davis Enterprise does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Read our full policy

  • ML1999July 17, 2014 - 9:27 am

    Sounds all peachy, until you scratch below the surface. How much did British Columbia reduce their CO2 emissions? Our use of Natural Gas (NG) has helped us to reduce CO2 emissions by a whopping 20 percent! NG is clean energy! Unfortunately, we have had 17 years with no so-called "Global Warming", and right now the temps are very comfortable in Sacramento. The Midwest, East, and South are seeing lower than normal temps, and scientists are now finally keying into the fact that we have had less solar activity than normal. Gee, the sun affects our temperatures? Meanwhile, I think we should divest from solar tax rebates until it proves it's economic worthiness. It has struggled for forty years, and still struggles.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • JeanJuly 17, 2014 - 11:22 am

    "and right now the temps are very comfortable in Sacramento" It was 104 on Monday! That's comfortable?! Also, of course, you are making climate change denier mistake #1 by implying that the temperature in a given place at a given time is the same as average global temperature, which has steadily risen over the decades. Just because it feels like paradise in Paradise, Michigan, or temperatures are ideal in Ideal, Georgia, is not evidence that global warming is not a thing.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Noreen MazelisJuly 17, 2014 - 1:58 pm

    Solar tax rebates are a scam. Heck, with extremely generous government (read taxpayer) subsidies, any business can look good. In spite of that or because of it, Solyndra went broke -- and we won't get a dime of our money back.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Rich RifkinJuly 17, 2014 - 4:22 pm

    "In spite of that or because of it, Solyndra went broke -- and we won't get a dime of our money back." ........... The scandal with Solyndra is not that a solar panel manufacturer got a huge subsidy and subsequently went broke (in part due to the unwise management of that company and in part due to Chinese subsidies which dramatically dropped the price of competing polysilicon panels). The real scandal of Solyndra is far worse: It is that it got its huge loan because its owners were politically connected Obama fundraisers. This is really a story about the corrupt nature of campaign finance. It is the same story why we spend literally hundreds of billions of dollars on defense spending we don't need, because defense contractors know which members of Congress to bribe. The partisan group, Americans for Prosperity, which has bankrolled the anti-Solyndra rhetoric gets the story all wrong, as if this is about the solar industry or clean energy or anything but what it is: It is all about corrupt campaign finance, exactly what Americans for Prosperity (i.e., the Koch brothers) engages in to get elected officials to help them enrich themselves.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Greg JohnsonJuly 17, 2014 - 8:39 pm

    Americans for Prosperity (i.e., the Koch brothers) engages in to get elected officials to help them enrich themselves...............So Rich, I imagine you're also opposed to the rich Californian (name escapes me) who is going to donate hugely to the democrats in the midterm elections?

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Rich RifkinJuly 17, 2014 - 9:08 pm

    I'm not a partisan, Greg. I oppose private campaign financing, because it ALWAYS corrupts public policy. I rarely ever write about Republican graft of this sort, because in California only Democrats matter. That is why, when I bring up how labor unions have managed to corrupt our city and county and state, so many Democratic-partisans think I am biased against them. In reality, my bias is against corruption, which is a consequence of private campaign donations.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Greg JohnsonJuly 17, 2014 - 9:56 pm

    Fair enough. I totally agree. I would love to have both sides have an equal voice and let people decide on merit. However, I doubt that will ever happen. The media has a lot of pull. I'm sure if you could come up with a dollar equivalent, it would be astronomical. I guess where I may disagree with you is that the Koch bros, or their liberal counterparts are acting out of pure self interest. I think they both have ideological beliefs and are using their power/money to push them through. I don't think that's how it should be but I think they generally are doing what they believe in.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Rich RifkinJuly 21, 2014 - 5:08 pm

    Their "beliefs" are shaped and informed by self-interest. That is human nature. Beliefs are not autonomous. They are consequential.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Greg JohnsonJuly 17, 2014 - 10:00 pm

    The movement to persuade institutional investors to “divest” their portfolios of stocks of corporations primarily engaged in producing or combusting fossil fuels is picking up steam. ..................If that's true, it has no origin in nobility on the investors' part. They would sell their mothers to squeeze an extra one percent out of the game.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Curt MillerJuly 21, 2014 - 4:03 pm

    Articles like this one ignore the most basic facts about the ‘climate change’ brouhaha. First, the exact extent to which man made CO2 emissions, which are only a small portion of total emissions, affect the climate is uncertain. Why should we rely on a bunch of computer modelers to combine millions of pieces of climate data and produce any warming (or cooling, for that matter) estimate that is credible? Real world temperature changes have fallen far short of those projected by climate models. Second, the cost of imposing meaningful restraints on greenhouse gas emissions would be enormous. Why should developing countries throw away their prospects for future economic growth and improved living conditions for their citizens by adopting ANY emission reductions? Also, why should developed countries cripple their own economies by adopting unilateral restrictions that, in the end, would be only symbolic without any significant effect on global emissions reductions? Third, divestment of fossil fuel investments by various organizations is not only fiscally foolish but immoral. Why do so-called ‘divestment activists’ think that wrecking essential parts of modern life made possible by fossil fuels is moral? Abundant energy makes computer screens glow, gets us to work, and provides power to run lights at home whether the wind is blowing or not, rain or shine, day or night. These people really don’t give a hoot about peoples in developing nations, let alone citizens of these United States.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Elisabeth RobbinsJuly 21, 2014 - 7:33 pm

    Curt Miller says "the cost of imposing meaningful restraints on greenhouse gas emissions would be enormous." This is an assumption we have all been told innumerable times, but a recent study by Regional Economic Models, Inc found that it is not true. A tax of $10 per ton on co2 levied a the point the fossil fuel leaves the ground or enters our port, increased $10 each year, with all revenue returned to households would actually stimulate the economy. Their model shows it would add $70 billion to the GDP and add 2 million additional jobs in ten years, while decreasing co2 output by 32%. We don't have to choose between the economy and the health of the earth. If we return carbon tax revenue to the people, we can have both. Join Citizens' Climate Lobby in telling your senators and member of congress: We want a Revenue Neutral Carbon Fee and Dividend.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Greg JohnsonJuly 21, 2014 - 7:46 pm

    We don't have to choose between the economy and the health of the earth...............This simply makes no economic sense. Fuels are used based on price efficiency except where regulation (or conscience on the part of some people) steps in. I'm not a climate denier, but there is an economic cost (not a boon) to cutting emissions.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Rich RifkinJuly 21, 2014 - 5:04 pm

    Curt, you're right that the IPCC models overestimated how much global temperatures would have gone up by now. The scientific consensus is that because a much larger amount of atmospheric carbon has gone into the world's oceans, acidifying them and putting at risk the oceanic food chain and all shellfish fisheries, temperature rose more slowly than they expected. However, it is not the case that temperatures have not continued to go up. Nine of the 10 hottest years have come since 2002. We just finished the hottest year on record in 2013. Also, today, the LA Times has a story of interest: "First six months of 2014 were warmest in California's history." I would not be so sanguine about the rate the planet is heating up. If we keep discharging great amounts of CO2 and other effluents into the atmosphere, we will be creating more and more problems for human life on earth. That may be global warming on an unprecedented scale. Or it may be acidic oceans which no longer support fisheries. Or it may be both. Whatever it proves to be, it's not good.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Curt MillerJuly 22, 2014 - 9:34 am

    Rich; My comments don't say anything about rising temperatures. (I'm not sanguine about anything). As for Ms. Robbins, transferring a pot of money from one set of characters to another cannot stimulate an economy. It is simply a transfer of wealth. She assumes the people paying the CO2 tax wouldn't invest the $10 but, for some reason, she thinks households will invest it. The truth is a company paying the tax is far more likely to invest the money in jobs, etc. while households are more likely to spend the dough, which may or may not be invested. That decision varies from household to household. And why should we hand over trillions of dollars to the government to handle/distribute all of this loot? It will take its cut in administrative fees leaving less money to hand out. Basic economics trumps goofy ideas like hers every time.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Rich RifkinJuly 22, 2014 - 11:34 am

    From Science Daily: "According to NOAA scientists, the globally averaged temperature over land and ocean surfaces for June 2014 was the highest for June since record keeping began in 1880. It also marked the 38th consecutive June and 352nd consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average. The last below-average global temperature for June was in 1976 and the last below-average global temperature for any month was February 1985."

    Reply | Report abusive comment
.

News

California climate change policies to hit our pocketbooks

By San Francisco Chronicle | From Page: A1

 
Tech Trekkers boldly go into STEM fields

By Amy Jiang | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Decoding breast milk secrets reveals clues to lasting health

By Pat Bailey | From Page: A1 | Gallery

Carwash raises funds for funeral expenses

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A2

 
Bob Dunning: Hey, we want more than one thin dime

By Bob Dunning | From Page: A2

Appeals court upholds high-speed rail route

By The Associated Press | From Page: A2

 
Artists, photographers invited to support Yolo Basin Foundation

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A3 | Gallery

Unitarians will host summer camp

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A3

 
Sudwerk’s sales grow, floating on a sea of dry hop lager

By Elizabeth Case | From Page: A4 | Gallery

 
Wetlands visitors will see migrating shorebirds

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A6 | Gallery

‘Bak2Sac’ free train ride program launched

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A7

 
Explorit: Wonderful wetlands right at home

By Lisa Justice | From Page: A8 | Gallery

Recycle old paint cans for free

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A8

 
Where your gas money goes

By San Francisco Chronicle | From Page: A12

Americans, internationals make connections

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A16

 
Can you give them a home?

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A16 | Gallery

STEAC needs donations of personal care items

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A16, 1 Comment

 
.

Forum

Trio disagrees on best option

By Creators Syndicate | From Page: B5

 
Thanks for emergency help

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

Commenting system to change

By Debbie Davis | From Page: A10, 16 Comments

 
Support these local restaurants

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

 
Let’s get the bench repaired

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10

Tom Meyer cartoon

By Debbie Davis | From Page: A10

 
Predicting climate changes

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10, 1 Comment

Clinton’s book is worth a read

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A10, 1 Comment

 
.

Sports

Hudson solid, Hamels better in Giants’ loss

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Petrovic, Putnam share Canadian Open lead

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

Moss powers A’s past Astros

By The Associated Press | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Enriquez brilliant, but Post 77 season ends with Area 1 loss

By Bruce Gallaudet | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
The un-Armstrong? Tour ‘boss’ Nibali wins Stage 18

By The Associated Press | From Page: B8 | Gallery

.

Features

.

Arts

‘A Most Wanted Man’: Superb espionage drama

By Derrick Bang | From Page: A9 | Gallery

 
Clyde Elmore: Art in the Wild

By Evan Arnold-Gordon | From Page: A9 | Gallery

Musicians perform at Sunday service

By Enterprise staff | From Page: A17 | Gallery

 
.

Business

Accord’s latest model is most fuel efficient

By Ann M. Job | From Page: B3 | Gallery

 
.

Obituaries

Mary Lita Bowen

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

 
James Thomas Feather

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A4

Richard ‘Dick’ Robenalt

By Special to The Enterprise | From Page: A7

 
.

Comics

Comics: Friday, July 25, 2014

By Creator | From Page: A13

 
.

Real Estate Review

Featured Listing

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER1

Professional Services Directory

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER2

Remax

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER3

Sherman Home

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER4

Tracy Harris

By Zack Snow | From Page: RER4