The Climate change jargon bingo: How to stay afloat in the debate, part 2

More climate change jargon! Check out this previous post for explanations of the climate justice, the Paris agreement, and greenwashing. And here come the next three – yes I’m a fan of alliterations: Carbon footpring,t Carbon Tax and Cap-and-Trade Systems, and Catastrophic effects.


Carbon Footprint

Short answer: A concept that measures how much of the climate changing gases are produced by you, or your company.

Long answer

Climate change is mainly caused by carbon dioxide or similar gases, that are emitted into the atmosphere by what we humans, especially humans in industrialised countries, consider as everyday luxuries. The carbon footprint is a model that breaks tons of scientific models down into how much each individual action contributes to climate change. It’s a useful tool both for businesses and individuals to see which habits are the ones that need changing (oh man, my occasional flying within Europe still messes up my efforts to get my footprint to ideal levels).

Try this calculator (sorry, UK-based – here is a German one, please add others in comments) to see how sustainable your every-day life choices are!acedbc1b3e020182f43133df2fc1620c

Carbon Tax and Cap-and-Trade schemes

Short answer: Ways of making consumers pay for the emissions of greenhouse gases they personally cause.

Long answer:

Carbon tax comes in different shapes in proposals and existing schemes. The basic idea is to attach a price to each unit of climate changing gases that goes into a product, to be paid by consumers and collected by the state. That should give consumers at all links of the production chain an incentive to make more climate-friendly choices, with the hope that the worst emitters would be priced out of the market in favour of low-carbon alternatives.

Its advantages include simplicity and predictability, enabling people to make the right choices and generating state income that can be invested into climate change mitigation projects. However, at what point of the production chain what level of tax is collected has a huge influence on the market – for example, if you make the consumers at the end of the chain pay, that makes utilities such as heating significantly more expensive, which hurts mainly the less affluent population and also makes the domestic energy market less competitive than its neighbours across the border. Also, not all greenhouse gases and emitters are created equal with a view to their effects on the climate, there are logistical and measurement challenges… look at the global policy trends and have a think.

Cap-and-trade schemes are the neoliberal siblings of the state-controlled carbon tax. The cap is a limit of greenhouse gases that can be emitted from a given market in total. The calculated number of “allowances”, i.e. units of greenhouse gases that are permitted before the cap is reached, is then divided up and allocated to emitters (think industrial companies, energy producers…) each year. The allowances can also be traded between companies. This creates an artificial market: in order to continue to emit greenhouse gases, a company needs to buy the appropriate amount of allowances. These costs are an  incentive to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases it emits. Allowances will become fewer every year, thus with rising demand and rising prices on carbon, investment into reducing emissions becomes more attractive and the cap in the end means national targets on climate change are met. So much for the theory – which, like this EU policy video, (although watch it, it explains this whole system quite well) can make the reality look really simple.

Because really – how do you set the cap? How much would allowances need to cost for this to work? The EU emission trading system, the ETS, is the best example of what happens when you get it wrong – not much, that is. The artificial market of carbon allowances has a chronic surplus, thus the price is so low it does not incentivise investment. Even if it does work, though – the price of carbon will always be uncertain, which is generally not good for long term business planning, and resulting higher prices for consumers would again hit the poorest.

Thus there are good ideas and more or less good outcomes for both – there might even be great ways to combine the two, i.e. have a cap on emissions and taxes in place to correct for market inefficiencies. What is a fact though, is that we need to make both businesses and consumers interested in climate change – and that is easiest by making them pay. Nature does not have a price attached to it, and human enterprises have a tendency to overuse and abuse what’s free – something this planet cannot afford endlessly.

Catastrophic consequences

Short answer: Even if you don’t care about animals and plants – people die. Now.

Long answer:

“climate change only affects plants and animals”

“climate change only affects people far away”

“climate change only affects people in the future”

are all easy to think and all wrong. Here is a nice explanation why.

If you’d like a visual refresher of why climate change is important, and if you like Leonardo di Caprio, watch this film about why it’s the probably greatest threat to humanity at the moment.
In any case, watch the below – that distant future is now.


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