Climate change “is going to dominate our world in the next century. It’s a very big risk, but it’s also a tremendous opportunity, if we make the right choices,” says Dan Miller.
Miller, Managing Director at the venture capital firm The Roda Group, told a Climate One audience in San Francisco on November 18 that climate change is also treated much differently than other global threats. We spend billions on counterterrorism, to combat AIDS and other infectious diseases, to prevent a nuclear reactor meltdown, “but these kinds of risks have very low probabilities of actually affecting you. Yet we still worry about them a lot and are willing to take government action to combat them.”
“Climate change, on the other hand, if we don’t address it, has the likely outcome – as opposed to a small outcome – the likely outcome that it will have catastrophic effects for nearly everyone,” he said.
After reciting a depressing list of climate change impacts that are likely to or are already damaging the Earth’s natural systems – among them sea-level rise, drought, wildfires, melting permafrost, collapse of ice sheets, ocean acidification – Miller asked the salient question: “Why do we not act? Why, when we know the problem is huge, do we totally ignore it?”
Evolutionary psychology offers some answers, he said. “We learn to focus on certain things and ignore other things.” He identified the factors working against action on climate change: CO2 and other planet-warming pollutants are invisible; the challenge is unprecedented; the causality is complex; the impacts are unpredictable and indirect; and all of us are complicit.
Once one acknowledges the reality of climate change, there is a corresponding obligation to act, Miller said. He added that individual action begins with asking our children for forgiveness, before moving on to reducing your carbon footprint, and believing, learning and engaging. What can countries do? Miller offered four recommendations: move to 100% carbon-free electricity in 10 to 20 years; keep tar sands and oil shale in the ground; expand R&D into geo-engineering, especially carbon capture and storage; and put a price on carbon.
Miller’s preferred carbon-pricing vehicle is a so-called Clean Energy Dividend. A carbon fee would be added upstream, at the mine, power plant, refinery, or factory – enough to gradually raise the price of gasoline by $1 per gallon. Then, the federal government returns 100% of the proceeds on a per capita basis to citizens via a monthly check, with parents receiving one-half shares for up to two children.
“That would drive a new economy of renewable energy and energy efficiency. I think most people would like it. I think conservatives would like it. It doesn’t raise any money for the government,” said Miller. “I can tell you there are a lot of companies out there that are not getting investment now because there’s no price on carbon. They’re fighting an unfair battle against fossil fuels that are not only not paying for the bad effects they have, but they’re even being subsidized.”
But what if an avowed climate change skeptic such as Rick Perry were to win the White House next November, asked a member of the audience. “We can do the wrong thing. We have been doing the wrong thing,” said Miller. “To me, this is a pretty obvious choice. The downside of not addressing climate change is really a not a place anybody would want to go if they understood what it meant. No one – including Rick Perry.”
“The alternative, of doing something about it, would not only address this really bad thing down the road, but would actually be good for the economy,” he said.
– Justin Gerdes
Photo: Steven Fromtling Climate One, The Commonwealth Club HQ, San Francisco (November 18, 2011)