A Root Solution to Climate Change: PRICE CARBON

{This is my draft theory of change for COAL’s engagement focus of putting a price on pollution. Please comment: what works, what doesn’t?}

“A problem adequately stated is a problem well on its way to being solved.” – Buckminster Fuller

We are the last generation living in the couple years [1] left to alter the runaway course of climate chaos. Thankfully, our response doesn’t need to start from scratch. Together we can achieve climate stability by blending the diverse and personal power of the arts with the proven approach experts agree can turn around our predicament—and transform our paradigm [2].

The quote above helps clarify our situation. The corollary to Buckminster Fuller’s insight is that a problem difficult to solve has not been stated adequately—more likely, we have stated a symptom of the problem. A patient with a stomach ache knows the symptom—he visits the doctor for adequate statement of the problem. The problem is only adequately stated when the proper course of treatment has become uncontroversial—whether that be an antibiotic, probiotic, or lime in the coconut.  I submit to you that we have not “solved” climate change because we have wrongly identified it as a problem.  It’s not, it’s a symptom.  The problem, stated adequately, is that carbon contains in it a hidden cost.  And the preponderance of subject matter experts agree, we can best address the climate crisis by exposing the true cost of carbon.

Climate change is a symptom of the root problem that fossil fuels are powerful and cheap. We overconsume fossil fuels because we don’t have to foot the entire bill—the Filipino people, the victims of Sandy and Katrina, and the sufferers of droughts and floods pick up the back end. Because they do so much work for pennies on the dollar, we use fossil fuels to the exclusion of other energy sources, thereby destabilizing our planet and growing the richest industry in human history—one highly adept at retaining its spot at the top.

Here’s the main thing to know: Fossil fuels have hidden costs that are not included in their price. Economists call hidden costs “externalities” because they are left out of the price signal that helps each of us as consumers, and society as a whole, make good decisions. At $4/gallon at the pump, we may pay for getting from point A to B, but not for superstorms, poor health, ecosystem loss, ocean acidification, and the multitude of present and future consequences of burning coal, gas, and oil.

But wait! This doesn’t make us guilty wrongdoers. The artificially low price of fossil fuels is just a signal that the market is broken, and it is our job to fix it. Only collective action is up to the task. Hard as it is to admit, even if all of us rode bikes and planted gardens, we couldn’t keep all the toxins safeguarded under the earth from being dug, pumped, fracked, piped, shipped, driven, liquefied, and burned. (Even if individual action could do the trick, it wouldn’t be in time.) [3] [4]

The exciting truth is that if we first tax carbon, all our valiant efforts pushing up like dandelions through concrete will find themselves in fertile soil to shoot up and interlace like a tall forest canopy, giving us shade for years to come. This is the most elegant and efficacious solution out there. We are lucky to live in a country that can and must lead the way.

We are strong together. If even a fraction of the 70% of Americans concerned about climate change band together to sing for this solution, we will change the tune of the future. After all, we have much more at stake in stabilizing the climate than the few companies that have prevented people who care from achieving efficacious solutions. And even they are starting to come around! [5] We have no time to lose in this mother of all transitions. National climate legislation is inevitable, and we have only one shot to get it right. Will we?

We invite you to help us un-hide the hidden costs of carbon.  What beautiful, magical, wacky, unheard-of and never-unseen thing will you create?  Join COAL and become a Spark for change.


[1] International Energy Agency (IEA) report summary in the Guardian – we have from now until 2017 at the latest to reverse the accelerating global trend of fossil fuel investments or else be “locked in” to 2*C+ warming.

[2] “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System” by Donella Meadows

[3] “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” by Bill McKibbon, August 2012, Rolling Stone

[4] Forget Shorter Showers | Derrick Jensen | Orion Magazine

[5] NYT, companies prepared to pay $60 carbon tax and Exxon’s Complete Statement stating their preference for a revenue-neutral carbon tax



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