Today, while waiting to cross the street, I saw something that should never happen.
Here in BC, at many intersections, there are left turn lanes. In some of them, the traffic light will show a green arrow that gives right of way to those turning left. The crosswalk I was at was one such intersection. And as you might expect, the left turn arrows came on in both directions. However, there were no vehicles in either left turn lane.
Is it not obvious that the above situation leads to unnecessary idling, and therefore wastes energy? I see no reason why it is impossible to put a sensor in a left turn lane that, that while the light is red, detects and counts the cars passing over. Perhaps it could detect cars by pushing down slightly when a set of wheels passes over. This will happen twice per car (once per axle). The cars’ weight could press the sensor down. While not perfect (a semi or other long vehicle with more than two axles would result in an incorrect number of vehicles) this will be a good enough approximation to form a sensor system. The number of cars passing into the left turn lane could then be used to decide whether to activate the arrow the next time the light turns green. This system would prevent unnecessary idling due to unneeded turning arrows, and ought to be relatively simple to implement (a computer could probably do it).
The Arbourist has a post about a small company that has a proposal to create liquid fuels out of water and carbon dioxide from the air. While the proposal looks promising, since, as far as I can tell, it takes more energy to create the liquid fuel than is released by burning that fuel, and that any carbon extracted from the atmosphere while creating the fuel will ultimately be re–emitted when that fuel is used, I have difficulty seeing how much of a difference this particular technology would make. (See also my comments at the Arbourist’s post). However, if new evidence or technology emerges that allows this technology to make more of a difference, I will certainly change my mind about it.
And The Arbourist’s post got me thinking. Since there has been much resistance to making more than a token effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, perhaps it is time to put geoengineering on the table. That might potentially be the best hope for avoiding disaster. While I am not actively suggesting we start geoengineering, I am suggesting we put it on the table. This is important considering our collective failure to make much effort towards mitigation of global warming and climate change.
Geoengineering is not science fiction. Several of the proposals have analogues that happen naturally. And it is not decades away. As far as I can tell, the following proposals are pretty much shovel ready, and we could start tomorrow if there was a serious effort, and with no significant research yet to be done or technology to be developed:
- Atmospheric sulphur aerosols
- Grassland restoration
- Cool roofs
- Enhanced weathering
These proposals each have a number of advantages and disadvantages (discussed after the jump):
An editorial in the New York Times got me thinking about why a carbon tax is a better way to fight global warming and climate change than either cap–and–trade or efficiency regulations.
Here are several reasons I can think of:
- Carbon taxes always provide an incentive to pollute less and use less energy. Even if you cut carbon emissions by half, you still are paying taxes for the carbon you do emit, and therefore still have an incentive to eliminate it. Compare this with efficiency regulations, where someone has no incentive to reduce energy use once the regulation is met. In addition, all too often regulations are designed by businesses themselves, so as to prevent competition (rent seeking). Also compare this with cap–and–trade, where a source of carbon credits may well allow heavy polluters to continue, just because they have deep pockets. A lot of money will not allow someone to avoid paying a carbon tax.
- Carbon taxes drive both individuals and companies to use less energy. Cap–and–trade is usually done by businesses, and efficiency regulations only impact new products (unless old ones are mandated to be destroyed).
- According to the editorial, a carbon tax is far cheaper than efficiency standards once a global view of costs is taken into account.
- Carbon taxes (especially those on fuel) make people drive less and live in denser environments. On a per capita basis, cities are more energy–efficient than suburbs. For example, recycling and public transit are more feasible in densely–populated areas. And people who drive less are less sedentary and therefore healthier.
- It is possible that cap–and–trade and efficiency standards alone will not do enough to mitigate climate change.
- A carbon tax is easier to offset as part of a green tax shift than other methods. It can even lead to lower tax levels overall, such as here in British Columbia (cite).
- Efficiency improvements are subject to the rebound effect, where the decreased cost of using a resource partially offsets gains from using it more efficiently. A carbon tax does not generate perverse incentives.
- A carbon tax is easier to adjust. If too many pollution permits are issued, cap–and–trade will not have much of an effect since it is harder to eliminate privately–owned pollution permits.
- Many countries that export oil are rentier states, which means that they earn most of their revenue from natural resource royalties. Those royalties pay for oppressive paramilitary forces that enforce authoritarianism in those countries. A carbon tax will eventually reduce revenues received by those countries, improving freedom there and those countries’ human rights situations.
Hence, for all of the above reasons, a carbon tax is the way to go. My preferred offset is to payroll taxes. But such has virtually no chance of being enacted in the United States (a better chance in Canada [I hope]), due to the extreme polarization and total irrationality (and far worse!) of a number of politicians there. And since climate change is a major danger, Christian conservatism’s climate change denialism makes it, in the long run, the world’s most dangerous ideology.
As the clever reminder goes, tomorrow is the day we are supposed to spring forward, and later in the year we are supposed to fall back. This is due to Daylight Savings Time, and it is intended to save energy by not wasting evening daylight. In reality, DST costs energy in location. While more evening daylight does mean that people use less electricity for lighting, in warmer places this savings is more than offset by increased energy use through air conditioning. That’s why DST costs energy and should be abolished.