The Current Wisdom is a series of monthly articles in which Patrick J. Michaels, director of the Center for the Study of Science, reviews interesting items on global warming in the scientific literature that may not have received the media attention that they deserved, or have been misinterpreted in the popular press. In this special issue, we focus on the climate implications of a carbon tax.
A year ago, July 23, 2012 to be precise, former Republican congressman Bob Inglis famously predicted the facts on global warming will “overwhelm” GOP resistance to climate change action and alter the party’s stance. In response, he proposed a carbon tax.
That’s the kind of thing that always pops up during the hottest time of the year, which is late July, and it’s again in the public yakstream.
Inglis is “former” because he lost his primary in a heavily Republican South Carolina district by an unprecedented—for an incumbent congressman with no scandal—70-29 margin, and he (correctly) blamed his defeat on his newly-found perseveration on global warming.
Since then, he has associated with R-Street Partners, which calls itself a libertarian think tank, but which is very vocal in support of his tax.
So, as discussions of a carbon tax continue in the halls and chambers of Washington, we provide a handy tool for tax fans to determine the global warming “savings” from whatever emissions reduction their hearts desire.
We leave it to the user (policymaker, Congressman, former Congressman, think tank scholar, President, voter, etc.) to decide how much of a carbon tax should be levied to produce the desired result.
Using our calculator, you can specify
- the carbon dioxide emissions reduction amount (calculated from the 2005 baseline) that will take place by the year 2050 (and remain in place thereafter),
- the region which will take part in the emissions reduction plan (the United States, or for the more optimistic, the industrialized nations of the world),
- and the climate sensitivity (how much you think the global average temperature will increase as a result of a doubling of the pre-industrial atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration). The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) modestly-educated guess is 3.0°C, but a collection of reports from the recent scientific literature puts the value around 2.0°C, and based on recent global temperature behavior, a value of 1.5°C may be most appropriate. Not wanting to leave firebrands like former NASA employee James Hansen out of the fun, we include the option of selecting an extremely high climate sensitivity value of 4.5°C.
We calculate, you decide.
Once you make your selections, the calculator will return the amount of global temperature rise that will be averted as a result of your choices by the year 2050 and also by the end of the century.
Try it using this example. Choose a 100% reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from the United States and the IPCC’s sensitivity value of 3.0°C. Hit “Submit.” The amount of temperature savings that results is 0.052°C by the year 2050 and 0.137°C by the year 2100. (Why we are using three significant digits is in the fine print at the end of this article.)
Sorry, Major Kong (h/t to “Dr. Strangelove”), those are the figures. That’s the right answer. Assuming the IPCC’s value for climate sensitivity (i.e. disregarding the recent scientific literature) and completely stopping all carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. between now and the year 2050 and keeping them at zero, will only reduce the amount of global warming by just over a tenth of a degree (out of a total projected rise of 2.619°C between 2010 and 2100).
If you think that a rise of 2.482°C is vastly preferable to a rise of 2.619°C then all you have to do is set the carbon tax large enough to drive U.S. emissions to zero by mid-century—oh yeah, and sell that tax to the American people.
To explore other alternatives, use our handy-dandy calculator.
The fine print: