- A global greenhouse emissions user fee that by 2030 rises to $100 per ton of CO2 and equivalent emissions will stabilize climate by 2050 and cause fossil fuels to be largely supplanted by clean energy. Cap and trade would work just as well to accomplish this goal, but its adoption now seems politically unlikely in the U.S.
- Given such a user fee, by 2050 the bulk of U.S. spending on petroleum imports undertaken today will have been diverted to a domestic clean energy industry creating millions of new jobs. In effect, income in the process will be transferred from wealthy owners of foreign oil reserves to American workers. This gain will be dampened somewhat if China gets the upper hand in solar panel production, but not totally eliminated.
- An economic boom in the U.S. will in all probability be fostered by the process of adjusting to a new energy reality. The engines of expansion will occur not only in the arenas of clean energy and energy efficiency, but also as the consequence of a move to a more compact form of living. This will set off heavy investment in mass transit and urban development along new transit lines. A revolution in agricultural will also likely occur shifting it from fossil fuel intensive practices in meat and dairy production to more labor intensive and environmentally friendly grass-based approaches.
- As greenhouse emissions user fees rise, households will see their energy bills increase, but will have the option of reducing such costs through improvements in energy efficiency and the substitution of clean for carbon-based energy purchases. A greenhouse user fee will be increasingly avoidable over time as a new clean energy sector is created. Economic theory predicts that the fossil fuel industry itself will bear an increasing share of the user fee over time because of such household actions. By 2050 the cost of energy as a percent of average household under the new energy regime will be the same or only slightly more than it is today.
Energy consuming, spatially expansive living is our dream and passion in the U.S. Yet our compactly developed older cities are experiencing something of a renaissance. This phenomenon is not being driven by any special economic trends, such as dramatically higher energy costs on a European scale that would push people toward denser more energy efficient living. Neither has there been any substantial shift in planning laws, such as a growing use of urban growth boundaries, that would force central city infill development and limit suburban expansion. The trend seems to be occurring on its own, suggesting possibly a shift in attitudes about compact forms of living. This is an especially virtuous trend for meeting the challenge of global warming. Because they live at such high densities, New York City residents on average emit less than half the carbon of a typical American. A simple increase in the density of urban settlement in this country would take us a long way toward limiting our greenhouse gas emissions. Transformations in human values and attitudes do occur, and to find out why with respect to compact living requires us to consider in detail the source of the things we care about most deeply. We need a “philosophy of compact" living rooted in human perceptions of life’s meaning as it relates to how we arrange ourselves spatially in the world. This topic I will take up in future posts.