The Point of the Sword

The cover of Climate Warrior depicts a sword rising from Earth, piercing the clouds of impending doom from climate change. The rising sword represents our collective efforts to overcome this challenge and move to a new era and a new relationship with the Earth.

At the tip of the sword, helping lead humanity to this new and brighter future, are the many millions intensely engaged in the fight—the climate warriors. The author is one of these many, and this story is the one of many yet to be told.

The sword itself is electrified, as shown by the two bolts of lightning coming from the sword. Fittingly so, because the future energy needs of mankind will be powered by electricity, and most of those energy needs will be powered by the sun and wind, also depicted in the graphic.

The two lightning bolts represent much of the personal story and the economic and political analysis found throughout Climate Warrior—the two main solutions to climate change presented by the author in numerous examples and explanations. These two solutions, from which all other solutions emerge, are climate activism and carbon pricing, both in their broadest definition.

Many readers will lodge an objection here. How could there be only two solutions? What about all the other things? And isn’t carbon pricing regressive? Indeed, one of the most famous, and quite excellent, books on climate change, Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, edited by Paul Hawken, presents 80 solutions to climate change. Climate activism and carbon pricing are not to be found. From my perspective, however, these 80 all emerge from climate activism or carbon pricing. The two lightning bolts spark the 80 solutions, and more.

The basic problem, from an economics perspective, is that we have many economic actors who can do what they want to do without worrying about the impact that their actions have on the greenhouse effect. Adding carbon to the atmosphere has been a free good, and free goods tend to be used to excess. That is the case with burning fossil fuels, because we have come to rely on them to provide the energy that enables us to have good things that we all enjoy and need—pleasant indoor temperatures, mobility, goods available from anywhere due to cheap transportation, entertainment, food and more things. The problem is that this lack of a price on carbon leads to so much overuse that it is now dangerously threatening our life on the Earth.

Carbon pricing puts the incentives where they need to be, by reflecting the cost of pollution in the prices people pay, so that economic decisions would reflect the true impact of those decisions and would lead to choices that were much less harmful—such as the choice of renewable energy versus the choice of fossil fuels.

Carbon pricing, in the broadest sense, is much more than simply putting a fee on carbon. Instead, carbon pricing as an overall solution means creating rewards for doing the right thing and penalties for doing the wrong thing. For political reasons, we often don’t like to put an explicit price on carbon because to some people it sounds like a “tax”. Heaven forbid! Instead, we provide tax preferences or outright payments with public money to do the “right thing”. In this sense, electric vehicle subsidies or government weatherization programs are a form of carbon pricing. From an economist’s perspective, they may be inferior to a direct tax on carbon, but they are still a form of carbon pricing.

Climate activism is just as important. It’s voting, marching in the streets, writing letters to elected leaders and much more. It’s learning and understanding what is at stake for humanity and making every effort to be proactive in that effort. It’s understanding all the solutions and the 80 ideas in Drawdown. It’s waking up every morning and asking, “what can I do today about climate change”. It’s people everywhere looking at what influence they can bring to bear using the tools and relationships they have available; from saving energy in daily life to investing their money to what jobs they take to acting through the community organizations they belong to or can join. It’s encouraging more people and organizations and governments at all levels to join in the fight. It’s millions of people doing this everywhere, all the time that will create the sword that will move humanity to a new relationship with the Earth.