Political Rhetoric Poisons the Well of Effective Climate Action » Publications » Washington Policy Center


A recent conversation with my sister (over beers) about coping with the risk of climate change gave me a clear idea of ​​just how confusing the climate change discussion is.

She asked what it would cost to mitigate the CO2 impact of her drive across the country to visit me. After calculating the gasoline her truck used to tow her trailer, I said it would cost about $20 to invest in projects that would reduce the same amount of CO2 she was emitting on the round trip .

His reaction was disbelief. She said it sounded too easy. Would it be true?

In fact, it is. There is an abundance of technologies that can effectively reduce CO2 emissions in the near future, but these are being intentionally ignored by many politicians because the mundane nature of the solutions does not match the sensational language of the “climate crisis”.

The surprise of my sister – who is very accomplished and intelligent – ​​speaks volumes about the needless difficulty of politicians in reducing the risks associated with climate change.

Investing in projects that absorb atmospheric CO2 or reduce potential emissions is the approach used by Microsoft, Amazon and other companies that care about reducing the risk of climate change and regularly report progress towards their goals. Projects that reduce potential emissions include methane capture in landfills, which capture the methane emitted from the decomposition of waste and use it to generate electricity rather than letting it escape into the atmosphere. The removal and storage of atmospheric CO2, known as “carbon sequestration”, includes projects such as regenerative agriculture which uses plant growth to store carbon in the soil, or geological sequestration which uses machines to remove CO2 from the air and store it in geological formations in the ground. .

The cost of these types of projects can vary widely, but companies using these approaches are looking for projects that are 1) efficient and 2) inexpensive. While Amazon and Microsoft reduce CO2 emissions from their operations and throughout the supply chain, there is little they can do before it becomes extremely costly and counterproductive. Thus, they make up the difference between their CO2 reduction target and what they can do themselves by investing in CO2 reduction projects.

Here’s how it works in the real world. This is Microsoft’s strategy to be carbon negative by 2030. Although they roughly halve emissions from Microsoft and its supply chain, an almost equal amount of avoided emissions reductions offset carbon removal. The reason is simple. At some point, avoiding or eliminating CO2 is simply cheaper than reducing energy consumption and associated business activities. The strategy makes some assumptions about technology and cost, but even though the ratio between direct reductions and investments in CO2 removal changes, the strategy is fundamentally the same.

It could be that as 2030 approaches, Microsoft has plucked all the fruits within reach and it is becoming more difficult to avoid or eliminate CO2. It could also be that advances in technology will further lower costs and increase opportunities for reducing emissions.

I’m not surprised my sister was shocked at the low CO2 mitigation cost of her trip. The strident rhetoric passed to us by politicians and left-wing environmental activists is that climate change requires some kind of religious and sacrificial atonement for our sins. It is not enough to reduce CO2 emissions and help the planet. It must be painful.

For them, tackling climate change requires massive societal transformation with painful trade-offs to adequately address the existential crisis we are responsible for creating. This thinking leads politicians to overlook mundane but meaningful solutions in favor of those that are visibly dramatic and transformative in society – even when they are ineffective or unnecessarily expensive.

For example, under Washington State’s new climate law, Microsoft and Amazon are required to reduce CO2 emissions and pay a tax (mostly in the form of higher energy prices ) for every metric ton of CO2 they emit. Companies covered by the law are allowed to reduce a small amount of emissions by investing in CO2 reduction projects like Microsoft and Amazon do. But this is capped at three percent in the first years, then completely prohibited. As far as compliance with state climate law goes, these projects will soon be illegal.


It does not mean anything. The cost-benefit analysis of the CO2 tax carried out by the Department of Ecology found that allowing even a tiny amount of CO2 reduction projects would reduce the cost of meeting CO2 targets by almost half -billion dollars. And yet, legislators have chosen the most costly and bureaucratic approach, favoring force over innovation.

Washington state residents will pay an unnecessarily high price to reduce emissions. Microsoft and Amazon could end up paying twice for the same CO2 emissions – once in the form of a state tax and another for CO2 reduction projects aimed at eliminating the same amount of emissions from the ‘atmosphere. It does nothing more for the planet. It only increases the taxes that the government will collect from businesses and the public.

It shouldn’t be that my sister – or me, or anyone else – is reducing CO2 emissions more effectively than Washington State with all the resources at its disposal. And yet, that is where we are.

Inaccurate and unscientific political rhetoric is not just about wasting taxes on projects that do little to reduce CO2 emissions. It also poisons the well of personal and private action, making meaningful action impossible or, worse, actually prohibiting effective CO2 reduction efforts.


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