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How We Are Addressing Climate Change All Wrong

We are all in this together. Climate change isn't the problem; how we frame it is. Global warming can be solved if we work together as a team. This is not political; it is will. No winners and losers, just winners. #climatechange #globalwarming #reframing #co2 #environment #businessgrowth #greenhouse #greenhousegasesClimate change (really global warming with a better brand name) has been in the news these past few decades with dire warnings. Climate models have underestimated the warming trend. 

The old story of the frog tossed into boiling water and immediately jumping out comes to mind. With climate change the warming is so gradual (and sometimes welcome) we don’t notice we are getting boiled. Yet the temperature inexorably continues to climb. Like the frog, we will stay in the stew until the meat pulls away from the bone.

Fresh faces periodically jump onto the scene. Al Gore made a big splash over a decade ago with his Inconvenient Truth documentary.

This past week a new face entered the drama with Greta Thunberg scolding Congress. After delivering a groin kick to deserving members of Congress she met with allies in Congress and told them, ” I know you’re trying, but just not hard enough.” 

As much fun as it is to watch a 16 year old girl knock Congressmen around, the most important point has been missed: Greta “is” the problem.

 

Same Old Tactics

“The world is coming to and end!” It has been the battle cry of environmentalists from the beginning. Scare tactics worked when pushed hard enough and often enough in the past. Now, after hearing this battle cry for longer than most readers have been alive the echo rings hollow.

Climate change is a money issue. Those against taking action do so on financial grounds. “It will cost too much for something we are not sure will really happen and even if it does it might actually be a good thing,” is their battle cry. And it is easier (and cheaper in the short run) to do nothing.

Then we come to Gore and Thunberg. Remember I said they ARE the problem. 

All the while I watched and read about the smack down in Congress I couldn’t help but think about how much CO2 Thunberg dumped into the atmosphere flying* to Washington to give Congress a piece of her mind. Thunberg is right; she needs to try harder.

If the people most concerned about climate change are injecting the most most amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, is there any hope to solve the problem?

Actually, there is.

 

Re-framing the Argument

Fear stalls people in their tracks. This accountant has strong beliefs about climate change and prefers to call it what it really is: global warming. Gore showing charts of CO2 rocking to the moon did little to move the deniers. It’s not that climate deniers believe climate change is a hoax; it’s that they believe it isn’t a serious problem compared to the costs of mitigation. A warmer winter is welcome in their minds and the negative consequences will not affect them (in their minds).

Continuing to bash on deniers will not work! I’m sympathetic to the cause and know the problem is serious and needs immediate attention. And even I am exhausted by the constant assault by climate doomsayers. If it is so bad and their is no hope, why bother.

There is a solution, but it requires a radical rethinking of the climate change rhetoric. 

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions is a good goal that can satisfy climate change crusaders while appealing to the pocketbook of the deniers. In other words, if we reframe the issue as a win/win the message will resonate with virtually everyone. The best part is nobody even has to mention that four-letter word: climate change or global warming.

 

Solutions that Work

Every time a new solar or wind project is proposed it lists the amount of CO2 that will not be emitted into atmosphere. That is a massive mistake!

Green projects have to be proposed with economics in mind. 

This wind farm will drive down costs to local businesses, increasing the competitive advantage of our community in the world market.

Everything wrong with the climate change debate. Rather than accusations, all sides can win if framed correctly. Global warming can spur economic growth, create jobs, lower taxes, improve the environment and provide serious investment opportunities. #climatechange #globalwarming #environment #greeninvestments #green Who is against that? No mention of climate change. Politics is removed. To be against this is to be against jobs and local economic growth. Not one mention is made about climate change. 

A local town hall meeting might sound like this:

CROWD: Is this wind farm going to help climate change?

PROMOTER: Screw the climate. We are about business and economic growth. This will create jobs and increase business profits. Our cost advantages after this project comes online will make us a world leader in multiple industries.

The Republicans will snicker after the event about how they pulled a fast one over on the Democrats. Citizens concerned about climate change will have a similar, yet opposite, conversation in private.

Everyone wins!

Your favorite accountant is sick to death of good ideas getting shot down because climate change was attached to it. Want to kill a good idea? Say is will lower CO2 emissions. Doesn’t matter how good the idea is. Could you imagine tax cuts associated with reduced greenhouse gas emissions? You’d never see another tax cut in your lifetime.

Businesses understand this. Doing environmental good CAN and frequently IS good for the environment. Both sides of the debate are really in the same room, only they got comfortable bashing each other’s faces in and don’t know how to change their behavior. 

It is self-defeating to frame trillions of dollars in spending as a climate change expense. Even those who know the problem is real have a hard time wrapping their head around seriously higher taxes to pay for something that will help other nations and people of the future. The “What’s in it for me” thought is strong. It is unfair to complain some are shortsighted on this issue. We all are to some extent.

Solutions where many will lose (taxpayers and business owners) will always have a problem getting their message across. 

 

Changing the Way We Think

Business owners understand the power of changing the way they think in problem resolution. Individuals need to do the same.

Buying an electric car is NOT about saving the environment! It might be a status symbol. But in the end it should make economic sense. If the cost of owning the electric car is less over its entire life than an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle it is a logical choice even if the up front costs are higher.

The opposite is also true. There will always be a limited number of people willing to shell out for an expensive car that costs more than similar ICE alternatives. This limited demand will not be enough to reverse the global warming trend.

It smacks me as insane when some lowlifes rejig their truck to belch more smoke or keys an electric car when walking past. The smoke is a different kind of pollution and actually is better for the environment since it settles out of the air reasonable fast. (Think of that if you rigged your truck this way. You actually are saying you are trying to help reduce climate change emissions. Makes you look foolish, doesn’t it?) And keying someone’s car is not only stupid, but ignorant. You are better than that.

Current thinking is politically charged. Greta Thunberg made a splash in the news. Yeah, she got a good one on Congress. And nothing will change. You don’t make friends or solve problems by finding new ways to insult people you need to help you solve a problem.

Instead of focusing on what is in it for us, we need to highlight the advantages to our opponents. 

Electric vehicles will give America a competitive advantage.

Changing the electric grid will create jobs.

Businesses will generate an estimates $868 billion (this number is illustration only, not a fact) in additional profits if electric vehicles are fully implemented.

This solar field will reduce reliance on foreign oil, create 328 new jobs, lower utility bills for businesses and consumers and lower taxes over the next decade.

Of course the losers haven’t changed. Big oil is behind the fight against climate change initiatives for good reason; they stand to lose a lot. I don’t like leaving businesses or people behind even if they were part of the original problem. Remember, oil was a solution to a problem a century ago.

The synergies created by good economic policies can be used to create incentives for businesses and individuals negatively affected by the changes. 

Climate change solutions can create jobs, increase business profits, lower taxes, improve the environment and reduce utility bills. #environment #utilitybills #propertytaxes #taxes #climatechange #globalwarming #jobs #profits #business profitsBig oil should receive serious tax credits when pushing into these new areas of business. The transition will be painful, but manageable if proper consideration is given.

Self driving trucks will not need to convince business of the value. Trucks able to run 24 hours a day without payroll expenses is all business will need to hear. Once self driving vehicles are safe enough they will happen. Just as climate change causes issues so will self driving vehicles. 

Every problem has a solution that eventually leads to more problems. As long as the improvement overall is steady we are golden. Truckers losing their job will need tax incentives to get them from where they are to where they want to be in a world with out truckers.

Gas stations will always have a place as long as people are on the road. Electric vehicles and people still need to fuel up. Gas stations will need help with the expensive conversion to electric charging stations.

These are not insurmountable problems! We HAVE solved much worse than this. Climate change is real. Unfortunately we are the frog in the water getting cooked at a slow simmer. 

Finger pointing is wrong. It never works. You never convince someone of your viewpoint by starting with, “You’re an idiot!”

We must reframe the way we look at climate change. We must change the way we think. This is not us versus them!

Change can be good. And profitable! If only we have the will. Otherwise another kid with a cute message will get a good jab in on Congress thirty years from now when the problem is still unresolved and much worse.

 

 * Some comments argue this statement isn’t fair since she used a “zero emissions” boat to get here. No word on how she gets home after her 5-man team brings the boat back without her. Many reports and newscasts have stated the large carbon footprint of her journey. Thunberg has a 5 man team delivering the yacht back home and some of them presumable flew. At this point we still do not know with certainty if she will fly home or use another source. What is certain is the greenhouse gases emitted from this publicity stunt is reported to be greater than the emissions from a village in India over the course of a year. I stand by my claim.

 

 

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18 Comments

  1. Paul Reese on September 23, 2019 at 9:16 am

    Keith, please do check your facts. According to WTOP, a DC news station, she crossed the Atlantic Ocean in a solar-powered boat. I think she is trying harder.

    • Keith Taxguy on September 23, 2019 at 9:36 am

      Paul, I think people are missing the point of the post. Trying harder at the thing that hasn’t worked for decades is not smart. We need to re-frame the issue. The right will never give in when dealing with climate change. Good change will never happen until the debate (and proposals) are re-framed so people can see how it serves their best interests. No matter how Thunberg got here, it still took more energy than telecommuting. No matter how she got here, she delivered the wrong message. Do you really think Congressmen bought off by big business will ever respond to the “try harder” message or a scolding from a kid? These debates always dummy down to the lowest common denominator as a way to distract from the real issue. Even those who want action on climate change argue against my thesis, wanting (I suppose) the same old thing that was done without results before. Solutions can be good for business, taxpayers and the environment. Turn the debate against the deniers by re-framing the solution. We still get green energy and all we did was use their momentum against them.

      • John wunderlin on September 23, 2019 at 3:20 pm

        So it’s fine for you to promote the idea that thunberg flew here and spewed has into the air when in fact she spent 2 weeks on a sailboat? As long as your broader message is good your facts don’t matter? Please correct this item. It destroys the rest of your post.

        • Keith Taxguy on September 23, 2019 at 3:39 pm

          Thunberg spent two weeks on a solar sailboat. (It was actually called zero-emissions so that could mean many things.) One report mentions she also flew in the past. Drove from venue to venue. The sailboat and driving produced massive CO^2. And how is she getting home!

          My comment is not as inaccurate as you think. I read reports where a 5 man team flew to the US to bring the yacht back home. Another report says every kg of her sailboat emitted 20 kgs of CO^2 in its production, for a total of 140 tonnes of emitted CO^2. And though we don’t know for sure yet, it seems she is flying back home. It’s a publicity stunt and should be treated as such. Just like Gore running around the planet railing against CO^2 while flying a private jet to get there, it is ineffective.

          The post is just fine, John, and stays as is. People who want to find fault always will regardless how many edits I make. Her journey isn’t done and the greenhouse gases belched into the atmosphere are significant. Once again, this is the problem. And in a world where a simple, low emissions teleconference would have sufficed. Courtroom all around the nation do it. Please tell me criminal justice isn’t the leading edge of the green revolution. Or perhaps it is cost effective for the courts to use a feed instead of dragging the accused to and from the court. This is something we should all do first before building a boat at the expense of 140 tonnes of CO^2 and a 5 man team to fly out to pick the thing up.

          Once again, we need to refocus the debate or nothing will change. Even attempting to reframe the debate meets push back. It’s almost as if nobody wants the problem solved. They just want to fight. All of us, especially our kids, will have to live with that. Thunberg was right about that part.

  2. Mike on September 23, 2019 at 11:28 am

    Great article, I’ve had the exact same thoughts. Many of the solutions for correcting climate change is also good for business and economics. As soon as politics get involved the message gets clouded. Solar and wind power are great technologies that are the future and they should be embraced.

    I also agree that starting off an argument by criticizing the other person is never going to change their mind. Seeking to understand before seeking to be understood is a good motto.

  3. Katy on September 23, 2019 at 12:04 pm

    I think there is also an issue with things that are vaunted to be the “saviour of humanity/earth” it is so easy to shoot down most of the “green” options by pointing out the materials, manufacturing, or other factors have a negative impact on the environment.

    I know you aren’t a fan of government regulating this so what is your pathway forward? How does the discussion change? Is this primarily the responsibility of green company’s marketing teams? Does a well known “right” voice need to champion the economic sense of things? What policies need to change?

    Really I think the biggest issue is “I have the right to do whatever I can afford to do” vs “I have the responsibility to my community and the next generation to make the world a better place.”

    • Keith Taxguy on September 23, 2019 at 1:00 pm

      Katy, the way forward is to change the way climate change is presented. Less government is good, but some government involvement is necessary for such grand projects. Business will make it happen if proper government support is involved. Climate change initiatives can not be about climate change. That is so politically polluted at this time as to be a non-starter.

      Solutions need to be presented as providing immediate benefits. Show how a project will lower utility bills and taxes, increase business profits while creating new jobs. It will be hard to argue against such initiatives. Working harder has been tried. Now we need to work smarter. Now is not the time for a strike; now is the time for action. Instead of focusing on impending doom, refocus on the benefits now and going forward.

  4. James on September 23, 2019 at 12:15 pm

    “Do you really think Congressmen bought off by big business will ever respond to the “try harder” message or a scolding from a kid?”

    This entire article is the most pessimistic thing I’ve read on this site. Yikes.

    What happened to wanting to be good stewards of the earth? What happened to feeling responsibility to your community?

    I think the entire problem is the need for things to make good economic sense, even though we aren’t pricing in externalities. Let’s do that and then see where the chips fall. I’m thinking Exxon wouldn’t have pumped out all those dividends if they were forced to pay for even a portion of the polluting and warming they’ve caused. Solar would have looked more attractive decades ago.

    • Keith Taxguy on September 23, 2019 at 1:08 pm

      James, I not as pessimistic as you think. After banging my head against the wall, saying to bang harder is not the smart thing to do.

      Externality costs are a wonderful topic that unfortunately doesn’t motivate the right people to get things done. If we continue framing climate change as doom the cause is lost. Instead of talking about co^2, externalities and global warming, refocus the discussion on the immediate economic advantages. If profit is part of the solution this thing will get done fast.

      I am optimistic we can change our message to one that resonates. Gore and Thunberg have the right message, but the message immediately brings up political walls. Nobody wants to suffer a long time for benefits generations down the road. We can and must do better than that. Climate change is depressing due the severity and lack of progress. Time to change direction and keep changing direction until we get some traction. Time is fast running our before the worst of climate change becomes real.

  5. Non tax Keith on September 23, 2019 at 1:11 pm

    One problem is there is a law of the commons issue here. Currently it is free to produce CO2 so that cost is spread out on the world and is not baked into any decisions on an individual level. Until that happens any economic argument is skewed.

    • Keith Taxguy on September 23, 2019 at 1:16 pm

      The economic issues are always skewed. If big oil can spend billions in foreign countries for profits, the same philosophy must be applied to green technologies. If there is profit, they will come.

      I publish some time ago on the Tragedy of the Commons as it involves personal finance.

  6. Bob on September 23, 2019 at 4:14 pm

    This is why I have issues with citizens of rich countries looking down on poor countries. Poor countries may have physical pollution and trash, but release only as much co2 as a single wealthy citizen does jetting around the world. Poor people arent the polluters/destroyers of the planet that the wealthy make them out to be.

  7. Glenn Randle on September 23, 2019 at 11:09 pm

    I am looking into investing in Opportunity Zones and thinking about setting up solar farms there. Since I don’t have any expertise doing that it would probably be wiser to find an OZ fund that invests in solar farms. Do any of you know of any?

    The conversion to sustainable energy is a potentially profitable way for us to embrace and invest in the future. It will require a lot of work and a lot of capital investment, isn’t that what drives an economy? The naysayers are either profiting from the lies or foolish enough to believe them.

  8. RichardP on September 25, 2019 at 7:01 am

    “Yeah, she got a good one on Congress. And nothing will change. You don’t make friends or solve problems by finding new ways to insult people you need to help you solve a problem.”

    Actually, public shaming has been a key tool for enforcing unwritten laws and customs since the dawn of recorded history. Most people do care about their reputation, legacy and being ‘on the right side’.

  9. Ckarion on September 26, 2019 at 8:26 am

    The US needs to get with the program on CO2-taxation and CO2 emission allowances. That would price in at least part of the CO2 emissions. There is a reason why american vehicles (with the exception of Tesla) cannot be exported abroad – they are not up to modern emission standards.

  10. Social Capitalist on September 28, 2019 at 9:07 am

    Very Hamiltonian view (with which I agree). The idea is to get people to do right by making it in their best interest (rational self interest) to do so.
    Two arguments though:
    1. Education. Thunberg and Gore May be patronizing but it’s clear that climate deniers have been willingly self-ignorant. Not sure how you reach out to an ostrich when all you see is the feet.
    2. If Thunberg is the problem so was the god-awful president’s reaction and I think that should have been addressed since you brought up her Congressional kick in the nads speech. I know you somewhat avoid the political arena but to make money both sides need to be at the table.
    Still, I appreciate the perspective as I sit around in 90 degree fall weather in East TN. Not that it hasn’t happened before just that it’s happening more often. Rounded here we are down to two seasons- rainy and dry. Personally, not a fan of India’s climate.

    • Keith Taxguy on September 28, 2019 at 10:01 am

      SC, education only works for those willing to listen and learn. And I try to avoid politics as much as possible, as you indicate.

      I thought I addressed these issues in the post appropriately. The president and deniers will never respond to logic. If they would they would have been on board 30 years ago. We have to reframe the issue. Saying, “OMG! Climate change is making the planet a hellhole!” isn’t going to work. Appealing to people’s self interest is a much more powerful motivator.

      Personally I am stunned by the level of climate change. Massive actions should have been taken decades ago.

      There are two real problems, however. First, the technology is still evolving. Actions are hard to take when electric cars, for example, are still evolving. Energy storage technology is still evolving also. It takes time to roll out all these technologies. Wind and solar need more efficient storage options to grow to the next level. Tesla is working on that problem as fast as humanly possible.

      Second, environmentalists figured they could just bang their head on the wall harder to solve the problem. Instead, it caused deniers to dig in harder.

      Solution: Instead of preaching environmentalist creeds, do what Elon Musk did and invent technology that is cheaper and better than what we currently have. Get off the picket line and take action yourself. Frugal is not enough. Carbon taxes not enough. Another country can undo all your hard sacrifices, but if you invent better technology the rest of the world follows or gets left economically behind. Once you appeal to their self interest the problem is solved. Once you build a better mouse trap, problem over.

      Back on the farm we call the current climate change solution, “Too much baa, baa, baa,” and “All blow and no go.” We need to do better.

      The president will only jump on board when there is money in it for him and his buddies. Then they will be wild about it.

      Just one backwoods accountant’s opinion.

      P.S. Send some of that heat my way. It seems we are always 10 degrees below normal for the last decade. We would not mind some warm weather here in Wisconsin. When I was growing up. . .

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