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We should act as if this is an emergency, because it is. But part of that is understanding the tools and strategies countries are using to decarbonize and stabilize the climate. This is work that's already being done. We have already decoupled economic growth from the emission of greenhouse gasses which, frankly, was unthinkable just a couple decades ago.

We need to be thinking and talking about this stuff, and one really important piece of that is understanding this stuff so we can talk about it and advocate for it. And, good news, it's all actually pretty fascinating!!

The things I think you should check out include:

This Video I Made on Hankschannel (especially for US citizens)

Pricing Nature (a Podcast)

The Volts Newsletter

Ministry for the Future

Our World in Data

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 Intro (00:00)

Good morning, John.

Today I'm going to teach you how to do one of the most important things that you can do to help mitigate climate change. It's something anyone can do, and if you watch this video, you will be better at it than almost everyone on earth.

But first, a little background. Every six or seven years, the U.N. puts out a report about climate change––where we are, what it looks like, how we're doing––and one of those came out this week.

And the result was a whole lot of headlines that do not look good and like, yeah, no, things aren't good.

But also, I was really glad to have come across this tweet: "As a climate scientist, I'd like you to know: I don't have hope. I have something better: certainty. We know exactly what's causing climate change. We can absolutely 1) avoid the worst and 2) build a better world in the process."

And that is certainly nice. We know what is causing this problem, we know how to solve it. And indeed, in a way, we are. Like, renewable energy is skyrocketing, and yeah, solar is producing just 1% of the world's energy right now, but it's increasing faster every year. Per capita, CO2 emissions in the U.S. are lower than they were in 1918.

Now that was some very cherry-picked data. Things are not good. We are running an experiment on our life support system. And we know that the result is going to be bad, we just don't know how bad.

The I.P.C.C. report is clear: we are not headed in a good direction. To avoid the worst consequences, we're going to have to keep global increase in temperature below 2° Celcius, or a little less than 4° Farenheit.

Currently, we are not on target to do that, even if we keep to all of the agreements we have. We need to quickly stop putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and also quickly start taking them back out.

Now, the two most common questions I am asked about climate change are 1) Is there actually any hope here? and 2) What should I do?

Now as for the first question, yes. I mean, it depends on what you mean. Like, is there hope that we will experience no negative impacts from climate change?

No. No, there's not. Like, we're already experiencing them.

So climate change is gonna make life worse. But we don't know how much worse, and if you're watching this video, the chances are it's gonna be much worse for other people than it is for you.

Global warming, like almost every issue, is a justice issue. It will have the biggest impacts on the people who are least responsible for it--people who are relatively affluent and live in relatively affluent places will be mostly, though not all, okay. Like, not great, but okay.

But the less you have, the harder it is to deal with the destabilizations that come from a changing climate.

And as for the second, like, a lot. You should be doing a lot. But you also have other stuff to do, like you have to take care of your friends and family, you have to go to school, you have to pay off your loans, you gotta do your work, you gotta goof off sometimes.

But in between all of that, yes, climate change is the most important and difficult issue humanity faces, and so, there are things  you can do, both to show the world that this is a crisis, and to mitigate your impact.

Eat less or no meat; especially not beef; never buy a gas-powered car ever again, if you can avoid it, especially not a new one; prefer smaller homes; don't buy gas stoves; live closer to where you work. 

But also, one of the most important things that anyone can do––and anyone can actually do this one––is to be informed on the different policies and laws that governments create to try and solve these problems.

Because we can't do this without an informed public, these policies need advocates, so they need people who understand it, so we can have these conversations in ways that make sense. And unfortunately, it's pretty complicated, so it isn't immediately obvious how any of this works.

But if you just watch this video, you are going to be informed than 99% of the people in your country on how this stuff works. This one video! Now, you can go deeper than that, and I encourage you to, but this is a good place to start.

 Clarification of Terms Used in the Video (03:38)

But before we do that, a couple points of clarifications:

1) I'm gonna be saying "carbon" a lot. And when I say "carbon," I mean carbon dioxide, which is the chief heat-trapping gas that we emit into our atmosphere.

But I don't
just mean carbon dioxide.
I also mean the equivalent amounts of other gases that also trap heat, methane being the primary one. Methane actually traps 84x more heat than carbon dioxide, we just release a lot less of it, thankfully.

So we have equivalency measures. So, 1 ton of methane being released would be equivalent to 84 tons of CO2.

This way, we end up talking about all greenhouse gases in the frame of carbon dioxide, which is why people often just say "carbon."

2) We're used to thinking of global warming as a problem of like, our transportation, maybe our homes, maybe agriculture, because those are the things that we have direct contact with.

But this is a big mixed up jumble of a problem.

You can pause the video if you want to get the lowdown from where all of the carbon is coming from. This is a very useful chart from doctor Hannah Ritchie at Our World In Data.

Alright, here we are. We have actually arrived. We are gonna talk about what strategies governments do use and can use to rapidly decrease their emissions of greenhouse gas. And there are two big categories of these.

There's Carbon Pricing, and then there's Everything Else.

 Carbon Pricing (04:49)

Carbon pricing looks at the problem with a pretty clear vision. If releasing carbon dioxide is free, people don't have any reason not to do it.

But it's actually not free. It's going to cost a tremendous amount of money to deal with the consequences of the emission of that carbon. But that money isn't being paid by the people producing the emissions, or the people consuming the energy, the gasoline, the steel, the concrete that create the emissions.

Those costs will be borne by people in the future, and there will be wildfires and draughts and famines and wars and refugees and sea level rise. All of those are costs that are not being priced in.

So carbon pricing just includes those costs, and there are three main ways to do that.

 Carbon Tax (05:30)  

The first is just pricing carbon––and this actually, weirdly, has had some pretty bipartisan support.

People further on the right or the left don't like this, but in the centre where, like market-based solutions feel really good, people like this.

The basic idea is that whenever a fossil fuel or another source of emissions enters the economy, whether it's the moment it's taken out of the ground or at the port of entry as we import it, you tax it.

You say, "this will soon be burned, and that will produce a ton of carbon and that ton of carbon is going to cost the world $50 to deal with in the future, so we're gonna make this thing cost $50 extra."

This is by far the simplest thing I'm gonna talk about today to actually implement. It's easy to regulate. You don't have to worry about different industries lobbying to get better deals: everyone pays the same flat rate, and this significantly increases the cost of fossil fuels, thus encouraging investment in innovation and other options.

Now there's a subcategory of this idea, which is: What do you then do with all of this money?

Any carbon price that is anywhere near the actual long-term cost of releasing the carbon will, at first, generate a lot of cash. And there are two basic ideas.

The first is to use it to do the work of decarbonizing our economy: invest in new research in mass transit, solar power plants, job training for people who used to work in the fossil fuel industry.

But the second idea confronts the biggest problem with a carbon tax, which is that it is a tax. Pricing carbon increases the costs of heating the home, of commuting to work, of flying to see your family, and nobody likes that.

So instead of giving the money to governments to invest in decarbonizing the economy, the current, more favored, and more palatable plan is just to take the money that we raise, and give it to people.

You divide the pot by exactly the number of people who live in the country, and then you give everyone the exact same check. This is called the Carbon Fee and Dividend.

Now the money that comes out of this isn't enough to be, like, a universal basic income kind of thing.

But it is enough that it covers the increased cost of the heating and the driving for most people. Now, not for the wealthiest people, but mostly for the people who are on the lower end of the income spectrum — their extra costs will be covered.

But that doesn't mean that this system is totally fair; people in rural areas use a lot more energy than people in cities, but everybody's gonna get the same sized check. And I think that lack of fairness could probably caused some tension. Just guessing.

Now another problem with a carbon tax is that it treats everything the same, which is what a lot of people like about it, but some industries are way easier to decarbonize than others. And some are far more hot politically.

Like, people care a lot more about gas prices than they do about steel prices. So, what if you could create a plan that found the cheapest ways to decarbonize and prioritized them first, so you have roughly the same amount of carbon decreasing, but you give some more time to the industries where it's more difficult to decarbonize.

 Cap and Trade (08:19)

That sounds like something that a market would be good at. And thus, we have Cap and Trade.

Again, very basically, there's a cap, that's the total amount of emissions that the government's going to allow, and then they distribute or sell permits to different polluters. And then those polluters, if they don't use up all their permits, can sell or trade on an open market those permits for pollution.

As the caps get lower with time, the permits become more scarce, and thus more expensive, and thus decarbonizing becomes more worth it.

This worked extremely well at decreasing the amount of sulfur dioxide released from coal plants in the 1980s. 

Sulfur dioxide reacts with water in the atmosphere to create sulfuric acid, was making the rain literally acidic. The faces of statues washed away and forests died in droves, and we solved that problem with a Cap and Trade system on sulfur emissions.

This creates a market that can act like a market and the people who can most inexpensively decrease their emissions do it first, and then over time, as the cap gets lower and lower and lower, everybody has to join in.

But Cap and Trade, of course, has its issues.

Certain polluters usually start out with free pollution credits, often times they can offset their pollution super inexpensively with unproven credits, and it's very vulnerable to lobbying by big emitters. They can convince legislators that they need to be carved out, or given more permits, so that companies that can afford more lobbyists get better deals.

But Cap and Trade does work; it's being used all over the world, it's just more complicated than it initially sounds. As all of this is.

Hank from the future: I forgot to say that Cap and Trade also generates revenue, so you have the same questions about whether to spend it on decarbonization or just redistribute it as a dividend or lower taxes or some mix of those things.

But both of the systems systems we just talked about, they intentionally increase the price of carbon. That's what we have been talking about, right? It's carbon pricing. We have to increase the price in order to incentivize alternatives.

But people do not like when their government is like, "hey, your prices are going to go up." Especially when they are going to go up for everybody and that's going to effect some people a lot more than others.

It's hard, though not impossible, to get people on board with this stuff. There are Carbon Taxes and Cap and Trade schemes all over the world right now.

 Carbon Coin (10:13)

But, this does lead us to our final and most futuristic option for pricing carbon.

Instead of charging people for releasing carbon, you pay them to keep it from being released or to capture it again.

Kim Stanley Robinson, the science fiction author, calls this, "Carbon Quantitative Easing." Quantitative easing being the weird economics term for just dumping lots of money into an economy.

Basically, this just switches carbon pricing on its head. Instead of saying, "hey, we're going to charge you for emitting," we are going to pay you for not emitting."

And it makes sense because there are two ways to think about the costs of emitting carbon: one is to say, "this is going to cost a lot of money if we emit it," the other is to say, "This is going to save us a lot of money if we prevent it from being emitted."

So the idea is, as long as the US Federal Reserve is printing money hand over fist, might as well tie some positive result to that.

Whoever can prove that they prevented CO2 from entering the atmosphere or permanently stored it from the atmosphere, just gets paid.

They can potentially even get paid with like a Global Carbon Coin, a currency that every country uses that's tied to the value of removal of CO2 from the air.

There are problems with this, of course, as well. There's a large bureaucracy necessary for counting these things and preventing fraud, the fossil fuel companies and petrostates would have to be paid, just given lots of money to keep their carbon locked up, and that feels a little unfair.

And then of course, there's the tremendous cost. These taxes generate revenue, this is the opposite of that.

Now frustratingly, all carbon pricing strategies are looking less and less likely in my country, the US, right now. In part, because of the reason many people like them.

They are simple economic strategies that just price the carbon and let the market figure out everything else.

But that also means that there's a tremendous lack of control over what's actually happening. And that means that maybe the costs get pushed off onto marginalized communities, and that the benefits of these new economic systems, well, they're going to go to the people who have the access and the money and the connections to build the companies that do all of the work.

Now does it matter who gets rich if we get carbon out of the atmosphere? Well, this is a thing that people disagree about, especially people on the left.

And, at the moment, in my country, it doesn't matter what people of the right think, because they're not going to vote for any of this stuff.

So if you can't get all the democrats to vote for a carbon tax, you're not going to get a carbon tax. Which is why, in the US, we are currently planning to do the other thing.

 Everything Else (12:25)

Not carbon pricing, but just Everything Else: passing tons of different laws and policies and regulations that do tons of different things.

This is honestly probably the more progressive way to do things, to pay more attention and to control things more tightly, whereas the more conservative thing to do would be,"let's create a market, let everything handle itself, get the big government out of it."

And this hodgepodge of tons of new ideas, they fall largely into three different groups.

 Standards (12:51)

First, we have standards.

Standards are rules that affect what industries can do. So cars have to be more efficient or they have to be electric, power companies have to decommission coal plants and build wind and solar.

Instead of saying, "hey, it's going to be a lot more expensive to build fossil fuels in the future", they just say, "hey, by the year 2050, you can not be burning fossil fuels anymore."

 Investment (13:12)

The second is investment.

The government looks for early, mid, and late stage opportunities to help new technologies come to market. They spend capital on mass transit and rail, they buy electric cars and buses and build charging infrastructure, they help people make their homes more efficient. 

 Justice (13:28)

And the third and final leg of this stool is justice.

Help people who are most affected by decarbonization find fulfilling work, spend money on the communities that have been most negatively impacted by existing polluting infrastructure.

We're going to be spending a ton of money to solve this problem; the people who benefit shouldn't just be the ones who created the problem.

You'll sometimes see this slate of the climate agenda referred to as "SIJ", Standards, Investment, and Justice.

Now this falls short of a full Green New Deal-type framework, which would add even more on the justice end, with policies like Medicare for all, and a job guarantee. But it is a very, very big plan, that has not been finalized, much less passed.

President Biden has said, thought, that he will not sign his 1.2 billion dollar infrastructure package unless there is also a climate plan on his desk. So like, here's hoping. 

Now an important thing here, you do not have to do just one of these things. You can have a carbon tax, and a cap and trade system, and pay people to remove carbon from the atmosphere, and have standards, investment, and justice regulations.

And these plans exist all over the place. China, Canada, and the whole European Union has a Cap and Trade system. Japan, Turkey, Thailand, Indonesia, much of Europe and a bunch of other places have carbon taxes, and pretty much everywhere has some amount of broad climate regulation.

And which of these things am I most in favor of? All of them. I want to do anything we can get done!

But is is super helpful to understand the basics of how all these things work. Especially because, in this whole video, which has not been short or simple, I have only talked about what individual countries do. But of course this cannot be done by one country.

The conversation about how to create a multinational set of enforceable standards on carbon pricing––or just targets to achieve generally––is an order of magnitude more complicated even than any of this. 

But, if you watched this video and you understood it, you now have joined a pretty exclusive club. You are one of the people who understands the basics of how governments try and decrease their greenhouse gas emissions through laws and regulations.

And that is amazing, but you can go further. And I encourage you to go further.

I'd suggest a podcast called Pricing Nature to understand the complexities of carbon pricing and international agreements.

You should also check out David Roberts' newsletter at

And if you want to get very wonky in a science fiction framework, check out The Ministry of the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson.

Also I have to say a thank you so much to the people at Our World in Data, who provide a tremendous service to the entire world with a pretty tiny team. Their site, and all their information on climate change, is extremely illuminating to peruse and I encourage you just to go spend time there.

I've given them a $1,000 donation as a thank you because of how much it helped me make this video. And also because you cannot solve the problem if you don't understand it.

A reminder, here at the end, educational videos are allowed to be over four minutes.

John, I will see you on Tuesday.