The Rising Cost of Carbon Pollution

cost of carbon


Every ton of carbon dioxide we emit this year will cost the world $35 in health problems, wildfires, loss of agricultural productivity, and other disasters, according to the U.S. government. It had computed $21 a ton in 2010.

The value, known as the social cost of carbon – and which can equal the carbon tax — will rise for every additional ton of carbon dioxide we emit. It will be $43 in 2020 and $71 in 2050.

The world emitted 34 billion tons of carbon dioxide in 2011.

The U.S. government routinely uses social cost when designing regulations such as fuel efficiency standards for cars. The value is calculated by the Interagency Working Group on Social Cost of Carbon, composed of 12 government agencies, and was released on May 31.

A price for carbon is needed because we are shortsighted and are best at dealing with immediate problems. But the effects of climate change are not immediate. The extreme weather and high temperatures we are experiencing now are the result of the past emissions, and our present emissions will affect us decades into the future.

Most of us will not live through the worst of it. So, how much is it worth to the average American today to lessen climate change for future generations? It is an ethical question that gets worked out by economists.

Some of them disagree quite vehemently with the government’s calculations. Economists have redone the calculations and found that the actual social cost could be up to 12 times as large as the government’s 2010 estimate.

The government has increased social cost value to $35 this year because it has better knowledge of climate change effects, including sea level dynamics and the economic effects of sea level rise.

IMAGE: A dragonfly trapped in tar sands exposed in a road cutting north of Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, the center of the tar sands industry. The tar sands is the world’s largest industrial project and the most environmentally destructive. Carbon emissions from the tar sands is fueling climate change.


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