Tackling Climate Change Incrementally

December 16, 2013 – By now if you are a regular reader you know I write a lot about climate change. I talk about how we need to curb carbon emissions. I talk about the lack of success with carbon sequestration. I talk about energy companies who in the future will have to alter their balance sheets to show unburnable assets.

I have often written about the need for a carbon tax or cap and trade system, or a combination of both, to be put in place in every country on the planet. But it seems that for most political leaders the future is not as important as the near present and the next election cycle.

That’s why what is being proposed in this week’s journal, Environmental Science and Technology, may make a lot of sense. A paper by an assistant professor and three MIT graduate students from the Engineering Systems Division and Department of Urban Studies and Planning, talks about a segmented approach to carbon emission reductions using smaller initiatives and policies rather than chasing the global agreement that seems to be very much a pipe dream these days.

In their paper they talk about the “various drivers of emissions and how influencing each can affect overall emissions.” They also talk about combining segmental and global policy around carbon. In their view a hierarchical approach may be in order, one “that would involve capping carbon dioxide emissions, but then using these segmental policies to address particular areas of concern, where the market alone may not have sufficient foresight.”

In reading the paper it made me start thinking of how to make the cause of carbon reduction sexier to more of society so that government doesn’t look like the heavy in trying to institute a carbon tax or cap and trade policy. Although government would have to take a leadership role, other segments of society could also become forces for change in dealing with the challenges we face from a warming atmosphere.

So here are some of my ideas for initiatives that may keep political leaders in office while enacting policies that meet the challenges we face:


  1. Identify corporate players, NGOs and other community organizations that express interest in tackling greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Encourage them to meet and come up with their own strategies for GHG reductions through whatever means works best for them.
  2. Encourage those industry segment leaders already on board with GHG reductions to talk to others in their segment to show them how to make carbon-focused initiatives work.
  3. Have industry develop score cards on GHG reductions that become a measure of a company’s success making them attractive to investors.
  4. Similarly develop score cards for individuals, families and small business to calculate and track their current and future carbon footprints.
  5. Create an “Academy Awards” and cash prizes for leaders within industry segments, and for individuals and NGOs who successfully tackle GHGs.


Through policies and initiatives like these we may put a dent in GHGs. Our politicians may sleep easier knowing they don’t have to fear losing the next election because large segments of society will have accepted GHG reduction responsibility. And by backing initiatives with prizes and money, the old “greed is good” approach, we may create a groundswell of actions that will percolate across the planet.


Investing in climate change


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Len Rosen lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is a researcher and writer who has a fascination with science and technology. He is married with a daughter who works in radio, and a miniature red poodle who is his daily companion on walks of discovery. More...


  • Thusfar it seems that these largescale initiatives are stalemated by a want for equal or equivalent action, as if a linear distribution is more democratic. That is never going to work because economies have both linear and non-linear components which are both contextual and situational. That is a tricky problem as it means that the cap and trade emission trading can exploit such systemic inequalities, such as Germany tends to do with subsidized wind energy to compensate for their browncoal centrals. Not only does this not solve the local (and very excessive) polution of these browncoal centrals, wind energy in the form of windparks appear to have a very damaging effect on the local climate and because of the subsidies it has caught neighbouring economies in a downwards spiral of competing on low prices which prevents them from further investing in any alternative..
    I do think that global cooperation needs to happen, not like a marketplace but in a manifold way, like a switchboard, translating to tens of smaller cooperations which work together on thousands of local solutions. There’s this great talk of Willie Smits on how to restore a rainforrest which gives a great example of “think global, act local”.
    Essentially i think the people trying to steer these cooperatives are the wrong people, politicians and economists, whereas it should lie with scientists and engineers. It’s like ruining a company by replacing an entrepreneur by a bookkeeper. the first works with powerlaws while the second is still stuck with the Bell curve..