James Hansen, the former NASA scientist whose congressional testimony put global warming on the world’s agenda a quarter-century ago, is now warning that humanity could confront “sea level rise of several meters” before the end of the century unless greenhouse gas emissions are slashed much faster than currently contemplated. This roughly 10 feet of sea level rise—well beyond previous estimates—would render coastal cities such as New York, London, and Shanghai uninhabitable. “Parts of [our coastal cities] would still be sticking above the water,” Hansen says, “but you couldn’t live there.”
This apocalyptic scenario illustrates why the goal of limiting temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius is not the safe “guardrail” most politicians and media coverage imply it is, argue Hansen and 16 colleagues in a blockbuster study they are publishing this week in the peer-reviewed journal Atmospheric Physics and Chemistry. On the contrary, a 2 C future would be “highly dangerous.”
Hansen too is confident that the world “could actually come in well under 2 degrees, if we make the price of fossil fuels honest.”
That means making the market price of gasoline and other products derived from fossil fuels reflect the enormous costs that burning those fuels currently externalizes onto society as a whole. Economists from left to right have advocated achieving this by putting a rising fee or tax on fossil fuels. This would give businesses, governments, and other consumers an incentive to shift to non-carbon fuels such as solar, wind, nuclear, and, best of all, increased energy efficiency. (The cheapest and cleanest fuel is the fuel you don’t burn in the first place.)
The City of Providence could start at the local level to put a price on carbon by passing a parking tax, and putting all of the money back into lower property taxes. Our city sits very close to sea level, and even in and pre-climate-change era, was subject to the severe mood swings of nature, as in the 1938 Hurricane. We have a lot of faith that the Hurricane Barrier will save us from all things, but if the sea level rises ten feet, that means a totally different load on the barrier, all the time. I'm not an engineer, but I know that ten feet of water at baseline is different than ten feet of water every couple decades.
Despite the dumb title that Ed Achorn chose for the linked article above, a parking tax would not be "shifting the tax burden to commuters" but would actually shift the burden to parking lot owners, because numerous studies have shown that parking is an inelastic and non-competitive resource in cities--essentially, parking lot owners are taking you for as much as they can already. A parking tax would make parking less profitable, and encourage different investment choices by lot owners.
Or we could wait to see what see level rise does. . .