Even Shell thinks we need a price on carbon

August 2019—Solving the climate crisis involves seemingly simple solutions: most experts believe we need to put a price on carbon high enough to incentivize a shift toward renewables. Major corporations, even many oil companies, agree. This article does a good job of laying out the case for it as well as why it’s been difficult to get done and what else we will need to do. From an emissions perspective, it doesn’t appear humans have even noticed the problem.

It will take some form of global system to ensure any savings in emissions reduction are banked, Berners-Lee added. "When we look at the global carbon curve, there is not that faintest jot of evidence that humans have noticed climate change yet," he reflected. "It is going up exactly, and I choose my words carefully, exactly as if humans had not noticed climate change was an issue. And I'm not saying that to be depressing, but that tells us that we need to interrupt the dynamics of emissions growth at the global systems level. So we need a global constraint to leave the fuel in the ground."

Unfortunately we have waited so long to address climate change that simply switching to renewables likely won’t be enough. We likely will also have to adjust our expectations and values as a society. Energy conservation measures typically reduce the increase in emissions but don’t reduce overall emissions. (We have more fuel efficient cars but we drive more. We have more effiecient homes but they’re bigger.) Humans need to accept that we are in a resource constrained world, living on a finite planet.

The only way to successfully tackle this emissions growth is at the global systemic level, Berners-Lee argued. "There are some realities we need to face keenly in the eye here, and one of them is that going forwards if we want to live well and have quality of life, and we want our kids to have quality of life, and people around the world to have quality lives, we need to stop that energy growth which has been going on since year dot," he said. "For the first time humans need to learn to live within an energy constrained world."

Likely our societal norms will need to change as well.

The big unknown for the net zero transition is how will the public respond as more visible changes start to occur. "We're going to have to decarbonize heat — that's going to involve heat pumps, that's going to involve things outside of our homes that might make a bit of a noise," continued Heaton. "We probably shouldn't be flying as much, and if we fly we are going to have to pay more tax, and we're going to have to learn to cope with electric cars. And we're probably going to have to do some behavioral change around eating as well."

The good news is that our society has made big shifts in the past. During World War II, people were encouraged to grow a Victory Garden and invest in War Bonds. When the GIs came home, we were convinced to move to the suburbs, buy a car and have 2.5 children. The FDA convinced us with the old Food Pyramid that we needed to drink milk and eat meat. Already, many Millennials prefer living in smaller spaces in urban areas where they don’t need a car. They are waiting longer to have children and are having fewer. McMansions have become a sign of conspicuous consumption instead of an aspiration. We are shifting from a society that tells us, “Go into debt buying more stuff; it will make you happy,” to one that says, “Slow down, smell the roses, spend time with loved ones instead of in the stores; make a difference in the world; that will make you fulfilled.”