The Two Pieces Of Climate Legislation Every Government Should Pass
Two common-sense pieces of legislation which would deal with the climate crisis without endangering the economy.
There are two clear issues with our consumption with regards to the climate crisis: salience and externalities.
The richest 10% — which probably includes every reader of this story — produce 50% of the world’s carbon emissions through their consumption. And even though many of these emissions are actually overseas, in the supply chains of products and in the construction of services, this gives us, and our governments, the power to make a massive difference.
And we can only make this difference through fixing the flaws in our economy which have allowed widescale fossil fuel consumption to arise. Markets normally function well, but in the case of energy and consumerism, there are a few key issues, which, with limited, targeted solutions, are easily fixed.
Normally, the economy rewards sustainable behaviour — so businesses have to plan well for the future, not overwork their staff, and so on. The businesses that do the best in a normal situation are usually the ones with the greatest focus on corporate sustainability. But, with many environmental considerations, that simply isn’t the case.
So, having taken a little detour, back to fixing the problems.
The first piece of legislation that every country should be passing is a Salience Bill, to improve consumer information within the economy. In order that the consumers should make a good decision, in any situation, information is hugely important, and even libertarians agree that the government should be able to deliver this information through consumers, even if it involves the coercion of businesses.
This would ideally target the economy more broadly — ensuring good food labelling standards, giving more information about technical specifications, and providing Thaler and Sunstein’s RECAP reports on energy or mobile phone contracts.
However, the key focus would be on making environmental sustainability more salient, with carbon, methane, plastic and rare resource labelling all being possibilities. However, while listing such numbers would be good, for quite a substantial portion of the population, it wouldn’t be effective.
Therefore, a figure — perhaps a simple 1–5, red-green, :( — :) rating — should be used to represent the overall sustainability, having taken into account all of these different considerations. Potentially, it should even be split into an emissions rating and a resource usage rating, to show the split.
On top of such a scheme, the roll-out of smart meters needs to be hastened. Not only do they save people and the government money, but they save the grid energy.
Giving people information on their impact on the climate, in whatever form, allows people who want to understand their consumption and lessen their impact the opportunity to do this properly and well. That opportunity increases, rather than decreases, economic freedom, and, as such, ought to be welcomed by people of all political persuasions.
Then, and in a similar vein to the pan-economy focus of the Salience Bill, an Externalities Bill could fix the central fundamental flaw in the modern economy. Too many of our actions fall outside of the market, and in no case is this more true than with emissions.
And, once more, we can effect positive change right through supply chains through a simple piece of legislation.
By bringing the true cost of our behaviour into the economy, realigning incentives through a carbon, methane, and potentially a rare resource and plastic tax, we can allow people to make their decisions on a better basis, knowing, and feeling, the full cost of their decisions.
Once more, even many economic libertarians agree that internalising the costs of our external behaviour is necessary. It should be easily sold, and, as with the salience bill, it doesn’t have a massive economic cost like some environmental activists are actively calling for.
We can have a growth economy and simultaneously take meaningful environmental action, we just need to make sure that the economy has all the information possible, and that this is available to and imposed on the consumers.