This is a very informative and inspiring book on addressing climate change. It is written by Canadian economist Mark Jaccard, who has advised many regional and national governments on energy policies. The book is freely available here.

When people who care enough about humanity look into climate change, it is easy to feel despair. Popular books sounding alarms on climate emergency such as The Uninhabitable Earth and Our Final Warning depict a future of apocalypse if nothing is done to reduce green house gases (GHG) emissions. However, decades after climate scientists have reached consensus on the causality between human activity and global temperature rising, it seems that we are on a path of emitting more and more GHG. It is difficult to see how things can change dramatically in the next decade, which the time we are left to act.

Jaccard offers three reasons for optimism --

  1. With more and more frequent climate-related disasters, it will be more and more difficult to deny the consequence of climate change.
  2. Technology improvements in renewable energy and electric vehicles make de-carbonization of electricity and transportation feasible.
  3. For developing countries, de-carbonizing these two sectors will significantly reduce air pollutions. This is a strong incentive for them to act.

And how should governments proceed if they really want to address this emergency? Based on his research and experience in advising governments, Jaccard suggests that

  1. Carbon pricing (tax or trade) is strongly opposed by small number but determined voters. So it is politically impossible to to rely completely on carbon pricing for cutting emissions.
  2. Regulating electricity generation and transportation is also strongly opposed, but less compared with carbon pricing. This should be the main focus.
  3. Consensus-based global GHG voluntary cut has failed and will never succeed. The only way to keep every country to cut emission is for climate-sincere countries to collectively impose tariffs on high-emission countries.

For me these all sound like good policies which actually have a chance to succeed. But what does this has to do with me besides offering a bit comfort? Quite a lot. The key message Jaccard wants to convey is

“So that’s it? There’s no hope? Nothing that might change their (politicians') minds before the calamity?”

“There certainly is. Politicians will abandon a position if the political costs are excessive. Simply put, if the political costs exceed the political benefits.”

“But how can that happen with the climate threat?”

“We need to create the policy window. We need enough people to act in ways that catch the media’s attention and pressure politicians. Easiest is to engage politically. Citizens active in the political process are important, although the effect is impossible to measure...

I have become a vegan more than a year now partially because of climate change. I have also vowed to live a low-carbon life such as forgo air-travelling for recreation. But reading this book makes me realizing that the most important and effective way for me, a Canadian citizen, to help is to participate in the country's political process. Although I will be living abroad for a while, I can still vote by mail in federal elections for the political party which I think has the best chance to implement practical policies such as these recommended in this book. Will it make a difference? I do not know. But I am more hopeful now than before reading this book. I highly recommend it to everyone who cares about the future of humanity.


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4 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 5:47 AM

Agree this is a great book!

One important thing he argues for is the political economy barriers to carbon pricing. Jaccard himself worked to set up carbon pricing in Canada, but is very sceptical that it is the best thing to advocate for given political economy constraints. I think EAs sometimes miss this point and advocate for carbon pricing as the first best solution. Unfortunately, we are in the nth best world .

Another important argument from the book that I forgot to mention is that buying carbon offsetting is almost always wrong. Here is a podcast making the same argument --

Yep - that's a key argument and I think he is right. Offsetting is likely harmful in my view.