Industrial emissions, deforestation, and other human activities have systematically increased the atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, methane, CFCs, and other compounds known to induce global climate change. An international scientific consensus predicts extensive and dangerous consequences, including increased incidence of coastal flooding, hurricanes, drought, and other extreme weather events.
Substances like carbon dioxide and water vapor allow visible light from the sun to pass through them while trapping some of the reflected heat radiation from earth. This atmospheric "greenhouse effect" has been used by living organisms to maintain a temperature conducive to life. Ancient ice samples from Antarctica demonstrate that mean temperature undergoes short and long term variations, but is always closely correlated with atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.
Carbon dioxide concentrations have already increased some twenty-five percent over their pre-industrial levels, resulting in an estimated half-degree temperature change. If current trends are extrapolated for fifty years, a three to six degree change will occur with disastrous consequences. By examining global climate models and quantifying the resulting economic damage, detailed studies place annual costs due to climate change at several hundred billion dollars by 2050.
Because of their economic importance, climate services are beginning to be directly valued by the international community. Taxes in the range of $10–$100/ton of carbon dioxide have been proposed, along with a variety of pollution emissions trading schemes including the Kyoto Accord. The Chicago Climate Exchange has already been established to promote trading of carbon emissions credits. Such true cost pricing schemes must be designed with social equity considerations paramount in order to address the gulf between the industrial and non-industrial nations and rich and poor within nations.
In a reliable prosperity, climate is fully stabilized by using renewable energy and new materials cycles. Activities that release carbon dioxide and other compounds inducing climate change are phased out within one generation using a combination of emissions taxes and trading schemes. In particular, fossil fuel combustion, a non-reversible process liberating carbon dioxide from ancient biological deposits, is replaced with hydrogen combustion. This process is fully reversible, converting between water plus renewable energy and hydrogen plus oxygen.
Better forestry and agriculture practices could both maintain a greater net carbon storage than their conventional counterparts. For instance, increasing forestry rotation cycles in the Pacific Northwest from their current industrial levels of 40–60 years to 100–150 years would keep a significant amount of carbon — on an average annual basis — out of the atmosphere. Protocols are currently being developed to assign carbon credits that reflect the enhanced carbon storage of sustainable over non-sustainable practices.
In one recent deal, the Oregon-based Climate Trust, a non-profit created to provide carbon mitigation for new fossil fuel powered plants, purchased carbon credits from the Lummi tribe, making a significant financial contribution toward the tribe's purchase of the culturally significant Arlecho Creek forest. Such compensation for the ecosystem services, in this case carbon storage, provided by standing forests and better agriculture can provide a critical incentive for land conservation and restoration.
Provide incentives for climate stabilization through carbon taxes and emissions trading agreements. Shift from a fossil fuel-based economy to a hydrogen economy. Award carbon credits to landowners practicing better forestry and agriculture.
Examples of this pattern in action:
Climate Neutral Network
The Climate Neutral Network is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping companies, communities, and consumers achieve a net zero impact on the Earth's climate. Building and promoting a new Climate Cool marketplace through the development of profitable products and partnerships is the core mission of the Climate Neutral Network.
Organizations whose work incorporate this pattern:
Schneider, S.H. Laboratory Earth: The Planetary Gamble We Can't Afford to Lose. Basic Books. New York, NY. 1997.